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

Structuring Analytical Essays

Your guide to writing introductions, thesis statements, topic sentences, and conclusions. 

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

Editing & Revising Your Writing

"Instead of teaching finished writing, we should teach unfinished writing, and glory in it's unfinishedness. We work with language in action."

- Donald M. Murray  

Structuring Analytical Essays


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.

Mechanics & Style

Passive Voice:

P.V. = Any form of the verb “To Be” + a past tense action verb

Some authors/writers use the passive voice to communicate certain concepts or highlight a trait of a certain character. For instance, in an essay about the Holocaust one writer chose to use the passive voice to drive home the point that “Jews were done to.” When done so intentionally, using passive voice is okay.     


Avoid using “this” without explicitly stating what “this” is, especially at the beginning of sentences. It often presents a clarity issue.

For example, after using a quotation, students write, “This shows that…”
Rather, try, “Silko’s use of the color blue…” Or, “Maclean illustrates through diction…”

"To get"

Students often use interactions of the verb “to get” incorrectly when you should be digging into your lexicon of verbs to be more precise.

For instance, you might write, “In Maclean’s novella, when Paul gets the fish…” Instead, try a more accurate and interesting verb, such as “In Maclean’s novella, when Paul catches the fish…” Or, “... when Paul reels in the fish…”

Sentence Variety:

There are many ways to add variation to our sentence structure. Two simple ways to mix it up are:

  1. Vary the rhythm by alternating short and long sentences.
  2. Vary sentence openings - Beginning every sentence with the author’s name or a character you’re highlights becomes repetitive and thus boring to your reader.

Quotations & Citations:

For this class, you should use MLA style citations.

An in-text citation is the author’s name and page number in parentheses at the end of the sentence.

If you are only referencing one author in the entire paper, use their name in the first citation and only the page number for all following citations.

Quotation marks belong at the end of the quote. Punctuation marks belong after the citation, unless it is a question mark. Questions marks belong at the end of the sentence before the citation.

For example:

“In belated despair, he rose in the sand and consumed the rest of momentary life dancing the Dance of Death on his tail” (Maclean 99).


Eventually, “the fish… tried to rest for a moment on top of the water” (99) and could no longer return to the safety of the water, bringing the epically drawn-out struggle to a close.


Meanwhile, Paul struggles to bring in the fish, drawing it in “two or three more times… only to have him swirl and return to the deep” (99).