Literary Analysis Essay Assignment Sheet For Students


You have developed and fleshed-out several significant aspects of your text, but how do you fold all those great ideas into a plan for drafting your paper? One helpful step of planning is creating a calendar or timeline for completing your essay. After you have a working schedule you will need to make a plan for writing your essay in which you generate a working thesis. There isn’t an exact, logical order to the following steps, but they will aid you in framing your argument nonetheless.

* Select a theme to analyze. If you experience difficulty choosing a theme, refer to your journal’s thematic dictionary and write a few paragraphs for two of the best themes you have produced; then determine which will yield the best analytical results. 

 * Create a working thesis statement. Like any thesis statement, it should contain clear, concise, coherent, and focused language that presents your argument in miniature. A good thesis statement will consist of an arguable assertion. The thesis statement for a literary analysis essay is more specialized than a generic thesis. It includes the author’s name, the title of the work, the theme, and a method of development. Your first thesis may not be your best, but because your thesis is so important, we have developed a resource page that you can use to improve your thesis statement.

  * Outline the primary points of the body of your essay making sure to insert key quotes and passages. You may choose to compose a formal outline with traditional Roman numerals or you can create an informal bulleted list of your main concepts and essential quotes. 

* Review the prompt or assignment sheet before you complete the planning process and begin writing your paper. You may notice that you have failed to incorporate an important component or detail illustrated in the instructions. Double check deadlines and the requirements listed in the professor’s rubric.

Outline Lifeline

"I love outlining!  If I don't have an outline to base my first draft on, I feel completely lost.  Having said that, I actually don't spend too much time outlining.  I organize my thoughts in a journal outline, combining both Roman numerals and formal headings with bullets.  Sometimes I include additional notes or ideas in the margin of my journal.  My outline is my lifeline when it comes to writing literary analysis essays!" - Mary






As you'll see below, different instructors take different approaches to analysis.  The key is to help students delve into a text, "listen" to it, think about it, and pull meaning from it.  The main types of analysis can be broken into "rhetorical," "critical," and "social" categories, and each category can be understood in a variety of ways.


















Paper Assignments


Types of Analysis: This tends to be where instructors differ.  Some have students analyze essays in the textbooks; others have students bring in their own sources.  Some focus more on understanding a text's purpose, while others concentrate on deconstructing a text's argument.  Still others have students look at media--magazine ads, television shows, etc.  But all of these can be loosely divided into three categories: rhetorical analysis, critical analysis, and social analysis, as Andrea Lunsford explains in The Presence of Others.  Here is a handout that explains different types of analysis.  You can teach one of them, all three, or some other combination.


Analysis Paper Topics: Some GTAs introduce students to several major types of analysis, then let students choose what they'd like to write about.  Here's an example of paper topics in each main area.


Analysis Paper Assignment: Obviously, the kind of paper you assign will depend on what types of analysis you decide to teach, and how you choose to teach it.  It's useful to give students an assignment sheet that clearly outlines your expectations.  Here are some samples: Textual Analysis, General Analysis Guidelines, Critical Analysis,Critical or Rhetorical Analysis.  Also, check out the Visual Interpretation section under Paper Three for some ideas about incorporating the analysis of visual images into the analysis unit.







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Lessons and Lectures


Three Types of Analysis:An abridged student version of the worksheet under "Paper Assignments" that explains three basic types of analysis.  In using this, it may be useful to have students brainstorm ideas about when they perform critical, rhetorical, and social analyses in their everyday lives. 


Thesis Statement for Critical Analysis: These lecture notes give an example of how, and how not to, write a thesis statement for a critical analysis of a work of literature.  With some modification, this could easily be adapted to apply to the essays currently in the textbooks.  Some instructors also assign a story for students to read and discuss as an entrance to critical analysis.  The one to which the worksheet refers is called "Do What You Can" and is available online here.


Going Greek: Many GTAs introduce the concept of Ethos, Pathos, and Logos in the argument unit; others introduce it earlier on, in the analysis unit.  Do whatever works best for you.  Here are some brief lecture notes for Ethos, Pathos, and Logos.  You may find it useful to go a little deeper into Aristotelian Appealsas well.  This is particularly true if you are teaching rhetorical analysis, since you'll want students to be able to understand when authors are making these kinds of appeals.








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Activities and Handouts


Another Way To Conceptualize Analysis: This handout breaks analysis into three slightly different categories--the "persuasive document," the "informative document," and the "instructional document."  You can use this as a lecture, as small individual or group assignments, or even as the basis for the major paper for this unit.


The Rhetorical Precis:A great exercise for breaking a text into its key components--a useful skill for students to learn.  It works well to try this in groups first, then to have students try a few on their own. Here's another, more detailed version.


People v. Caufield Analysis Activity:Note that this is identical to the "Caufield Debate Activity" on the Argument page.  Adapted from an old Constitutional Rights FoundationMock Trial case, the Caufield activity gives students two "witnesses" and a "fact situation" and asks them to argue for different interpretations.  It can be adapted to analysis rather than argument by asking students to look at the witness statements critically and rhetorically.  The questions at the end also prove helpful.  Here's an instructor cheat sheet, which is helpful when you need to jump-start discussion.








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Sample Essays


Student Samples:Once students start to identify examples of different kinds of analyses in the world around them, they need fewer examples.  After you've taught the course once, you can start to build up (with students' permission and the names changed, of course) your own bank of student essays, which are particularly helpful to students when your comments are included.  You can have them photocopied, or place them on reserve in the library for students to peruse at their leisure.  Here are two samples, but they may be a little obselete, as they refer to a book no longer used:

    Rhetorical Analysis of Todd Oppenheimer's "The Computer Delusion"

    Another Rhetorical Analysis of Todd Oppenheimer's "The Computer Delusion"








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Web Resources


Critical Analysis:Here's a bank of websites that focus on critical analysis.  Much of this can be applied to more general textual analysis:

    Guidelines for Writing a Critical Analysis

    Handout for Critical Analysis

    Basic Guide to Critical Analysis


Rhetorical Analysis:These websites focus more on summary and rhetorical analysis:

    Descriptions of Rhetorical Analysis, including questions to ask when writing one

    Martin Luther King, Jr.'s "Letter From Birmingham Jail," broken down into "ethos," "pathos," and "logos" sections.

    Rhetorical Analysis Worksheet, designed to be used as a student reads a text 

    A Short Handbook on Rhetorical Analysis, with lots of great resources

    Guidelines for Writing a Rhetorical Analysis of a Speech

    More Suggestions for writing a rhetorical analysis


Other Sites:As you find new sites that seem useful to you, feel free to let the Composition Coordinator know, so they can be added to the site!

    Overview of Analysis, generally

    Analyzing a Radio Broadcast








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Other Approaches


Analyzing an Event:Another possibility for the analysis paper is to have students analyze the meaning of a particular event.  Here's an assignment sheetfor an approach that requires a student to analyze an event in his or her life and analyze it in terms of a larger overarching theme, such as family, memory, home, or displacement.  Here's a writing group worksheet tailored to the assignment.


TV analysis:Another approach is to have students analyze a type of media, such as a television show.  This can be seen as a kind of "social analysis."  Here's a guideline sheet for an "Analyzing a TV show" assignment.









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