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Writing an academic essay means fashioning a coherent set of ideas into an argument. Because essays are essentially linear—they offer one idea at a time—they must present their ideas in the order that makes most sense to a reader. Successfully structuring an essay means attending to a reader’s logic.
The focus of such an essay predicts its structure. It dictates the information readers need to know and the order in which they need to receive it. Thus your essay’s structure is necessarily unique to the main claim you’re making. Although there are guidelines for constructing certain classic essay types (e.g., comparative analysis), there are no set formula.
Answering Questions: The Parts of an Essay
A typical essay contains many different kinds of information, often located in specialized parts or sections. Even short essays perform several different operations: introducing the argument, analyzing data, raising counterarguments, concluding. Introductions and conclusions have fixed places, but other parts don’t. Counterargument, for example, may appear within a paragraph, as a free-standing section, as part of the beginning, or before the ending. Background material (historical context or biographical information, a summary of relevant theory or criticism, the definition of a key term) often appears at the beginning of the essay, between the introduction and the first analytical section, but might also appear near the beginning of the specific section to which it’s relevant.
It’s helpful to think of the different essay sections as answering a series of questions your reader might ask when encountering your thesis. (Readers should have questions. If they don’t, your thesis is most likely simply an observation of fact, not an arguable claim.)
“What?” The first question to anticipate from a reader is “what”: What evidence shows that the phenomenon described by your thesis is true? To answer the question you must examine your evidence, thus demonstrating the truth of your claim. This “what” or “demonstration” section comes early in the essay, often directly after the introduction. Since you’re essentially reporting what you’ve observed, this is the part you might have most to say about when you first start writing. But be forewarned: it shouldn’t take up much more than a third (often much less) of your finished essay. If it does, the essay will lack balance and may read as mere summary or description.
“How?” A reader will also want to know whether the claims of the thesis are true in all cases. The corresponding question is “how”: How does the thesis stand up to the challenge of a counterargument? How does the introduction of new material—a new way of looking at the evidence, another set of sources—affect the claims you’re making? Typically, an essay will include at least one “how” section. (Call it “complication” since you’re responding to a reader’s complicating questions.) This section usually comes after the “what,” but keep in mind that an essay may complicate its argument several times depending on its length, and that counterargument alone may appear just about anywhere in an essay.
“Why?” Your reader will also want to know what’s at stake in your claim: Why does your interpretation of a phenomenon matter to anyone beside you? This question addresses the larger implications of your thesis. It allows your readers to understand your essay within a larger context. In answering “why”, your essay explains its own significance. Although you might gesture at this question in your introduction, the fullest answer to it properly belongs at your essay’s end. If you leave it out, your readers will experience your essay as unfinished—or, worse, as pointless or insular.
Mapping an Essay
Structuring your essay according to a reader’s logic means examining your thesis and anticipating what a reader needs to know, and in what sequence, in order to grasp and be convinced by your argument as it unfolds. The easiest way to do this is to map the essay’s ideas via a written narrative. Such an account will give you a preliminary record of your ideas, and will allow you to remind yourself at every turn of the reader’s needs in understanding your idea.
Essay maps ask you to predict where your reader will expect background information, counterargument, close analysis of a primary source, or a turn to secondary source material. Essay maps are not concerned with paragraphs so much as with sections of an essay. They anticipate the major argumentative moves you expect your essay to make. Try making your map like this:
- State your thesis in a sentence or two, then write another sentence saying why it’s important to make that claim. Indicate, in other words, what a reader might learn by exploring the claim with you. Here you’re anticipating your answer to the “why” question that you’ll eventually flesh out in your conclusion.
- Begin your next sentence like this: “To be convinced by my claim, the first thing a reader needs to know is . . .” Then say why that’s the first thing a reader needs to know, and name one or two items of evidence you think will make the case. This will start you off on answering the “what” question. (Alternately, you may find that the first thing your reader needs to know is some background information.)
- Begin each of the following sentences like this: “The next thing my reader needs to know is . . .” Once again, say why, and name some evidence. Continue until you’ve mapped out your essay.
Your map should naturally take you through some preliminary answers to the basic questions of what, how, and why. It is not a contract, though—the order in which the ideas appear is not a rigid one. Essay maps are flexible; they evolve with your ideas.
Signs of Trouble
A common structural flaw in college essays is the “walk-through” (also labeled “summary” or “description”). Walk-through essays follow the structure of their sources rather than establishing their own. Such essays generally have a descriptive thesis rather than an argumentative one. Be wary of paragraph openers that lead off with “time” words (“first,” “next,” “after,” “then”) or “listing” words (“also,” “another,” “in addition”). Although they don’t always signal trouble, these paragraph openers often indicate that an essay’s thesis and structure need work: they suggest that the essay simply reproduces the chronology of the source text (in the case of time words: first this happens, then that, and afterwards another thing . . . ) or simply lists example after example (“In addition, the use of color indicates another way that the painting differentiates between good and evil”).
Copyright 2000, Elizabeth Abrams, for the Writing Center at Harvard University
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How To Handle Analytical Essay Writing: Your Most Effective Guide
What is an analytical essay? That question is really bothering you, isn’t it? You have to write an analytical essay,
but no one explained what this type of assignment calls for.
Don’t worry! We’re always here for you!
Today, we’ll define what analytical essay writing means, and we’ll give you great tips that will guide you to a
Definition of Analytic Essay
In its simplest definition, an analytical essay is a piece of academic content that analyzes a text. In
Many students mistake the analytical essay for a simple summary. They read the given text and they summarize the main
points. That’s not the right way to approach this assignment. The analytical essay needs a very narrow focus. If,
for example, you’re analyzing a poem, you should focus on how it was written, how the poet repeats particular themes
throughout the poem, or how they used metaphors to bring more meaning.
In essence, you must look into the tiniest details of the work, so you’ll convey the whole picture.
Step-By-Step Guide to Writing Analytical Essays – With Example
As usual, you’ll go through the three main stages of the academic writing process:
Since this is a special type of assignment that’s different from an argumentative, narrative, or cause/effect essay,
you’ll adjust the stages accordingly. If this is your first time dealing with an analytical essay, you should keep
in mind that the pre-writing stage will be much longer than usual. It involves reading a research paper, book, or
another piece of content that might take time to go through. Plus, you’ll have to give yourself some time to think
about the text and analyze it in details.
Time is the biggest challenge when it comes to analytical essay writing. It’s a limited resource and you’d like to
save it as much as possible, but this project will consume a lot of it. The essay still comes with a strict
deadline, so it’s important for you to start working on it as soon as possible.
Let’s go through each stage of the content development process, so you’ll get a clear impression on how to handle the
Analytical Essay Writing: Pre-Writing Stages
- First of All, Read the Text
- Understand Your Objective Before You Start Analyzing the Piece of Literature
- Plan the Outline
No; this is not a stage you can avoid. Yes; books are long, but you have to find the time to read the piece if
you want to write a good analytical essay. The good news is that your professors usually tell you to write
analytical papers about great pieces of literature, as well as about revolutionary research studies or amazing
poems. You will have a good time reading this text, so try to approach this stage with a positive mindset.
Take notes as you read the text. That will help you find a unique aspect for your analysis.
Although this is not an argumentative essay, you still need an argument to present in analytical essay writing.
You have to make a claim about the piece you’re analyzing.
If, for example, you’re analyzing Orwell’s 1984, your objective may be something like: “Orwell’s 1984 uses
a dystopian motif to describe the harsh reality of our society’s development. Although the book is often viewed
as criticism of the authoritarian or totalitarian state and it’s mostly related to communism, 1984 is the
greatest critique of today’s ‘democratic’ society.”
As you can see, the objective is pretty subjective. It shows your own point of view, which you came down to after
analyzing the book in different aspects. You’ll get ideas for this part out during the reading process, so it’s
important to keep taking notes as you read.
While you’re reading the text, you’ll get ideas on what to write about. It’s important to collect all those ideas
and use them as a base for your outline. Otherwise, you risk writing disorganized content that doesn’t make
In the outline, you’ll plan what you’ll write in the introduction, body, and conclusion of the paper. You’ll
briefly state your arguments and you’ll indicate the evidence that will prove your point. This evidence will
come in the form of excerpts from the text.
The Writing Stage
So you read the text. You have your main argument, and you created a good outline. You’re almost there!
At this point, the writing stage should be easy.
- In the introduction, you’ll give some background regarding the topic of your analytical essay. You’ll also
provide the thesis statement – your objective.
- Then, you’ll present your main arguments in the body of the paper. It’s best to start with the weakest and move
towards the strongest argument, so you’ll finish with a bang. Remember: when you’re using a quote or you’re
paraphrasing an author’s words, you have to provide a reference. Use MLA, APA, or any other recommended format.
- In the conclusion, you’ll remind the reader about your main argument, as well as about the way you supported
Analytical Essay Writing: The Editing Stage
The post-writing stage, also known as the revision, is consisted of two parts:
When you edit the paper, you’ll focus on the main message, the logical flow, and the argumentation of your paper.
Make sure to fill in any gaps and get rid of the unnecessary words and sentences.
Once you’re sure that the paper’s structure is flawless, you’ll move onto the final stage: proofreading. At this
point, all you need to do is read the paper several times and make the needed corrections in terms of grammar,
syntax, and spelling.
Academic writing is not easy. When you cannot complete the paper no matter how soon you start and how hard you try,
there’s only one thing left to do: hire an expert writer online. You’ll provide the guidelines, and the writer will
have your analytical essay delivered by the deadline!
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