Wondering how to write an analytical essay? You’ve come to the right place. If you find yourself faced with the task of writing an analytical essay and you’re not even sure how to get past the essay question, it’s time to get some help.
When you receive those assignment instructions, but don’t really know what you’re doing, it’s common to feel like all hope is lost and you’re never going to be able to produce a well written essay. Especially if you’re not even sure what an analytical essay is. How are you supposed to know where to start?
Don’t give up – there is hope after all. If you’re feeling lost or confused, or just not interested in your assignment, we’re here to guide you through the process and show you how to write an analytical essay that will help you get the grade you need to succeed in your course, no matter what program you’re taking.
In this blog, we’re going to walk you through the basics, from learning what exactly an analytical essay is to writing a paper that is ready to impress. Let’s go ahead and jump right in.
Female college student writing an essay outside on a bench
What Exactly is an Analytical Essay?
Your first step in learning how to write an analytical essay is learning what exactly an analytical essay is.
The official analytical essay definition can be taken from the official definition of an analysis (from dictionary.com): the separating of any material or abstract entity into its constituent elements, and using this process as a method of studying the nature of something or of determining its essential features and their relations. To make it an essay, this process is applied within your writing. But what does that really mean?
That’s pretty confusing, so let’s break it down.
In an analytical essay, you are going to analyze, critique, interpret, and/or dissect the main points of something. This could be an author or artist’s work, an event in history, or even a concept. To do this, you will break down the author or artist’s piece into smaller topics or subtopics, analyze them, and use them to formulate an argument or point about the text.
Don’t get caught up and confuse an analytical essay with a rhetorical analysis essay. They may both be based on the idea of an analysis, but they are two different things.
Essentially, in basic terms, your objective with this paper is to explain the significance of something and use specific points to showcase that. You’re not just summarizing what happened. You are presenting evidence or an argument about something.
For example, let’s say you’re writing about Lady Macbeth’s descent into madness in Shakespeare’s Macbeth. You’re not just going to write about the fact that she is going mad as she lays sick in bed and her doctor is treating her. Instead, you’re going to talk about the fact that she’s become so overwhelmed with guilt and regret that it has taken over her brain and caused her to go mad, and you’re going to show how this is represented with examples of symbolism, imagery, and other literary devices from the play.
In the words of the University of Toronto, “The analytic essay does not simply ask what, where and when; it asks why and how.”
College student writing out different essay topics on a laptop
Why am I Writing an Analytical Essay, Anyway?
As we mentioned above, an analytical essay digs deeper into a subject and requires you to look for the meaning, themes, sub-topics, or other messages. Instead of talking about what the subject is doing, you’re talking about why the subject is doing that and what this means on a bigger scale. Therefore, your professor is asking you to write this type of essay because they are testing your ability to interpret something and think about it critically.
Your professors want to see that you have the ability to look at something and make connections with it that go beyond just reading about it and memorizing facts. Critical thinking is a skill you’re probably going to need to use throughout your academic and professional career, and this is a great time to practice those skills.
To make yourself more motivated to finish your paper, you can think of this assignment as your professor helping set you up with important skills for the future instead of forcing you to write an essay you don’t want to write.
Student essay writing preparation materials on a desk
Types of Analytical Essays
There are actually a few different types of analytical essays out there that you can choose from. It’s important to make sure you’re writing the type of essay that your professor is looking for – your goal is to get the highest mark possible, not lose marks on things that could have been avoided if you’d just followed the instructions in the first place.
Here are some of the more common types of analytical essays you might need to write in college or university:
● Literary analysis essay: A literary analysis essay is a type of analytical essay that focuses on a literary text, such as a play, book, or poem. With a literary analysis, you’ll need to closely examine the text and interpret it on a deeper level.
● Compare and contrast essay: In a compare and contrast essay, you’re going to do exactly that – compare and contrast two or more subjects to determine what their similarities and differences are, or where the authors agree or disagree.
● Cause and effect essay: A cause and effect essay looks at the factors that lead to an outcome, and then the results of that outcome. In other words, it’s an analysis of how one thing leads to another (or how the cause leads to the effect).
● Classification essay: A less common type of analytical essay you’ll encounter, the classification essay takes certain subjects or topics and organizes them into categories through an analysis of their characteristics, features, and so on.
● Critical Analysis: The goal of a critical analysis essay is to deconstruct a subject on a deeper level and use critical thinking to provide your evaluation of it. For this type of analytical essay, you’ll be able to use your own opinion or point of view to make an argument about that subject.
When you’re figuring out how to write an analytical essay, make sure you know which type of paper you’re going to be writing. Sometimes your professor will ask for a specific type of paper, while other times the options are open and you’re free to choose something within the general theme of your course.
College student working with a list of essay topics and checking them off
Examples of Analytical Essay Topics
That brings us to the next step in the process of learning how to write an analytical essay: choosing your topic. Sometimes your professor will assign this to you, but sometimes you’ll luck out and get a little more creative freedom with your paper topics.
Here are some examples of analytical essay topics that will spark some interest and get your reader to think about a topic, text, or subject on a deeper and more critical level:
● Analyze the main character in a book, play, or poem. What drives or motivates them? For example, talk about Romeo’s impulsive actions in Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet and how they ultimately lead to his death.
● Describe the cultural context of a book, play, poem, or movie. What does the author’s background say about the piece? How does the cultural context play into the plot, character development, or setting of the piece?
● Talk about an event in history and the factors that led to that event. For example, what were the causes of the American Civil War? How did the political environment of the United States in the Antebellum period lead to war?
● Analyze the social, political, or psychological effects that something (such as a piece of media, an event, or a text) has on certain populations. For example, discuss the psychological impact that stereotypical representations of women in the media have on the young girls consuming them.
● Compare and contrast the movie and book versions of a piece of work and the way that each medium presents the underlying themes, tones, or messages.
If you don’t like what you see in this list, try a deep brainstorming session. Write down everything you know about the theme or topics in or related to the work or subject you’re analyzing and see if something sticks out to you.
University student analyzing a text among the trees
How to Analyze a Text
Okay, so now we know what an analytical essay is, but how do you go about actually analyzing a text or subject? When it comes to figuring out how to write an analytical essay, this is a skill you’re going to need to know how to do if you want to make sure you get a great mark.
When you have to look for a deeper meaning, don’t just think about the specific theme. Think about the way that the theme is presented. For example, if you’re analyzing a text, think about the literary devices that the author uses to convey their message. Do they use a lot of metaphors or imagery? Maybe they’ve focused a lot on tone and building up suspense, and this is a projection of the events in the book. Whatever it is, you’re going to need to channel your inner Sherlock Holmes and start looking for clues.
Once you’ve collected your clues and evidence, you need to use what you’ve found and draw conclusions. Your conclusions will form the basis of the points you make within your analysis.
Useful Tips for Analyzing a Text
Here are some quick and useful tips for analyzing a text you can keep in mind as you begin to go through your text and collect evidence. If you’re analyzing a particular subject, like an event in history, you can analyze what the literature experts have written about that subject and pull clues from there.
● Ask yourself “why” and “how” questions as you read through your text and any secondary research. For example, ask “why is this significant?” or “how did the author/character/person in history come to this conclusion?”
● Look for literary devices such as metaphors, imagery, symbolism, similes, analogies, tone or atmosphere, setting, and so on.
● Make note of dates, names of places or people, and other facts.
● Try to pick out the most important details or themes and determine what you think the author is trying to say.
● Skim the text for any keywords or trigger words that stick out. These can help you formulate your title as well.
● Look for anything you can make connections with. If a particular character or person is acting a certain way, dig into their background or the actions they’ve taken and how those actions could have impacted them mentally or physically.
College student writing the first draft of an analytical essay in a notebook
Coming up With a Good Thesis Statement For Your Analytical Paper
One of the hardest parts about writing any type of paper is coming up with a good thesis statement. However, this is an essential step you need to complete before you can start outlining and writing your essay.
Essentially, your thesis statement tells your reader what you’re going to be writing about and the points you’re going to discuss within the paper. It should clearly explain what you’re going to say in one or two sentences maximum. When you’ve drafted your thesis statement, read it over and put yourself in the shoes of your reader. Does what you’ve written give you a clear idea of what the paper will say? If the answer is no, you need to keep refining.
Your thesis statement for an analytical essay, then, will explain the points you’re making about the subject you’re analyzing in a very short, direct way. Below, we’ll provide you with an example of a thesis statement for an analytical essay about the multiple meanings of marriage in Romeo and Juliet.
Ultimately, the concept of marriage in Romeo and Juliet is used as a symbol of love, power, and law and order: Romeo and Juliet see it as the ultimate way to prove their love, their families see it as a source of power, and their Elizabethan society sees it as a way to legalize intimacy.
If you’re stuck coming up with a good thesis statement, check out our blog on this topic! We cover creating a perfect thesis statement in more detail and help you break down your essay topic into a solid argument.
College student with her phone and laptop writing an analytical essay
How to Write an Analytical Essay: The Writing Process From Start to Finish
Now that you know what it is you’re doing and what you need to look for, it’s time to put everything together and start the writing process.
If you read through this and you feel like you still need more help, download our free essay writing ebook. This massive guidebook covers everything you need to know about writing an academic essay, from narrowing down a good thesis statement to finding the best research.
There are four core components you need to know when learning how to write an analytical essay: your outline, introduction, body paragraphs, and conclusion.
1. Start With Your Analytical Essay Outline
The outline is key. An outline is a roadmap that guides you through the entire writing process and helps you stay organized as you go. It’s a really effective way to make sure your paper flows well, reinforces your objective, and works in a way that makes it easy for your reader to navigate. It also makes the writing process itself a lot easier!
With an outline, you know exactly what points you’ll be making and where they’ll go in the paper, so you can cut down your research time by focusing on relevant evidence instead of skimming through pages and pages of sources.
If you’re following the basic college or university five-point essay, your outline will look something like this:
● Body Paragraph 1 (Main Point 1)
● Body Paragraph 2 (Main Point 2)
● Body Paragraph 3 (Main Point 3)
Of course, you can have more than three body paragraphs if you’re writing a longer paper or have a lot of main points to make. This is a basic outline that most students use, and it leaves lots of room for expansion.
Now, let’s dig into what each part of that outline is going to include.
2. Catch Your Reader’s Attention With an Exceptional Introduction
In your introduction, you’ll need three core elements: a catchy opening hook, some background/contextual information, and your thesis statement. They should be in that order as well.
Here are some things to remember when you write your introduction:
● Don’t start your paper with a quote, dictionary definition, or a cliche. These are over-used and make your writing look lazy.
● Give your reader enough background information or context to understand the premise of what you’re going to be exploring. For example, if you’re writing an analytical essay about a book, give a very basic summary of the book or the time period in which it was written (if it’s relevant to your point).
● Start broad, and then narrow down until you reach your thesis statement – this should be at the end of your introduction to lead your reader into the bulk of your paper.
For more tips on catching your reader’s attention instantly (and how to keep it for the rest of your paper), read our blog on how to write a good introduction.
3. Back up Your Argument in Your Body Paragraphs
Begin each of your body paragraphs with an opening line that communicates the point you’re going to be making in that paragraph. Next, present a point and evidence to support it, followed by an explanation. Then, end the paragraph with a transition line that leads into the next point.
Each main point should have its own body paragraph. This may change depending on the length of your paper. For example, if you’re writing a five-page paper, you don’t need more than three main points.
The body paragraphs are where you’re going to make your arguments or points, present your evidence, and explain your position. Therefore, you need to make sure you have strong main points going into the writing process. When you start writing, think about everything you know about the topic or theme you’re working on and brainstorm how much information you can come up with to back up each point. The points that can generate the most information, even off the top of your head, are most likely your strongest points, and should be the ones you include in your paper.
4. Bring it all Together With Your Conclusion
In your conclusion, your goal is to summarize the points you’ve made and close out your paper with something thoughtful. Think of your conclusion as a synopsis of what you’ve written.
Start your conclusion with your thesis statement. It should be reworded from what you’ve written in your introduction. Then, go over the main points you’ve made in your paper with a little summary of each. Make sure you only include information that you’ve already written about in the paper. Again, this is a synopsis – not a continuation. This is not the place to present any new information.
End your conclusion with a final statement that either summarizes everything or leaves your reader with something to think about. Many writers choose to use their conclusion as a way to make connections with broader topics like current events in order to showcase its significance. This is entirely up to you and will depend on the topic you’re writing about.
Young man writing an analytical essay using his laptop
More Useful Tips on How to Write an Analytical Essay
Here are some more tips you can use when you start writing your analytical essay.
● Don’t forget to use evidence from the text you’re analyzing in every body paragraph.
● This is not an argumentative essay, so avoid using overly persuasive language like you would if you were making an argument or defending your point of view. Stick to an analysis and use facts, evidence, and credibility to make sure you convey your own message.
● Make sure you edit and proofread your essay after you’re done with your first draft. If possible, take a bit of time and come back to your paper for editing so you can give yourself a fresh take on what you’ve written.
● Stay organized. It can be really easy to get off track with an analytical essay, especially if your topic is something very well known or heavily researched.
● An analytical essay is not a summary of the subject you’re writing about. As we said before, you’re focusing on the “how” and not the “what.” Use summaries only when you feel that it’s necessary to give your reader some background or context about the text you’re analyzing.
Now that you have everything you need to start your analytical essay, it’s time to go and get writing! Remember, we’re always here to help if you get stuck along the way.
Student frustrated while trying to write an analytical paper
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