Sunday, September 30, 2012

Tips for Writing College Essays: Literary Analysis

overcoming writer's block - crumpled paper on ...
Writer's block (Photo: photosteve101)
by Sam J Kotera

Writers block. Talk about the number one time waster when it comes to studying and assignment completion in college. And let's be realistic here, it isn't just WRITER'S block, it is really PROJECT CREATOR'S block.

Whether we are writing a paper, creating a PowerPoint presentation, a short video production, a website, or any time of major project in an English course, we eventually hit that brick wall of saying "what do I do next?"

Well, if you are participating in any sort of English class, whether it is literature, critical theory ... etc, there is a good chance that you will run out of the creative juices at some point. The problem is that it can sometimes take FOREVER to get back in track, when you really just want to get the project done fast. So here's a quick set of steps you can take to get the creative ideas flowing again.

Consider the Big Picture

Just ask yourself the following question about the (literary analysis) topic you chose to write about.
What are the primary themes or big ideas that are represented in the text(s) I'm concerned with?
Simple, right?

If you have narrowed the focus of your paper well enough, you hopefully don't have more than three of these. And those three should honestly be bridging up to an even bigger, singular idea. Anyway, take those ideas or that idea and take the next simple step.

Symbol Identification

English classes, and especially literature courses, are largely representing philosophy and world views (culture) through metaphor. This means that you can have a lot of creativity in your interpretation of a text. And you really can't be wrong, as long as you make a compelling argument for it. But here's the key to overcoming that writer's block ... symbols are a KEY metaphorical tool of authors!

So, simply pick out some symbol - whether it is a character, a description, an item ... etc - that helps explain the text's or texts' attitude toward that big idea. Now you can get into an elaboration of a particular symbol and big idea within your writing.

At this point, find a few quotes surrounding that symbol that help back up your position, and you've just crunched out another 250+ words in your paper. Also, add your own elaborations after each quote to explain how the quotes prove your argument.

Not only is this a great way to add some more description and elements to your paper, this same process can be used as a way to create your thesis statement:
- Just look for the big ideas
- Find a symbol (or a few) that make a statement about that big idea

- Then argue that the symbol represents your author's viewpoint on the big idea

- Or maybe the author is satirizing that viewpoint. Use your own discretion here

Looking for other study skills or time management tips? Check out for other strategies from Sam, so you spend less time in the library and more time living!

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