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What is a literary analysis essay and how to write it?


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Drinking from a coffee cup when writing a literary essay based on a book

In a nutshell, a literary analysis essay is another type of academic assignments where a student has to review a work of literature, whether it is a romantic novel, a fiction book, or a narrative.

The first thing a student must remember is that to write such paper properly it is necessary to read the given story or book. It is crucial to start doing it early – preferably, that very day when the assignment was given. It may be necessary to read the literary work a few times, which is why it is better to have a lot of time at your disposal.

How to write a literary essay step by step?

Before everything else, a student should read the requirements and understand what is asked of him or her in the task. After that, a student is free to start reading a work of literature they are to evaluate.

As an author of the analysis paper, a student should learn how to assess the story critically from all possible angles, and not just from the perspective of the plot. Best literary essays review the literary work from various points of view and provide in-depth analysis of each one of them.

The next step is to review the assignment requirements and literary analysis essay format you are to follow while writing your paper. All assignments of such kind have several things in common, such as:

  • formatting style,
  • number of words or pages to be written,
  • genre and type of the paper.

If you don’t know how to start a literary analysis, divide the text into parts and give an evaluation of every single piece, for example:

  • the main plot and the subplot correlation,
  • the role of main and secondary characters,
  • the role of tragic events (if any) in the lives of the protagonist and antagonist, etc.

Tips from experts

Meet our advisors

Read the essay question carefully!

Look for these words:

  • Describe/summarize means give the facts
  • Explain means analyze the topic
  • Argue means to reject/accept a viewpoint
  • Discuss refers to presenting a point of view
  • Critique means give both positive/negative sides
  • Compare and contrast discuss similarities/differences

Structure an essay

Beginners use the five-paragraph structure with references. Advanced writers use a variation of this method.


Write the first ugly draft – using first/third person depending on the requirements. Know how to paraphrase and summarize. Don’t plagiarize – everyone checks if the essay is unique.

Editing & Formatting

I use the chainsaw and surgical methods. Chainsaw cuts material that isn’t relevant. Surgical involves fine-tuning spelling and grammar.

What is the formatting style? APA, MLA, or CMS? What is the word/page count? Follow the rubric.

Penny J. Larsen

College professor with 30 years of teaching experience

Many students, at the preparation stage, tend to get stuck at the analysis itself, as they do not know what this work should look like in the end. That is why literary essay examples are so important for beginners. Thus, if you are not sure how to write a literary essay, try asking your teacher for a sample or feel free to look one up in our samples section.

Creating a literary analysis outline

Before you start writing the text of your analysis itself, you should compose an outline of the future paper. The more detailed it will be, the more useful you will find it in the process of writing the essay. We propose the following outline that will help you fully analyze any literary work:

  1. Introduction
    1. Thesis statement
  1. Main body
    1. Literary trend to which the work is attributed and its place among the works of other authors of this period.
    2. Genre of the work.
    3. Theme and main idea.
    4. Plot and composition (main storyline of the work and others, if any; composition of the work - dividing into parts, chapters, etc., the time and place of the events).
    5. Main characters.
    6. Features of the language used.
    7. Evaluation of the work by literary critics.
    8. Modern view on the work and its meaning.
  1. Conclusion
    1. Restating or disproving the thesis statement.
    2. Summarizing the research.

How to write a perfect introduction for your literary analysis essay?

The introductory part of the essay should attract attention. There are a few popular types of intros:

  • Historical - give a brief description of the corresponding era, analyze the socio-economic, moral, political, and cultural relations of that time.
  • Analytical - use your analytical thinking skills to formulate your own point of view on the question at hand.
  • Biographical - describe the life of the author, the history of creation of the literary work, the views of the writer, etc.
  • Comparative - analyze the subject under consideration and compare it to the other works of that period.
  • Lyrical - few words can be said about the influence of this particular work and the writer or artist on your life.

Things to consider when writing a thesis statement for your literary essay

After choosing a topic, the next step is to start formulating the thesis statement. A thesis is not a definite proven fact and not an opinion or a result of observation. It also does not include argumentation, complex cause-and-effect relationships, or descriptions of a certain phenomenon – these will be relevant in other parts.

The thesis is the main idea of your essay that should be expressed in one or several sentences. If you were asked: “What is the main idea of this work?”, the thesis statement is the few sentences that can answer this question without unnecessary clarifications. The presence of the thesis statement in the text both helps the reader understand the meaning of the work and to see how you understand it.

Common mistakes when writing the body paragraphs

The body part of your literary essay is the most voluminous one and therefore it has to be treated with extra caution. Here, we have gathered some literary analysis tips that show what shouldn’t be done when you write the main part of your essay:

  • You should not develop the same idea in two paragraphs. And, on the contrary, do not include two or more key ideas in one paragraph. The general rule is: new paragraph is the new idea and new arguments.
  • Superfluous information. Make sure that any of the suggestions are directly related to the main topic. Even if you have an overwhelming desire to write an incredibly interesting fact, re-read it several times and carefully decide whether it is worth including it in your work.
  • If you plan to connect the next paragraph with the previous one, make sure that the connection is logical. Also, make sure that you are not just rephrasing the key statement of previous paragraph.

How to write a good conclusion?

The conclusion is one of the key parts of the essay. In the last part of the essay, you need to concisely finish your arguments. Summarize the reasoning and briefly repeat the thesis statement.

You should draw conclusions from your analysis and judgments on the topic. But mind that a voluminous conclusion is a big minus: it shows that you cannot summarize your thoughts and express them concisely.

Introduction and conclusion should not take up more than 25-30% of the word count combined, and the remaining 70-75% is the main part, i.e. argumentation.

Significance of writing a literary essay

Without a doubt, learning how to write a good literary analysis essay is an important step for students who think of themselves as of future journalists, writers, bloggers, etc. Such tasks help them develop a better perception of text; students learn to look closer into minute details of any work of writing. The initial purpose of writing a literary essay is to convince the readers of a point of view that a student has taken and has developed in the paper.

Types of literary essays

If you are a student of a Literature Department, you should know the main types of literary essays. But if you confuse the frequently and need some literary analysis help, here are the brief explanations of what you need to do in each type of essay:

  • Comparative - analyze and compare two or more works and give an appropriate conclusion;
  • Contextual/Historical - evaluate and analyze the literary work in the context of the period when it was written or historical events that predetermined it;
  • Theoretical - apply certain concepts of literary theory to analyze a work under consideration;
  • Applied - analyze a happening, a situation, or any other event and find his or her personal relation to it; this is an informal analysis genre.

We hope this information will help you navigate the types of essay and cope with them faster and more efficiently!

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