Sei sulla pagina 1di 3


STEP 1: Choosing a topic

See the course outline for details.

STEP 2: Organizing your essay - taking notes and drafting

After you settle on a topic it’s time to choose an interpretive lens, that is, an idea or
theory that you will be using to analyze your text(s). An interpretive lens can be anything, from a
theme (“children in women’s literature”), to a concept (“marriage”) to a theoretical approach
(psychoanalysis, postcolonialism, developmental psychology etc.). Choosing an interpretive lens
is crucial, as it will help you avoid essays that are too descriptive, list-like, or unfocused.
It is also very important that you go over and annotate the text(s) you will be discussing.
Look for instances where your chosen topic is reflected in the text: if, for example, you will be
discussing marriage in Swann find as many instances as you can where the novel discusses
marriage directly or indirectly.
Good note keeping is essential. Take notes as you reflect on the text - jot down quotes, or
any ideas that may come to you. Don’t worry about structure yet, rather make sure you don’t
forget anything important. If you do secondary research at the library or elsewhere, take notes
as well, and make sure you keep track of the books/articles/websites you consult for
bibliographical reference.
As you read through secondary sources (academic articles, monographs etc.) think about
how they complement and influence your understanding of the text. Are you discovering things
you never knew before? Do you agree with the authors’ interpretations? Do you disagree? Do
you have anything to add?
After you’re done taking notes and doing research, it’s time to rank your observations.
What are the most important, interesting, intriguing, unusual things you’ve noticed? Select one
or two of these observations. They will be your representative examples - the aspects that you
will be concentrating most of your analysis so that you can prove your thesis.
Think of your essay like an argument - it would be your way of convincing your readers
that your claim or hypothesis about your chosen text(s) is correct. This claim will be your thesis
- your essay’s “calling card,” and you must work on it very carefully. Begin by contextualizing it -
explain how you got to thinking about your essay topic. Then state your claim clearly and
concisely - think of it as a way to intrigue your audience and invite them to read further.
Remember: the idea is to make a claim rather than a statement.
For example: “Swann describes an abusive marriage.” is a statement, and you can
see that there’s not that much you can add to it, except to describe the story and enumerate the
instances where marriage and abuse are mentioned. But “In Swann marriage represents both
a source of abuse and the basis of poetic inspiration” is a claim - a hypothesis which you can
set about proving and discussing.
From here on you can draft your arguments, which should support and illustrate your
thesis with details from the text, examples, commentary etc.
REMEMBER: your thesis is a work in progress; this means that you should test it
against the evidence the text provides. If you find any counter evidence that contradicts your
initial hypothesis, don’t ignore it: rather, go back and revise your thesis to account for it.
Don’t forget to come up with a conclusion as well! Your conclusion must not simply
restate your thesis, but should reinforce and complement your entire essay.

STEP 3: Writing your essay

Write your essay in a formal style. Use the MLA style throughout. Avoid informal
expressions. Use the first person whenever necessary, but bear in mind that this is not a
personal reflection, but an objective analysis of a text. Whenever in doubt about the proper use
of a word or expression, look it up online or in a dictionary. Pay attention to spelling and
proofread your essay before submitting it; spelling and grammatical mistakes, as well as
formatting errors will be penalized. Don’t forget to give it a title, and make sure you’ve spelled
the names of characters and authors correctly!
Be sure to cite everything appropriately, and also provide a bibliography.
PLEASE NO HAMBURGERS! Avoid the five-paragraph format! While
popular in high school, this format is not very suitable for more complex papers. Make sure your
essay has a well-articulated thesis and a conclusion, but use as many paragraphs to develop your
arguments as you think necessary.
Also avoid excessive summarizing. Remember: I know the texts you are discussing very
well, so I don’t need to be reminded of everything that happens in detail. Reference only the
minimum necessary of an event or scene you are discussing. Also avoid hyperbolic, unqualified
statements, like “Since the dawn of time, human beings have been writing about love” or “‘The
Yellow Wallpaper’ is a genius short story.”

Remember: an essay takes time, so start early!

If you have any questions, you need some advice, or want to run your ideas by me, I’m
always available for consultation.


Use the MLA style throughout.

•Write your essay double spaced

•Give your essay a relevant title (not “Final essay” or “Swann Analysis”)
•Use only 12-point Times New Roman fonts
•Use 1 inch margins on all sides (top, bottom, left and right)
•Do not use a title page
•Please label the first page with the following info:
Your name
Your student number
The course number
My name
The date of submission

Not following these formatting instructions will impact your final grade.