How to Write an Analytical Essay in 4 Easy Steps

Writing an analytical essay takes research, organization, and laser focus. Here are four strategies to master the art of writing analytical essays.

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Are you the sort of person who loves to prove a point? If so, then writing an analytical essay might be right up your alley. In fact, it’s a great opportunity to use your argumentative skills. But how do you begin?

First, what’s the purpose of an analytical essay? An analytical essay is meant to make a reasoned argument explaining the how or why of a given topic. You may be asked to analyze a literary work, a piece of art, a historical event, or some other topic. In any case, your essay won't be a summary or description of the work you're analyzing. Instead, it will be a reasoned explanation of what the work means or its impact on society. If you’re writing an analytical essay about a novel, for example, you might focus on a prevalent theme throughout the book (perhaps analyzing the theme of the American dream in “The Great Gatsby” or rebellion in the Harry Potter series).

Regardless of your subject, several strategies can help you write an effective analytical essay. Follow these tips to put yourself on the path to success.

4 Steps to Writing an Analytical Essay

  1. Take great notes
  2. Narrow your approach
  3. Create an outline
  4. Fill in the blanks

Let's dive deeper into each.

1. Take great notes

Before you can write an analysis, you need to read or watch the work or works that are the subject of your essay or otherwise study your subject matter. Even though your essay isn’t intended to summarize the subject or work, you still have to be able to recall details and identify common themes. Make sure you take notes about angles that may provide a strong focus for your analysis. You might jot down interesting quotations or key words, evidence of particular themes, or cause-and-effect relationships. This will give you concrete material to build your argument from when you begin writing your essay.

2. Narrow your approach

The focus of an analytical essay is typically narrow. After all, you’re concentrating on one aspect of your topic and analyzing its meaning or effect—ensure it’s a strong angle with many facets to explore. Let’s say you want to analyze the strengths and weaknesses of democratic governments versus other systems. Rather than delve into every aspect of the comparison, which would be overwhelming, you could specifically analyze how different forms of government approach freedom of speech.

3. Create an outline

This is an excellent way to make sure you are staying on point and have enough evidence to support your essay before you actually start writing. Start your outline with your thesis statement—the sentence that will state the main point of your analysis. Then, follow with a statement for each of your main points. These main points will be detailed in your essay as a topic sentence opening each paragraph, followed by supporting evidence and an explanation for each. Then, add a conclusion at the end to reiterate your main points with a statement that demonstrates how your analysis ties together (or what it means). You can find more tips on outlining here.

If you need to do more research to hone your analysis, it should become clear at this point. That’s a good thing, though, because it means you'll identify areas that need help before you try to begin writing. 

4. Fill in the blanks

Now that your outline shows you where you’re going, it’s time to start writing your analysis. The good news is that this should be much easier, thanks to the hard work you already put in writing a thesis sentence and outlining your main points.

As with any essay, you will use those main points as your topic sentences to start each paragraph or section. But since this is an analytical essay, you will focus not on explanatory details, but on examples that support your argument. To do this, you’ll likely want to use quotations from original sources to support your work, but the key is not to overdo it. Avoid using quotations or paraphrases that are overly long. Typically no more than a couple of sentences should be necessary to emphasize your point.

Lora Wegman is a contributing writer for Varsity Tutors, a live learning platform that connects students with personalized instruction to accelerate academic achievement.

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