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Top Ten Tips for Writing A Literary Analysis

written by: SForsyth • edited by: Trent Lorcher • updated: 9/11/2012

Many students in Advanced Placement courses or in the International Baccalaureate program, find analyzing literature challenging. Here are some practical tips for writing literary analysis that will help develop critical thinking skills.

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    Top Ten Tips for Writing Literary Analysis

    1. Characters in plays and novels are fictional characters; they are not real people! You need to look at how the writer has developed the character through the process of characterization. Examine the characters in relation to the imaginary world which has been created by the writer.

    2. Look for patterns in a text. What words and images are repeated? What ideas are repeated or connected? How are these linked to the patterns of themes and concepts which are implicit in the text itself? Be a detective and look for clues!

    3. Look for the layers of meaning and the subtext. Look beyond the literal meanings and go for abstract meanings.

    4. Of all the tips for writing literary analysis, this one is most important: read the text in detail! Familiarize themselves with the words on the page, especially in key passages or scenes.

    5. Understand the purpose behind the analysis. A science teacher asks you to dissect a frog so you understand how the body works, how the parts fit together and function. The same is true when analyzing a novel, poem, or play. What you are doing is they are deconstructing the text: taking it apart to see how the pieces fit together.

    6. Yes, literary devices have to be identified in the books being read in class. This is a given. However a good analytical essay will delve deeper and ask why. Why and to what effect is the color red repeated, for example? What effect does the use of animal imagery have on the development of the narrative? This is what many find most challenging. It is a skill that takes time to develop. Patience is needed!

    7. Annotation: You might feel guilty writing in your book. Admittedly, this is because in many cases the school owns the book. If possible, purchase your own copy so you can make notes in the margins, underline and highlight as much as you want. Don't worry! No lightening bolt will hit you for writing all over a great work of literature. Annotating texts facilitates a much closer textual analysis of the words on the page.

    8. Breaking news! You don't have to like the text to analyze it! Teachers are frequently told by their students that they don't like the novel, play or poem. Guess what? Teachers don't care! Analyze it anyway, your job is to examine how and why writers write what they write.

    9. Register: Whether it is an essay or an oral presentation use an appropriate register which makes them sound like they are knowledgable about the text. Yes! You do want to sound like a university professor! Write and/or speak like a literary expert!

    10. Know your literary terms. Every subject has its specialized jargon and literature is no exception. Always use literary terminology when talking about well, yes ... literature!