How to Structure an English Literature Essay

How to Structure an English Literature Essay

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In reality, people read because they want to write.
Anyway, reading
is a sort of rewriting

Jean-Paul Sartre, 1905 – 80
French existentialist author

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Writing assignment series

Essays in Literature Classes

Brainstorm the question/assignment:

  • Restate key words
    in the assignment with synonyms or
    in your own words;
  • Use these equivalent terms
    throughout your paper to
    keep focused.;
  • Write down everything
    you can think of that is
    related to the assignment;
  • Generate two or three specific sentences
    that answer a question posed by the assignment;
  • Write your introduction last,
    after you’ve had a
    chance to work your way to a conclusion;
    Often it helps to take your conclusion, use what you’ve

    and then write the introduction in the next draft.

Refine your focus:

  • After writing your initial “guiding sentence”
    (thesis statement), write a draft, then go back to the thesis
    and perhaps re-write it;
  • Include in each paragraph an explicit reference
    to the language you use in your thesis. If the paragraphs are
    not an extension of something in your thesis, either re-write your
    thesis statement, edit the paragraph, or cut it. Often you can
    revise the paragraph by adding words that more explicitly make the

Make sure that your essay is developed
out of your close
analysis of selected passages found in the readings:

  • Choose one or two short passages
    from the text(s) to help focus your paper;
  • If using a quote, elaborate
    on its meaning using
    words from it. Don’t leave it up to the reader to figure out how
    to interpret the language quoted.

Think about how to organize your paragraphs
to create an
effective argument.

  • Is there a “scheme”
    you can use to organize your
    thoughts to help structure your paper?
  • How will your examples
    “build” upon each other?
    Think of logical possibilities:
    less important to more
    important, or vice versa;
    similar ideas versus contrasting
  • Is there a central concept
    or metaphor you can weave
    throughout your paper to add coherence?

For short papers, start fast.

  • Provide an immediate, specific answer
    to a question posed by the assignment.

Writing assignments

Writing for the "Web" | The five-paragraph essay | Essays for a literature class |
Expository essays | Persuasive essays |
Position papers | Open book exams |
Essay Exams | White papers | Lab reports/scientific papers |
Research proposals |
Elements of a Research Paper

Seven stages of writing assignments |
“Lessons learned”

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