Academic Writing AdviceAcademic, Writing, Advice
ServiceScape Incorporated
ServiceScape Incorporated
2016

Outlining and Writing an Analytical Essay

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A blank page is every writer's enemy. Whether you're a professional writer or a rookie at the task, the blank page is intimidating—especially when you're assigned an analytical essay. That's why an outline is a writer's best friend, even if you're only a writer for the day. By using an outline, you have a place to start and a format to follow. Not writing an analytical essay? This outline will still do most of the hard work for you in the writing process.

What is an analytical essay?

An analytical essay is an essay that specifically analyzes a document, which is generally textual or visual media. It concentrates on how something is done, specifically how a text is written or how a work is made. It can go by different names, such as Rhetorical Analysis or Critical Essay, but it's important to remember that an analytical essay is not a summary and it is not an argumentative essay. You are not trying to convince anyone to change his or her mind. You are explaining how an author or creator portrayed an aspect of his or her work.

For example, you could write an analytical essay about how George Lucas used color to reflect a character's innocence in the original Star Wars trilogy. This will lead you to analyzing different colors the main characters are wearing, such as black, white, gray, brown, or a mixture. Once you conduct the research to gain a thorough understanding of the topic, you can begin using the outline to shape your essay.

What does an analytical essay look like?

An analytical essay is basically an expanded five-paragraph essay containing an introduction, body, and conclusion, with specific components required for each section.

analytical essay outline
Basic outline of an Analytical Essay.

Introduction

The introduction's significance in any essay shouldn't be underestimated. Your first goal in writing it is attracting the reader's interest with a hook. Then, you should use it to lay the groundwork for what is to come, plainly state your thesis, and provide a brief explanation of what evidence you found to help you arrive at that thesis.

Your introduction should have three parts:

The hook

The hook is the very first sentence in your essay and has a simple yet important role of "hooking" your readers into reading further. Often, the hook is a great place to add background details that will interest your readers, such as a statistic or anecdote. You could also pose a question, state relevant facts, or introduce controversy.

Many writers often find it easier to determine the hook after everything else is written. By doing so, you have a more complete view of your essay and can find a fitting hook that encapsulates it in its entirety.

For example, if you were writing the Star Wars-based analysis that was proposed earlier, you could say:

"Black and white are often colors portraying good and evil throughout literature and film, and the original Star Wars trilogy was not exempt from this visual symbolism."

This example introduces the essay topic of visual symbolism and explains the background of color symbolism in texts and media. Once these things are firmly established, you are ready to propose your thesis.

The thesis statement

The thesis statement is the most important sentence in your entire essay because it narrows your broad topic into a specific purpose. Writing a strong thesis will also help you to outline the rest of your essay and to tell your reader what to expect.

How do you write a great, cohesive thesis statement? You do it by combining the goal of your essay with your analysis, and how you're going to back it up.

Returning to our Star Wars analytical essay example:

"George Lucas uses color to reflect a character's innocence and characterization in the original Star Wars trilogy through dressing innocent characters in white, those on the dark side in all black, and neutral characters in both black and white."

Support

In every five-paragraph essay, you need to include a brief statement of supporting facts as part of the thesis statement to show how you are going to back up your thesis. Keep in mind that in longer essays, the thesis statement may be more than one sentence. In these cases, each supporting fact may have its own sentence or sentences. Please note that these supporting facts must be further detailed in the rest of your essay.

It does not matter how many supporting facts your essay has or how many paragraphs go into each reason in the body of the essay. This is dependent on what you need to say, how in-depth the essay should be, and if the essay has a required length. Remember that every supporting fact mentioned in your thesis should be included in further detail within the body of your essay.

Body

The body is the framework or support structure for your thesis statement, and will be a significant part of your essay's word count. However, don't attempt to make the body one big section; it can be broken down into mini sections and paragraphs to make it more logical and readable. These mini sections are dependent on the supporting facts you are using to back up your thesis statement. If your analytical essay uses a five-paragraph essay model, then each supporting fact (or mini section) should be one paragraph long.

Additionally, each paragraph should have four components:

  1. Claim
  2. Evidence
  3. Connection
  4. Transition

However, if the essay is longer than a traditional five-paragraph essay, each supporting fact will be more than one paragraph long, but each paragraph should still contain the four components.

Claim

A claim is the topic sentence for the paragraph, and usually opens it. Often, it is a reworded version of a supporting fact from the thesis, but in longer essays it may be something else. For our example topic, you might write:

"Lucas often dresses his innocent characters in white clothing."

This would tell the reader that the rest of the paragraph would be about Star Wars characters who wore white.

Evidence

Evidence is what supports your claim and thesis through details of information you've gleaned while researching. This is the meat of your essay and will provide a solid framework for your thesis.

As an example for our topic, you might write:

"In Return of the Jedi, Luke wears black, as he confronts the truth about his father."

Connection

The connection, or "the why," is what follows a piece of evidence. You should never use a quote, paraphrase, or example without explaining why it is important. This connection is what ties the evidence and claim together to make a cohesive analysis.

For our example topic, you might draw a connection this way:

"This signifies that Luke was allowing the dark side to influence his thoughts and actions."

Transition

After you have connected your evidence and claim, you are ready to move on to the next claim or paragraph. To do so, you must include a logical transition. This transition can be at the end of your prior paragraph, or at the beginning of the new one, depending on the flow of your paragraphs.

In our example, we might use the following as a transition at the beginning of the next paragraph.

"Likewise, we see Anakin under this same dark influence when he first appears in the color black."

Conclusion

The conclusion is the final punch of your analytical essay. This is where you will wrap up your essay, restate your main points, and often reword your thesis with the understanding that the reader has seen your evidence. This is the last thing your reader will read, so make it powerful.

For our example topic, you might write something like this:

"Throughout Star Wars, visual symbolism reflects a character's personality and innocence to the reality of the evil in the world. Often, characters who wore white, such as Luke and Leia, were portrayed as innocent in comparison to Darth Vader, who wore black. To show this, as Luke became more aware of evil, Lucas moved his costume through a color scheme of white to neutral and finally to black, as a reflection of his loss of innocence. Lucas uses this powerful visual technique to represent a character's journey symbolically."

After working through the various components of an analytical essay, the actual writing process should go smoothly (and quickly!). In fact, the components of the essay don't even have to be written in chronological order once you've written a solid introduction with a good thesis, and have researched the topic thoroughly.

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