The root of the word essay comes from the French verb essayer, meaning ‘to attempt’ or ‘to try.’ Like anything we may ‘attempt’ or ‘try,’ effort — sometimes significant effort — is involved and it is highly unlikely our first attempt or first try will yield perfection, nor should it. If you can approach the writing of analysis more as a journey of discovery, a series of attempts or tries at more and more complex levels of understanding, then it will be more likely that you may feel some sense of satisfaction about wherever you find yourself in the process. Students who approach writing analytical essays as a task to complete or a thing to produce are less likely to find the twists and turns during the process of critical thinking, writing, research, and revision at all enjoyable.
As we discussed in the introductory module for this course, academic writing requires active reading and complex reasoning . That is, writing analysis, as opposed to writing summary, demands extended contemplation over multiple sittings. Discovering a specific interpretive challenge is an excellent way to begin to develop a writing topic. In addition to the questions for active reading we discussed in Module 2, when focusing on a literary text, you may also consider the following three questions as starting points for discovering the focus of your analysis:
- What theme is being expressed or represented in the literature?
- How does the author construct that expression or representation formally?
- Why might the author have chosen to create that particular literary work in that specific manner?
When it is time to sit down and write, one must approach the task with the intentions of an author. Even if writing a paper for class, this kind of focus can be helpful in discerning what to specifically discuss in your essay. Another way to think about the critical choices you’re required to make in the drafting of an analytical essay is that they are creative choices. Consider the following organizational questions:
- What do you most want to express via a thesis or purpose statement?
- How will you accomplish expressing your thoughts? What organizational strategies and types of support will work best to develop your topic?
- What is at stake in this essay? What is the larger meaning or value for understanding the ideas presented in your writing? How does your analysis help your audience more fully comprehend the culture and/or cultural object about which you are writing?
Writing critical analysis takes time, both for critical thinking and for writing. Students and scholars strongly benefit from a writing process that involves multiple drafts — either the creation of outlines, journaling, the writing of partial or full drafts, the preparation of abstracts, or a combination thereof — prior to final editing. A multi-stage process is more than a required exercise; it is time invested in one’s own development of thought that allows for connections to be made, ideas to become more advanced, and understanding evolve beyond original perceptions. (1)