Rules for an Effective Literary Critical Analysis
(With Quoting Template)
In writing critical essays in literature, your object, generally, is to convince your readers that your insight into a story is valid and important and to lead your readers to share that understanding. An analysis (literally a breaking up or a separation of something into its constituent parts) selects for examination one aspect or element in a literary work that relates to the story as a whole.
Use the following general rules to help you write and organize your essay:
Re-read your story or play several times before you begin your analysis. After a careful reading of the piece of literature you have chosen, begin your broad based research. Follow the “10 Steps to a Research Essay” document. Do one step each day for a pleasant research experience.
Follow the Theme and Thesis handout to create statement of theme and a thesis for your essay. You may discuss any literary element except plot. Of course, you will have to give a capsule plot of a sentence or two in your introduction to tell what your story/poem/etc. is about, but if your analysis merely retells the plot of the story, your paper will not be effective.
An essay analyzing a work of literature always needs an introductory paragraph.
Make sure you include the author’s name and title of the story, poem, novel, etc. in your introductory paragraph.
Also, your introduction should include a thesis statement toward the end of the paragraph (usually the last sentence) in which you state the purpose of your paper.
Make a bold firm statement of your thesis. Do not be wishy-washy. Do not say “in my opinion” or “it seems to me” or “I think” and “I feel” or “In this essay I will prove that…”Those statements weaken your argument. You are trying to prove your thesis statement. State your interpretation and conclusion confidently.
It is not necessary to follow the chronological order of the story. Rather, you should organize your paper in whatever order best supports your thesis.
Ask yourself these questions about your ideas:
Do they make a coherent case?
Have you left out anything necessary to demonstrate your thesis?
· If so, add it in the proper place.
· It is easier at this stage to rearrange ideas in order to support your thesis.
· Quotations from your primary source are the best proof that your text means what you claim it means.
· Paraphrases and quotations from credible experts (secondary sources) also provide sound proof.
Be sure to thoroughly discuss the element or elements you have chosen as the topic of your paper. Your paper must include specific references and/or quotes from the primary source. Remember that good writing is specific writing. Elaborate- Prove your point!
After completing your rough draft, let the essay sit as long as possible before your proofread. (This requires getting started writing early!)
The next rule is to revise.
Are your paragraphs arranged logically in a way that demonstrates and advances the thesis? If not, analyze the difficulty. Do the paragraphs need re-organization? Are more examples needed?
Make whatever adjustments are necessary for a logical and convincing demonstration. This may require a re-writing of the paper, or it may call only for a few deletions and insertions and rearranging of sentences of paragraphs from one place to another.
Use the editing checklist (located at the end of this document) to make sure that your essay meets the assignment criteria.
Having revised your paper for the logic, coherence, confidence, and completeness of its argument, your next step is to revise it for effectiveness of expression. Take your time at this point.
Have you used lively verbs, interesting word choices and descriptive detail?
What about conciseness? Are you too wordy? Going over a length requirement is as serious an offence as going under a length requirement.
Are your sentences correctly punctuated? Do the pronouns have clear antecedents? Do the verbs agree with their subjects? Are the tenses consistent? Did you use spell check?
Is every borrowed thought or idea documented?
A conscientious writer may put a paper through several revisions. When you think the review process is complete, read it again to double check for correct punctuation and grammar.
Be sure you have followed the MLA Style. See the Purdue site (Helpful links) for proper use of MLA style. Always use the author’s name (not the editor’s) and page number in parenthesis at the end of borrowed material. If an author is not provided, use a shortened form of the title. Borrowed material consists of any information or idea that is not common knowledge. This includes paraphrase and summary, not just exact word for word quotations.
Periods go after parentheses, which are a part of the same sentence (like this). However, if you are quoting a sentence or phrase which ends with a question mark or exclamation mark, treat it like this: “Help! He shouted” (7). Or: “Do not forget to save your document!” (7). Note that you need both the exclamation point and the period. The parenthesis is part of your sentence and needs to be included in it. However, in a block quotation, which is set off, no punctuation follows the parenthesis citing the page from which the quotation comes. See Purdue Owl link for examples.
Use single quotations marks only for a quotation within a quotation. It is an error to use them simply because the quoted material consists of single words or short phrases.
Use literary present tense and third person. When writing passages of plot summary, use the present tense, even when the story itself is written in the past tense. Be careful to be consistent about your tense throughout your paper. Do not switch back and for the between present and past, unless you refer back to events that happened before the story’s principle action. Be especially careful when you continue to summarize after quoting a passage from your source which itself uses the past tense. It may trick you into continuing to use the past instead of switching back to the present. Also, avoid using the first person “I” and the second person “you” in formal critical analysis essays.
Please remember that this is a formal paper; use formal language. No-“stuff, gonna, things, a lot, any slang term, etc.”
Never use meta-discourse in college writing. For example, do not write “In this essay,” “In my opinion,” or “I think.”
The first time you introduce an author, use both first and last names. In subsequent references, use only the last name:
Shirley Jackson illustrates in her short story, “The Lottery,” that typical people do not respond to social atrocities until directly affected. In order to make the story more applicable to the reader, Jackson uses ordinary people such as Tessie Hutchinson, housewife and mother.
Introduce all quotations. Don’t just begin quoting a source abruptly. For example:
Tessie Hutchinson in “The Lottery” remarks, “Clean forgot what day it is” (Jackson 142).
Remember: the title of a short story or poem is set off with quotation marks; the title of a play or novel is italicized:
Short Story: “A Rose for Emily”
Poem: “My Last Duchess”
Novel: Sir Gibbie
After printing your final copy, double check one last time for possible mistakes. Check for omissions, repetitions, and typographical errors. Make sure your in- text citations match up with the author position of your works cited page.
Literary Critical Analysis Suggested Outline
I. The introductory paragraph should include,
A. Lead-in sentences
B. Theme: the unifying generalization about life implied by the story.
C. Thesis: One sentence that sets forth the main idea of the essay. Restate the theme in specific terms; include author, title, and character/persona name. (See Theme and Thesis handout.)
D. Essay Map: One or more sentences that set forth three or more points supporting the thesis.
II. Body Paragraph One—first point of the essay map (First point you will use to prove that the theme that you have selected is indeed implied by the story).
Suggestions for the body paragraphs (any order)
A. Introduce and quote from Primary Source (most effective way of proving
B. Explain or elaborate on the quotation. (Your explanation does not need
documentation as long as the quote you are explaining is clearly cited.)
C. Introduce and paraphrase from Primary Source—still needs documentation
D. Explain or elaborate on the paraphrase.
E. Introduce and quote from secondary source and document.
F. Explain or elaborate on the quote from secondary source.
G. Paraphrase from secondary source and document.
H. Tie quotes and paraphrases together with your own ideas and observations
(Personal response, see “10 steps” handout)
Steps A through H can be presented in any logical order and may need to be divided into extra paragraphs for easier reading.
III. Body Paragraph Two—second point of the essay map (Second point you will use to prove that the theme that you have selected is indeed implied by the story). Repeat A-H (In any logical order)
IV. Body Paragraph Three—third point of the essay map (to prove thesis statement). Repeat A-H (in any logical order)
V. Body Paragraph Four. Use as many body paragraphs as you need to prove your thesis, but do not go over the word limit.Continue with body paragraphs until you have proven your thesis. You may devote as many paragraphs as you need to any one point.
A. Draw all points together and make a statement of how they prove your
B. Wrap it all up.
C. Do not conclude with a quote unless it sums up the entire essay.
D. Essay must include a conclusion. Do not merely stop after the final body
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