WRITING THE ANALYTICAL ESSAY
One of the most frequently assigned essays in English is the analytical essay. It can be one of
the most challenging essays to write, but mastering its technique is very important. That is
because students who advance in almost every academic field will be asked to write with an
What is an analytical essay?
The key to understanding its nature is in the word "analyze." To "analyze" the content of a poem,
for example, one must break it into its components or parts in order to get a full understanding of
its meaning. This may mean investigating the poem's structure, its language, its symbolism, and
even its historical context. All this will help you as the writer and your reader understand what
the poet was trying to say. Your analysis may not be identical to someone else's idea of the
poem, but, if your investigation is logical, believable, and well defended, it will be well received.
What an analytical essay is not
An analytical essay is not a summary of the work. If you find yourself paraphrasing parts of the
object of your investigation (an event. a piece of art, a work of literature) or "retelling the story,"
then you are not writing an analytical essay.
There is another pitfall that writers new to this type of essay may encounter. Let's return to the
analysis of that poem. If you are merely telling "what" the poem means to you, you are falling
short of the goal.
The true analytical essay
A true analytical essay explores "how" the poem emerges with a particular meaning. This "how"
is investigated by explaining the relationship of the parts of the poem. The reader is shown how
the meaning of the poem emerges from this relationship of parts. The analytical essay then helps
the reader understand the relationship of the parts of the work being examined and how that
relationship reveals the meaning of that work.
How do I start the analytical essay?
If you have a choice, always choose to investigate something that inspires, fascinates, or
speaks to you. You do not have to fully understand it, but if you are pulled by your interest into
the work, you will be more motivated to figure out how the puzzle fits together.
Do more than one thorough reading of the work. On the second reading, jot down ideas
that occur to you in the margins. Don't be afraid to write ideas that seem to point to some aspect
of the work that stand out or recur.
Read background information on the author, on the historical context of the work, and the
genre. Write down each of your ideas that seem to point to some aspect of the work that has a
bearing on its overall impact. Eliminate any that seem weak after additional scrutiny.