Writing Literary Criticism

Essay checklist:

Title:  Does your title mention the author, the title of the text you are analyzing, and the theme (or main idea found in your paper)?  It should.  It should also reflect the entire content of your paper and set up an expectation for your reader about your paper’s topic.

Introduction:  Your introduction should preview the entire content of your essay.  In your opening line, you also need to mention the author and title of the text.  You must also state a claim/thesis in the intro (usually toward the end of the paragraph).  You also need to include a “so what” statement.  In other words, if you are stating that the most significant theme in your story/poem/play/novel is loss, you must explain to your reader why it is the most important and relevant theme in that story.  Remember that what you are writing is academic argumentation.  Convince your reader that your interpretation is valid.  You shouldn’t argue that it is the only interpretation.  You are simply claiming that it is the most important one.  The intro is your chance to explain why you think so.

Body:  The body of your paper is where you must provide the reader with all of the minute details of your argument and interpretation.  Here you will make sub-claims (statements and assertions that support your overall claim/thesis).  These are the equivalent of topic sentences for a paragraph.  Just remember that each of these statements must relate back to your claim/thesis and don’t’ leave it up to your reader to guess what this connection may be.  They are readers of criticism, not mind readers.  Explain to them what you think the connections are.  Do this for each example that you provide.

Remember, you want to repeat these steps:

1)Make an assertion (sub-claim).
2)Provide evidence from the text that illustrates or supports this assertion (a quote or quotes from the text).
3)Explain how this evidence illustrates the assertion/point you are attempting to make.  Explain this example’s connection to  your thesis

Conclusion:  The conclusion should summarize the entire content of the body of your paper and restate the claim/thesis.  It should also re-emphasize the “so what” explanation.

Also be sure that:
-You use present tense verbs when relating the events of the story/poem/play/novel.

-Do not summarize the plot.  Your readers are familiar with the text and have read it.  Only relate events that are relevant to your INTERPRETATION of the text.

-Keep in mind that your readers are highly educated.  Don’t, for instance, provide definitions for words (i.e., Webster’s Dictionary defines confusion as …)  Your audience would consider this an insult.

- Don't use first person, contractions, or personal pronouns (such as you, we, me, mine, my, our, ours).  These are considered too informal.  Instead, use phrases like "a reader may notice that," "one could interpret this to mean," etc.

-Be sure that you set up your quotes in the body of your paper.  

-Do not use floating quotes:  Read this explanation.