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Essay writing is something most students are introduced to in early high school. It is also one of the areas most students find difficult. On of our expert English tutors, James, has written a short article to help you out.
Essay writing, and the textual analysis within it, is a lot like baking a cake. It can seem scary at first, but when you break essay writing down to a step-by-step process, you realise that it is quite straight-forward. It can be very easy if you stick to a plan.
Broadly speaking, all English essays will have the same “ingredients” within them. It is your job to use them to produce an essay that argues a clear, succinct point, in a logical way.
A good, effective structure for an analytical essay is what I like to call The Five-Step Rule. A good effective essay will often have about five paragraphs. Any less and you risk not analysing the themes of the texts in enough detail. Any more and you risk repeating yourself by going over the same idea again and again.
I like to use the KISS formula: Keep It Smart and Simple.
What this formula means is clearly explain your ideas and analysis, concisely. Try not to express an idea in 30 words when you could present the same idea in ten. For example, instead of writing:
“The X-Men movie employs stark metaphors in its exploration of who the real monsters are: the mutants who just want to live their lives in peace, or the humans who oppress them.”
Which uses 32 words to convey a single idea, a smarter, simpler way to convey the same idea would be:
“Through the use of metaphor, the story makes us question preconceived notions of prejudice”,
Which broadly expresses the same argument about challenging notions of prejudice. However, the idea is expressed much more succinctly and clearly in the shorter sentence.
Analysis of X-Men (2000)
Let’s say we are writing an essay analysis of the Bryan Singer directed movie X-Men’s central themes. What would be a good strategy for going about writing up an analysis of this movie? The Five-Step Rule would see you structure an essay on it using this basic structure:
First paragraph: Introduction
Second paragraph: First Argument
Third paragraph: Second Argument
Forth paragraph: Third Argument
Final paragraph: Conclusion.
Essay paragraph 1
In the first paragraph, introduction, you should introduce what the essay will be analysing, how it will go about doing so, and discuss (briefly) what your view on the text is.
Start the introduction with a topic sentence in which you state your essay’s main idea, that is, the argument or contention your essay sets out to prove. An example of this would be:
“The film X-Men demonstrates that when society divides people into categories of “us and them”, anger and discontentment often follow. Leading people to judge others on what separates them rather than what unites them.”
This topic sentence works at achieving two things: firstly, it clearly and succinctly demonstrates an understanding of the text and its central themes, and secondly, it expresses the subjective opinion of the person writing the essay, which demonstrates that you not only understand the text, but you can analyse the key ideas within it while incorporating your own views to construct a central argument.
Essay paragraphs 2-3
Paragraph 2 and 3 are where you work at showing textual evidence and examples to support your primary contention. It is a good idea to discuss some scenes, ideas or themes within the text to support your argument. Be sure to provide direct quotes from the text to provide evidence for your argument.
For example, to help support your central argument, you could write something like:
“X-Men member Jean Grey argues that the profiling of mutants is dangerous and is a form of prejudice when she states ‘mutants are not the ones mankind should fear’. A quote which illustrates the contention that everyone is capable of doing good, and so should be judged on personal behaviour, as both humans and mutants can be evil.”
Paragraph 3 is particularly effective when it is a natural continuation of paragraph 2. It analyses specific moments from the text, with direct quotations, to argue your central view. To avoid repetition, it is best to discuss a different scene/part/passage of the text to the one you discussed in paragraph 2. This further supports your central argument by demonstrating how your central point is evident throughout the text rather than just seen in one part.
Essay paragraph 4
Paragraph 4 can either do two things: It can either continue the pattern established in p2 and 3, in that it discusses a scene from the text, and how this scene works at demonstrating the central themes of the text and your analysis of it, or it can compare and contrast the separate examples found in p 2 and 3, and discuss how together they work at establishing firmly that the text supports the idea that…
How you choose to structure p4 is ultimately up to you, and you do drafts of both if it helps, to see which one you believe better works at proving your central argument.
The conclusion is the final paragraph of the essay. It should briefly discuss everything that you have discussed throughout the essay, before coming to some kind of summary of what it all means in regards to your central argument: that is, it incorporates all the separate ideas discussed throughout, to show that the text supports the idea that, for example:
“Prejudice is wrong because it takes away people’s individuality, by grouping them into broad categories, and as X-Men starkly shows. If you are doing this to other people, then they may also start doing it to you, which leads to anger and resentment across society.”
WHAT HAVE WE LEARNED:
We have discussed an effective, accessible structure for writing analytical English essays. While your essay’s specifics will change depending on your year level, subject, and text, The Five-Step Formula can still be used as the basic structure from which more detailed analysis will flow.
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