How to Write a Literary Analysis: Example & Development

Instructor: Caroline DaSilva
This lesson explains how to write a literary analysis that examines one or two elements of a literary text. It lists the steps in the writing process that you will need to follow so that you can create a successful literary analysis of your own.

How to Write a Literary Analysis

Unless we are taking a class, most of us read just for the pleasure of it. In an academic setting, however, you may be asked to read with a different purpose, and to write a literary analysis. This type of assignment asks you to think about how and why a piece of literature was written.

Literary analyses review and evaluate certain aspects of a poem, novel, or play, looking at why and how the author did what he did. They often focus on one or two specific elements like plot, character, or theme with the aim of sharing a deeper understanding of the text with a specific audience. The goal of the analysis is to thoughtfully identify the author's choices, and then explain the significance and effect in an essay format.

Other people may want to read your analysis, like web readers, those with literary interests, and perhaps even book clubs. Who eventually reads it can depend in part on the format you choose to create it in. Will it be an essay for class or a blog post, a magazine article or a book-review critique?

The Process

Before you begin, there are two key things to think about. First, remember that authors make specific choices for particular reasons. Your analysis will point out an author's choices and explain their significance. Second, it is important to consider the piece of literature from your own perspective, thinking about the author's intentions and developing a controlling idea (your argument or thesis) based on what you think. You'll then use the text to support and explain your controlling idea to the reader.

You can break down the process of writing a literary analysis into the following seven steps:

1. Choose your text carefully. Often in academic situations, this is chosen for you as an assignment. If not, it makes the best sense to choose a text that you are comfortable with and feel able to discuss. It is important too to consider your audience and purpose as well. Who will be reading your analysis? What do you want them to take away from it?

2. Decide and choose what elements you want to focus on. Typically, an analysis will examine one or two elements of a literary work, such as plot, characters, or theme.

3. Formulate your controlling idea. What it is you want to prove in the rest of your essay. As you think of possibilities, keep track of what key points you can use to back up your idea, as you will need these later in the process. Don't be surprised if your controlling idea changes a bit as you work through the step. This is not unusual, and in fact may lead to a better and deeper understanding of the work you are analyzing.

4. Find your evidence. Once you know what it is that you want to write about, it's time to identify the points that will help you prove your controlling idea. Here you're collecting material, looking for as many points as you can find that will consistently support your argument.

5. Organize your ideas as evidence. There are many ways to do this, often a Venn diagram that compares and contrasts ideas can be useful. Choose whatever method that works the best for you and for your material.

6. Plan and write your essay. Many people find that using an outline format helps them to clarify and arrange their points logically. Most essays include an introductory paragraph where you set out your controlling idea, then the body of your essay which includes the supporting evidence. You will need a final concluding paragraph that summarizes what you have written throughout. A common outline uses HATMAT in the first paragraph:

  • Hook (an attention-grabbing statement that makes readers want to keep reading)
  • Author
  • Title
  • Main characters
  • A short summary
  • Thesis

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