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Online Writing Lab

Writing for Literature

An essay that analyzes a work of literature (novel, short story, poem, film) can be difficult for many students because it differs substantially from essays written for other classes. Generally, the main purpose of a literary analysis essay is to analyze one or more of the major themes presented through the particular work. 

The most common problem - one all writers attempting this type of essay should avoid - is simply summarizing the piece. The reader does not need to know what happened in the fictional piece in order to understand your interpretation of it (not to mention your reader has probably already read the piece you are analyzing).

Instead, focus on interpreting the different techniques that are used in the work of literature and providing a sound analysis for the effects these techniques have on the reader. For instance, when analyzing a novel, focus on how one part of the novel enhances it as a whole or adds to the other parts of the story. 

Essentially, most essays analyzing a work of literature are similar to an argument essay. The writer is taking a position about the structure or effects of a particular work and defending that position with specific evidence from the piece. 

Writers need to avoid the tendency to turn a literary analysis paper into a book report. Well-supported analysis is more effective and interesting than pure summary.

View a sample essay for literature