Writing a Senior Level Literary Essay - DOC by np6KJuHl


									Writing a Senior Level Literary Essay
The beginning of a well-written essay establishes a solid framework for your discussion. This section of
the essay introduces your reader to four essential pieces of information:
       The   name of the literary work(s) and author(s)
       The   broad subject under discussion
       The   limited subject the essay will explore
       The   plan or approach you will use to examine the subject
In general, your introduction should
       capture the reader's attention
       reflect the question raised by the assignment
       provide essential context for your topic
       define key terms
The middle of the essay breaks the limited subject into subtopics. Each subtopic is usually structured and
developed in the following way:
       A one-sentence opener
       A link word or phrase to connect the subtopic with the introduction
       Support in the form of examples, quotations or other evidence
       A closing sentence
The end of the essay draws a conclusion for the reader, and includes the following features:
       A brief summing-up to review the main points in the body
       A “clincher” statement that reinforces the thesis in a forceful, memorable way

For Developing Your Argument
You must remember to narrow your topic so that general ideas turn into specific ideas. The
introduction is a place to begin with the most general idea; but by the time your thesis appears, it
should be clearly focused and honed.
An example of a general topic would be:
Jealousy hurts relationships.
This functions as a general topic or idea because it can be a statement that can apply to
many different texts, situations, and life experiences. This topic statement is still too
general, and thus would be considered a weak thesis statement.
A more specified thesis statement can emerge from this more general topic:
Jealousy dismantles the relationship between Romeo and Juliet; a lack of communication, trust, and
honesty are the results of jealousy’s destruction.
This thesis specifies what the topic is: jealousy
The thesis specifies how this topic will be explored: lack of communication, trust, honesty
The thesis has a clear argument about jealousy and its effect.
When composing your thesis sentence,
       make sure your thesis reflects the full scope of your argument.
       avoid using a thesis that is too broad to be defended in your paper or too narrow to be a full response
        to the assignment.
       argue as conceptually rich a position as you can support. Ask yourself How? and Why? questions to
        deepen your thesis.
       make sure your reader can easily identify your thesis sentence.
       do not just reword the initial topic question; claim your own position.

The Basic Essay Outline:
Your essay should be arranged into subtopics that use specific evidence to support your main argument. An
outline can help keep you keep focused on the thesis statement and the limited subject of your essay.
An essay outline can be developed as follows:
        Paragraph One—Introduction includes:
        Broad subject: Author, title identification
        Limited subject: narrowed focus
        Breakdown: subtopics in the order they will appear in your essay

        Paragraph Two—                    Paragraph Three—                     Paragraph Four—
        Development:                      Development:                         Development:
        Subtopic with supporting          Subtopic with supporting             Subtopic with supporting
        evidence and analysis             evidence and analysis                evidence and analysis

        Paragraph Five—Conclusion includes:
        Reinforcement of thesis that:
               Draws a conclusion to your argument—review main points presented in the subtopics—
                repeat the key ideas, but with fresh wording
               Clinches argument—reinforces controlling idea, suggest a broader application of the
                issues discussed in the subtopics.
               Restates author and title identification

Diction & Style
A well-written formal literary essay’s goals are that of clarity, explicitness, precision, plainness: a ‘factual’ or
‘literal’ style—avoiding ambiguity and metaphor; focus on denotation rather than connotation. There should
be a structure and order to arguments as they are presented. The objective is clarity of communication.
To this end, word choice, ie. diction, is a crucial factor in how well your arguments will be received. Likewise,
the style and structure are also determining factors in the overall presentation of your thesis. The language
level in a formal literary essay should be clear, mature, aggressive and descriptive. However, do not assume
that an argument is better because larger, more complex words have been chosen. Oftentimes a simpler,
clearer word is more effective than a word chosen because it is longer. Fewer and simpler words have a
stronger impact.
Example of a “wordy” sentence:
In Macbeth, the protagonist Macbeth, an oftentimes misguided and weak character, as evidenced in his
psyche and reflected through his multitudinous soliloquies, is misled throughout the course of the play by
many contributing factors, including the damning characteristics of the witches, as well as the manipulative
chiding of his wife.
        Yes, this is one sentence—and yes, it’s far too long!
Example of an overly simplified sentence:
In Macbeth, Macbeth is weak and he is influenced by others.
       Yes, this is a grammatically correct sentence—but the argument is not fully defined! Questions
       that can arise out of this thinly drafted sentence could be: How does this influence happen?
       Who are the characters that are influencing him? What are the consequences of this
       This statement has too many possible ways to argue about the topic of Macbeth’s weakness,
       thus it is unclear.
Example of a clear sentence:
In Macbeth, the protagonist’s weakness, as shown through his soliloquies, allows him to be misled and
manipulated by the stronger influences of the witches and Lady Macbeth.
       Why does this work as a clear sentence—because it is descriptive, without being wordy; it is
       specific without mentioning the specific examples that will be illustrated in the body
       paragraphs, and it defines the direction your argument will follow throughout the course of
       the essay.
A final thought about writing style is the use of transitions. A cohesive structure to an essay must be achieved
through well-written sentences that have been organized in such a way as to ensure clarity. There must be a
smooth and logical transition from sentence to sentence, paragraph to paragraph, and from writer's words to
quoted material and back again. Good transitions hold an essay together. Do not rely on formulaic
transitions to hold a poorly connected series of ideas together; it will only draw more attention
to inconsistency, lack of clarity, or poorly integrated quotations.
Incorporating Quotations into Your Essay:
Quotations must be integrated thoughtfully and with purpose. Simply placing a quotation into a body
paragraph is not enough to ensure that your argument has been adequately supported. In fact, the use of a
quotation should be thought of as a supplement to the core idea that you are proposing. If you cannot link
the quotation back to the sub-topic and thesis succinctly and accurately, then the quotation will not be an
effective support to the thesis and it should not be used.
There are two principal issues when discussing quotations in essays. The first is the question of proper
format. The second, more difficult concern is how to thoughtfully and directly connect the issues within the
quotation to the concepts presented in your argument.
Guidelines for Quotation Format:
   1. Use a colon—most abrupt transition between the quotation and the rest of the essay.
   2. Use a comma—eases the transition between your introduction of the quotation and the quotation itself.
      Usually, a comma is preceded by a transition such as a dialogue descriptor; example: This confusion occurs
      when Juliet says, “insert quotation here.”
   3. Paraphrase—expresses the key events, images, characterization, or dialogue of a passage from the text
      in your own words. This still needs to be cited, as you are directly referencing a specific point in the text,
      although summarizing it in your own words. This format works well for longer passages, or a series of
      events in the plot that are being linked by your argument.
   4. Integrate—expresses the key events, images, characterization, or dialogue of a passage from the text
      through combining your own words with the text itself. This is useful when multiple characters are
      speaking, or to shorten a lengthy passage by taking the necessary ideas from the beginning of the
      quotation, paraphrasing the context of the middle, and the direct text from the end of the quotation.
   5. Ellipsis Points—indicate deleted text. They are only used in the middle of the quotation; never use them
      at the beginning or end of a quotation. Be careful using them to modify the quotations in order to change
      the facts within the text. Take out what may not be necessary to your argument; to manipulate the core
      ideas will only weaken the logic of your argument.
   6. Square Brackets—useful when the pronouns within the quotations are affecting the flow of the sentence,
      making the transition between what you have written and the quotation awkward. Change a personal
      pronoun (I, me, my, etc.) or an unspecific pronoun (he, she, it) to an impersonal pronoun, or a more
      specific noun—Example: a quotation spoken by Juliet may begin with “I”, but this may need to be changed
      to [she] or [Juliet] for added clarity within the context of the paragraph.
Format For Quotations Four Lines and Under                  Format For Long Quotations
If a quotation is four lines and under, it can be           For quotations 5 lines or longer it must be DOUBLE-
included directly into the paragraph.                       SPACED and INDENTED.
                                                                                            Use a colon to
                                     Introduce the                                          introduce your
                                     quotation using one                                    quotation
      ___________________            method: colon,                _________________
                                     comma, paraphrase,      _______________________        Do not use
_________________________            inserting                                              quotation marks
_________________________            Direct quotations       ___________:                   Indent the entire
______.”__________________           must be surrounded
                                                                   _________________        quotation 1 tab (or
                                     by quotation marks
________________________.”                                   1 tab _________________        5 spaces)
(_______).________________           Cite at the end of            _________________        Cite at the end of
                                     the quotation.
_________________________            Punctuaton after
                                                                   _____. (_________)       the quotation.
                                                                                            Punctuation before
_________________________            brackets.               _______________________
______________________.                                      ___________________.
                                     Relate the text back                                   Continue the
                                     to the thesis or                                       paragraph at the far
                                     argument                                               left margin

  Depth of Analysis within your Essay
  Before looking at successful integration of quotations into the body of your essay, it is important to
  recognize that as a senior level essay, the depth of analysis must go beyond simply explaining the
  quotation itself. Remember that retelling the quotation’s context is not enough for thoughtful
  analysis. It now becomes necessary to extend past the superficial details in order to explain and
  analyze the relevance and significance of the primary or secondary sources that are being used to
  support your thesis.
  The passage being examined should be followed by a combination of the following elements:
         Discuss what happens in the passage and why it is significant to the work as a whole
         Consider what is said, particularly the subtleties of the imagery and the ideas expressed
         Assess how it is said, considering word choice, the ordering of ideas, sentence structure, etc.
          contribute to the meaning of the passage
         Explain what it means, tying your analysis of the passage back to the significance of the text as
  An Example of Analysis that is off-the-mark (from Macbeth):
  When Duncan says to Malcolm that “There's no art /To find the mind’s construction in the face:/[The
  Thane of Cawdor] was a gentleman on whom I built/An absolute trust“ he is explaining that it is not
  possible to know what a person is thinking, and that he trusted the Thane of Cawdor completely (1.4.14-
          This is good start to analysis, in that it has restated the key ideas of the quotation,
          but this does not make any connection to the argument of the sub-topic or to the
          thesis—it is merely descriptive, not analytical or critical.
An Example of Analysis that is more focused:
When Duncan says to Malcolm that “There's no art /To find the mind’s construction in the face:/[The
Thane of Cawdor] was a gentleman on whom I built/An absolute trust“ he is explaining that it is not
possible to know what a person is thinking, and that he trusted the Thane of Cawdor completely (1.4.14-
7). This indicates the naivety of Duncan, as well as his inability to accurately judge the character of
others; when Duncan trusts Macbeth absolutely, it results in his own assassination and the blame of his
murder being cast towards his two sons, Malcolm and Donalbain.
       This analysis builds upon the previous statement by examining how the quotation
       enhances understanding of Duncan’s character, and ultimately making an argument
       as to how or why this character trait is problematic for Duncan. It has a clearer focus,
       it links to an idea beyond that of the quotation itself and back to the core center of
       the argument.

Integration of Primary or Secondary Source Material into Your Argument:
Firstly, a quotation should only be used when it accurately relates to specific sub-topic within your
argument. A quotation does not need to be long; the more precisely chosen your quotation, the more
tailored it is to your argument. A good initial structure for a body paragraph should be:
If we are to use the example of the argument from Romeo & Juliet, a sub-topic paragraph about lack of
communication that integrates a direct quotation could be as follows:
Introductory    The lack of communication between Romeo and             Includes reference to the topic as
Topic           Mercutio is due to Mercutio’s jealousy and               listed in the plan of development
Sentence        possessiveness towards his friend Romeo.
                                                                        Introduces the focus of the paragraph
Context for     Romeo is criticized by Mercutio for his distraction     Refers to what is happening in the
Quotation       over his attentions towards Roasaline. When teasing      plot and how this relates to a lack of
                him Mercutio says that,                                  communication
Quotation/      “is [Mercutio’s company] not this better now than       Quotation is supporting your context
Paraphrase      groaning for love? (2.4.76-7)                            and introduction and stems from the
                                                                         context. Should not abruptly jump
                                                                         from topic sentence to quotation
Explanation     This chiding results in Romeo maintaining the secret    Examine the element about the
of Quotation    of his interest in and eventual marriage to Juliet,      quotation that relates to
                daughter of his enemy, the Montagues.                    understanding of characterization,
                                                                         plot, imagery, symbolism, etc.
Relate          The jealousy Mercutio has towards Romeo’s divided       Connect the topic of this paragraph
quotation to    attentions leaves an unspoken secret between them        back to the purpose of the entire
thesis, or to   that creates further misunderstanding, and directly      essay—Mercutio is jealous; his jealous
similar         impacts Mercutio’s death.                                causes a breakdown of
points from                                                              communication between he and
other topics.                                                            Romeo; bad things result in this.

Works Consulted:
Lawlor, J.M. The Essayist’s Companion. Hamilton: Winter Solstice Press, 1998.
LoPresti, C. Guidelines for Writing Critical Essays. Holy Trinity Press, 2002.
Rodburg, Maxine, et al. “Developing a Thesis”. Harvard University Writing Center. 1999. (November 23,
      2005) http://www.fas.harvard.edu/~wricntr/documents/Thesis.html
Senior English Essays. Coles Notes. Toronto: Coles Publishing, 2003.
Checklist for Style & Diction:                             Always   Most of   Some-   Never
                                                                    the       times
Written in simple, direct English.
Consistent use of present simple tense.
Avoids transitive verbs such as: Believe, Might, Should,
Can, Felt, etc.
Words and phrases have not been overused.
Words have been chosen because they reflect the most
precise meaning within the context of the sentence; word
choice is explicit and clear.
Always written in the impersonal third-person voice. No
personal pronouns (I, me, mine, our, your, you, etc.)
outside of quotations.
Contractions have been avoided.

Paragraphs are neither too short nor too long.
Transitions between ideas help the organization and
structure; a pattern emerges that supports an idea in
relation to other ideas, as well as the relation of sub-
topics to the whole of the argument.

Lengthy quotations have been paraphrased or tailored
down to draw out the key elements in relation to the
subtopic and the thesis.
Unnecessary quotations have not been used.
Each quotation has been properly introduced into the
paragraph through explaining the context of the

Clichés or idioms have been avoided.
Slang or colloquial language has been avoided.

What’s missing? Examples of Style and Diction Gone Awry
Page/Paragraph:                 What needs correcting:

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