How To Write a Literary Analysis Step by Step

Updated June 24, 2022

Writing a literary analysis can help you get a better understanding of a work of literature. Regardless of the subject text's theme, a literary analysis is likely to offer more depth and context regarding its plot, events, characters and any other relevant elements of the piece.

Writing a solid literary analysis is a useful skill, but it requires practice and theoretical knowledge. In this article, we explain how to write a literary analysis and examine how you should structure it.

What is a literary analysis?

A literary analysis is an essay that aims to examine and evaluate a particular aspect of a work of literature or the work in its entirety. It typically analyzes elements like character development, plot twists, the sequence of events and the piece's setting to offer the reader more insight regarding the author's intent and the quality of its execution. Knowing how to write a literary analysis is in essence knowing how to read and think critically.

Unlike literary summaries and reviews, the goal of the literary analysis is not to create a synopsis of the whole work or offer an opinion on it, but rather to discuss relevant elements within the text to figure out how the piece of literature works.

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What to include in a literary analysis

There is no single definitive list of elements that need to be included in literary analysis. What to focus on typically depends on the nature of the piece of literature to be analyzed. However, there are some common elements that usually are helpful and insightful when included in an analysis, regardless of the particularities of the text in question. These are:

  • The genre and type of the analyzed piece of literature

  • A thorough examination of the main characters

  • An outline of the work's plot and the main ideas present in the piece

  • A review of the overall theme of the analyzed text

  • A description of the symbolism identified in the piece

  • An inspection of the work's structure and the writing style used to create it

Common types of literary analysis

Literary analysis involves deep immersion into the piece under consideration and a clear idea of what elements need to be analyzed. There is no single way to go about it — the ideas and interests that sparked your analysis are the only guiding lights you need to follow. However, there are five general approaches that could help you write a literary analysis:

  • Theoretical: This type of analysis typically focuses on mapping onto the piece one or more theories related to it and fleshing out the relationships between them. In a theoretical literary analysis, you’d review the author's arguments through the lens of these theories.

  • Close reading: Close reading is based on a thorough look into the literary work to discover nuances and details that appear minor but offer significance. This analysis can offer you a deeper insight into the author's choices regarding the language, certain elements of specific scenes and other details that may get overlooked in a superficial reading.

  • Applied: An applied analysis is a highly subjective essay that explores how various elements of the work under consideration relate to your personal experiences.

  • Comparative or synergistic: A comparative analysis puts the literary work in a broader context by directly comparing it to similar writings or other works by the same author.

  • Contextual or historical: A contextual literary analysis aims to focus on external elements related to the piece, such as the historical framework or the social peculiarities of the time and place in which the story occurs.

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How to write a literary analysis

Follow these five steps to create a thorough and relevant literary analysis:

1. Examine the literary work

The first step should be to read the piece carefully, ideally more than once. You will need to familiarize yourself with every major aspect of the work, such as its main idea, plot, characters and how the author expresses specific ideas and points of view. The main purposes should be to discover the most memorable parts of the text, identify the author's style and observe how the characters develop throughout the piece.

2. Gather arguments for your thesis

After properly familiarizing yourself with the work, the next step is to collect pieces of evidence that reinforce your arguments. Forming a persuasive argument for your ideas requires finding passages in the text that support them.

3. Create a rough outline

The first part of the actual process of how to write a literary analysis is to create a synopsis of the entire examination of the work. This will act as a framework for your analysis and help make it more coherent and keep it focused on the point you’re trying to make.

4. Formulate a thesis

Formulating a strong thesis is the next step, and it should succeed in connecting the ideas and implementations of the work's author to the points made in your analysis. Your thesis will lay out how and why your ideas are important to understanding the literary work.

5. Write the analysis

After creating the outline and formulating the thesis, the final step is embarking upon the actual analysis. Each paragraph should support a single idea, and their order must unfold in a way that makes sense to the reader. After writing it, revise your literary analysis to account for any errors.

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Outline of a literary analysis

These are the main elements of a literary analysis:

The introduction

The opening statements of your literary analysis needs to expose the reader to the critique's context and intentions. It should include basic information, such as the author's name, the piece's title and a thematic statement that reveals the overall intention your analysis aims to convey. The end of the introduction should include a thesis statement that includes why the analysis is relevant and what questions it aims to answer.

The body

This is the main part of the literary analysis, and it should start with a statement directly related to the thesis. Its main focus is answering the questions you posed about the work and exploring how the author implemented the methods outlined in your thesis by using quotes and rhetoric. It should end with a strong statement that reinforces the thesis of the analysis.

The conclusion

The paragraph or paragraphs concluding the literary analysis should explain its thesis and show how the concepts presented in the body argue for the accuracy of the ideas presented in the analysis. The conclusion is a summary of your main points and where you bring home their significance.

More step-by-step guides to writing and analysis

  • 11 Writing Strategies for Effective Communication

  • How To Write a Good Analytical Essay in 7 Steps

  • How To Write a Rhetorical Analysis in 8 Simple Steps

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