Suppose you are reading a book or watching a film and studying it as a part of your curriculum. You analyze it in class and explore every aspect that deserves attention, you take an active part in the discussions, and the professor seems pleased, but still feels like it’s not quite enough to make sure that you have the necessary set of skills to properly analyze a book or a film. So, to confirm that you are skilled enough, they give you the assignment to analyze a book or a film yourself and write an essay about it. And so you stand there facing this task and not knowing where to begin. Surely, the professor will provide you with some instructions or guidelines, but they often only get you even more confused.
THE DEFINITION OF AN ANALYTICAL ESSAY
For starters, you need to clarify what an analytical essay is and what will your reader expect to find in your work. You may find this kind of assignment new to you, you can be sure that you have analyzed something before, even if it was not in written form. The dictionary defines analysis as a detailed examination of something and its structure for the purpose of further interpretation. In other words, an essay is a specific informative observation.
Being specific is very important here, because the more general your object of observation is, the more you complicate your task, – a specific object is much easier to observe.
For example, if you choose to investigate alcohol, it is obvious that this topic is too wide to be covered in just one essay. There is chemistry and fermentation, there is a history of invention and implementation, there is the classification of alcohol, there is an influence of alcohol on the human organism, etc. Therefore, you should narrow down your topic. For instance, you can analyze the effectiveness of prohibition laws. Also, at this point, it is also necessary to formulate your statement in your mind – the main argument of your essay, what you want to say with it. It will be your thesis.
WHAT TO WRITE ABOUT
If you are not given a specific topic to write about, then you are free to choose whatever you want. It is essential to pick something that is interesting for you, something that you have a passion for. This will make your writing process much more enjoyable and less stressful.
Pretty much anything in the world can be analyzed and discussed, so the range of possible topics for an analytical essay can only be limited by your imagination and your professor. Another thing that you (or your professor) will have to choose is the type of analysis that you are going to perform in your essay, as there are several. Let’s take a closer look at those.
The definitive feature of a rhetorical analysis essay is that is that here you should prove an already known fact. Why should I prove something that everyone knows already? – you might ask. Well, fancy explaining the phenomenon of gravity to someone who either fails to understand it or is just not willing to. As a matter of fact, we have to do such things all the time.
Such essays mostly have to do with science, so your weapon of choice here will be facts and logic.
This is the most common type of an analytical essay that you have to write at school. As you understand from the name, this analysis has to do with literature – fiction or non-fiction: You read a piece, and then you reflect upon it. As discussed before, an essay is a small piece of writing so your field of investigation will be specific. For example, you can analyze a certain situation suggested in the literature piece being analyzed, you can investigate how a certain idea conveyed in a particular quote influences the course of events in the story, etc.
Once again, the term is pretty much self-explanatory. In a process analysis essay, you describe how a particular process goes on. A process is a change of state of something that can go through several stages. So, basically, you describe what is going on at each stage and how the changes occur. It can be any process – a chemical reaction, a reflex of an organism, the development of a medical condition, a turnover of a certain element in a system (from nature to economics), an everyday choir, etc.
This kind of an analytical essay is similar to process analysis, but the field is narrowed to a character (sometimes, a group of characters) in a book or a story. You describe the evolution of the character through the course of the story and investigate the influences that caused the character to end up the way this character ends up by the finale of the story, what circumstances have made the character to reform their personality, which traits have revealed and which withered, etc.
In a poetry analysis essay, you scrutinize a poem. You demonstrate its background, you point out all the stylistic devices used by the author, you research and describe the imagery, you explain its influence on the following literary works (or perhaps even the course of history), you suggest what the author wanted to achieve by writing this piece, etc. In other words, you explain why this piece of poetry is so significant and what makes it worth talking about.
This essay is the one answering “why?” We all were kids some time ago, and we have all been overwhelmingly curious about everything that’s going on around us. Why is the sky blue? Why do birds fly? Why do we need to sleep? Why do I sweat when it gets hot? All these questions demanded answers. Therefore, through our research, we have actually been conducting casual analysis (or forcing someone else to do it for us), even if it wasn’t in the form of a written essay.
Some questions can be answered with 100% accuracy, like “Why does ice melt?” Others – like “Why do dogs bark at me?” – cannot be answered with all confidence and can only be speculated about. Hence, a casual analysis essay can sometimes also be referred to as a speculating essay.
These are not all the possible types of analytical essays, but merely the most popular kinds. There can be countless variations and crossovers. Yet, the approach to essay writing and the steps to take will be the same, regardless of the analytical essay type that you are tasked to write.
PREPARING FOR WRITING
Some people are natural-born writers, they can just go for it and have a great piece ready in due time. For most of us, however, putting together a quality piece of writing is hard work that needs to be thoroughly planned and well thought out. So, if we want a proper essay, in the end, there are some steps to take before proceeding to write properly:
STEP 1. PICK A TOPIC
Unless your professor specifies the topic for you to write about, it will be up to you to choose a topic for your analytical essay. Sometimes, you will be given variants to choose from, but often you will have to improvise and be free to pick whichever topic you want from the infinite multitude of the possible ones.
It is never a good idea to write about something that you can’t really understand or something that you just have no enthusiasm for. The ultimate topic to write about would be the one that you have a particular interest in and/or the one that you know everything there is to know about. As we have mentioned before, this is vital if you don’t want your writing process to be overly tedious and stressful.
STEP 2. FORMULATE A CONVINCING THESIS
A thesis is a statement that briefly summarizes the point that you are going to make in your essay. Naturally, when you are writing an analytical essay about something, you write it from your own perspective, based off of your knowledge on the topic. Regardless of how vast your expertise on the subject may be, it will still have certain limitations. Therefore, the entirety of your knowledge on and experience with the subject leads you to particular assumptions. So, you formulate your assumption on your essay topic into a thesis that you will prove in the course of your writing.
While a thesis has to be brief, it should also have a certain level of complexity, it should not be too simple. It should at least hint at the influences that lead you to those assumptions. For example, if you are writing about history, you can mention the evidence you have gathered from your sources; if you are conducting scientific research, then you must specify your scientific method.
STEP 3. SUPPORT YOUR THESIS WITH EVIDENCE
Your thesis will be worthless without evidence to back it up. Groundless assumptions are not interesting to anybody. A good thesis is a solid statement based off of research results. Therefore, you need to gather external information that will support your assumptions translating them into a proper thesis for an essay. Depending on what it is that you are analyzing in your essay, this supporting information can be different. For example, for a literary analysis essay, it will be the quotes from the book that speak in favor of your point, if your topic is of scientific nature – your information may come from previously established facts, etc. In other words, the goal of this evidence is to direct your readers’ thinking process where you want it, to encourage them to come to the same assumptions that you have.
STEP 4. PUT TOGETHER AN OUTLINE
Creating a comprehensive outline for your essay will facilitate your writing process greatly. The outline will be the “axis” of your essay, and once you have it, you can simply put the necessary pieces of information around this axis in the proper order. Regardless of which kind of essay your are writing, it should be divided into the following sections: the Introduction, the Main Body, and the Conclusion. These will be the three main sections of your essay outline which you can divide further into sub-sections. Let’s take a look at the three basic parts:
INTRODUCTION. The goal of the introduction is to get your reader interested in what they are about to read, as well as to prepare them. Therefore, it is a good idea to start off with a hook statement. It should be a paraphrased version of your thesis formulated in an engaging, perhaps even somewhat provocative way. A good way to involve your reader is to begin with general background information and then gradually narrow it down more and more until you get your thesis.
MAIN BODY. As the name implies, this section of your analytical essay is the main one. It is meant to prove your thesis, to give all the evidence you have to support it to leave your reader fully convinced that you are right. The paragraphs in the main body should each be focused on a certain aspect or detail of your thesis and transition into one another in a smooth and logical manner. Each paragraph starts with making a point, then substantiating it, and finally leading the reader to a small conclusion hinting at the theme of the next paragraph. Here is an example of how you can structure a paragraph:
- Title sentence. Here you formulate the main point of the paragraph in a strong and straightforward manner.
- Statement analysis. Here you introduce your evidence in support of this paragraph’s statement and demonstrate how exactly your evidence speaks in favor of your conclusion.
- Evidence. Here you expand upon your supporting information and reveal how you have gathered it. This sub-section is intertwined with the previous one, so make sure that they do not look too separate.
- Mini-conclusion. Here you summarize the entirety of information in this paragraph and explain why it is important for the essay topic.
Remember that each paragraph should be informative and convincing. Therefore, you should avoid extending the number of paragraphs artificially to make your essay look bigger. Quality matters over quantity decisively here.
CONCLUSION. Once the reader has read the main body of your essay, it is time to summarize all this information in the conclusion. Here you restate your thesis, give a brief overview of your supporting evidence and how it supports your thesis, walk your reader through the steps that you took on your way to your conclusion, and finalize your essay with the overall conclusion. The latter can be a sentence or two about what you have learned through the course of your research and writing.
Once you have an outline, you just put the pieces of information from your notes into the correct order, and voila – your draft is ready. However, before you present your essay to your professor, make sure you give some good editing and proofreading. It is best to have someone else to trust such work because a second pair of eyes is always a good thing to have.