To learn to write is to learn to have ideas.
— Robert Frost

Structuring Analytical Essays

Your guide to writing introductions, thesis statements, transitions, and conclusions.

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Mechanics & Style

"It is an old observation that the best writers sometimes disregard the rules of rhetoric... Unless [you] is certain of doing as well, [you] will probably do best to follow the rules."

Strunk & White

Structuring Analytical Essays


Use your title. Don’t restate the assignment. Make the title informative and interesting.


Four parts of a good intro. paragraph:

  1. Hook
  2. Context about your main idea
  3. Central points: Your “road map”
  4. Thesis

An effective introduction does not waste any time. It starts out on topic and stays on topic. Conventionally, the last sentence of the introduction is the thesis. (NOTE: an accomplished writer may place it somewhere else in the intro, but you should have it as your last line.)

An effective introduction also previews the central points you are going to make in the paper.

It needs to mention the title(s) of the work(s) and author(s) you will be discussing. They need not be in the first sentence.

An introduction for a 4-6 page paper need not be any longer than 5-7 sentences.

Thesis Statements:

Four parts of a good thesis statement:

  1. Be arguable (reasonable people could disagree)
  2. Be fully addressed within the context of a 4-6 pg essay.
  3. Express one main idea.
  4. Be compelling. In other words, it should address the question: “So What?”

A thesis statement is a clear, direct, original, specific one-sentence statement of what you are going to focus on in your essay.

A good thesis statement is the foundation upon which you “build” the rest of your paper. It gives your discussion a focus, a sense of direction, and a purpose.

Without a thesis statement, your discussion will wander aimlessly without a point.

A basic thesis statement will answer the questions “Why?” with a “because” clause. There are more sophisticated ways of writing a thesis, but this is one basic way to think about it.

Transitions & Topic Sentences:

Four parts of good transitions/topic sentences:

  1. It's a sub-point of your thesis—references back to a point in your “road map”
  2. Transitional language: What is the relationship?
  3. Is it an argument and not a summary of a plot point?
  4. Be concise

A transition/topic sentence is the first sentence of a new body paragraph.

A good essay must have a sense of continuity, and transitions provide that sense of cohesiveness.

Think of an essay as a journey and transitions/topic sentences as the “signposts” for the reader, providing them with a sense of “here’s where I’ve been, here’s where I am, and here’s where I’m going.”


Why do we study English?

“We help people figure out how to talk about it.” - Oskar Eustis

NEVER begin the conclusion paragraph with “in conclusion.” It’s boring.Your reader will assume you are about to conclude if it’s your final paragraph.

Conclusions in literary analysis ARE NOT summaries of your discussion or a restatement of your thesis.

Rather, last paragraphs leave your reader with something to think about. A.k.a. your “so what?” Or, as Eustis says, offer your reader some insight on how your discussion offers greater implications to the human experience.

A conclusion paragraph for a 4-6 page paper need not be longer than five or six sentences, and may be shorter.