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Analytical Essay

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Analytical Essay

M. C. Escher was an artist whose geometrical optical illusions challenged viewers to question the way they saw reality. Likewise, analytical essays look at a subject from different perspectives and explore the way it works in terms of how it fits into its genre, culture, society, or history. Similarly, we will be looking at the definition, structure, outlining, and discussing possible topics of analytic essays.

Analytical Essay Escher-esque image of house looks at its subject from different angles StudySmarter

An Escher-esque image of a house,

Analytical Essay Definition

Analytical essays move a step beyond summarizing a subject to include an interpretation of the subject. Other essays may ask you to write about, for example, The Great Depression, but an analytical essay could ask you to discuss The Great Depression in relation to agricultural practices. In other words, Analytical essays explore context.

When you talk about context, you refer to the circumstances that surround the subject. Some broad circumstances you might consider are historical, political, or economic. In a text, you look at the words that surround an excerpt to determine its meaning.

How are Analytical Essays different from expository essays?

Both analytical and expository essays narrow a topic's focus to explore its deeper meaning, but they have a couple of differences:

  • Analytical essays leave room for evidence-based opinion, while expository essays remain neutral. Part of writing an analytical essay is arguing whether the subject accomplished its goal. For example, if you are asked to analyze a piece of artwork, you could include whether or not the artistic choices the artist made successfully expressed its theme.
  • Analytical essays rely on insight, and expository essays are fact-based. An analytical essay wants to know your thought process and what conclusions you arrived at while examining your topic. For example, if reviewing a text in relation to historical events that happened when it was written, what clues do you see in the text that support your claim?

You are writing an expository essay rather than an analytical essay if the topic asks you to "explain" or "define." For example, the topic, "Explain How Jim Crow Laws Led to Discrimination in the Housing Industry Toward African Americans" can be an emotional subject.

However, the clue word "explain" lets you know that your audience wants to know more about the subject. In order to educate them, it works best to write an essay that relies on verifiable evidence (expository essays are fact-based) that is presented in an objective manner (expository essays remain neutral) to avoid triggering any conscious or subconscious bias they may have. Doing so allows them to weigh the evidence for themselves to see the damage that was done.

Analytical Essay Types

Some of the types of analytical essay assignments in school discuss films, works of art, or even historical events. Two of the most common analytical essay assignments that will pop up on standardized exams are analyzing a piece of literature or nonfiction writing. In either type of analysis, explain how the author’s choices influence your understanding of the text.

Literary Analysis

Authors use literary devices to engage the reader. Literary devices evoke the senses and use words to guide the reader to make new connections between different objects or ideas. When you write a literary analysis, discuss what the author does with literary devices and why it is or isn't effective. Some standard literary devices you can use in your analysis are:

  • Metaphor: takes two unrelated objects and compares them. (His eyes were pools of ice.)
  • Imagery: uses the five senses and other literary devices to create pictures in the reader’s mind. (The cold rain plopped against the sidewalk.)
  • Symbolism: uses an object to represent a concept. (Light represents goodness.)
  • Slang: informal language used to describe socioeconomic background, education level, geographical location, and time period. (“Gams” was a popular term for pretty legs in the 1920s or so)

Victorian literary critic John Ruskin made up the term “pathetic fallacy” to describe a type of personification (applying human characteristics to non-humans) that paints nature with human actions and feelings. It is usually used in connection with a character or narrator to express their inner thoughts and feelings. So, if someone is sad, a corresponding pathetic fallacy is for it to be raining outside.

Rhetorical Analysis

Rhetorical Analysis asks you to ignore what is being said and focus on how the author says it. When writing a rhetorical analysis, some things to discuss are:

  • Context: Why does this piece of writing exist? Examine the intended audience and purpose and how it fits into society.
  • Tone: How does the mood of the piece influence the audience?
  • Word choice: Does the language of the text help or hurt the author’s message?
  • Appeal: Does the author use emotion, logic, or both to approach the audience?

Analytical Essay Looking at a building and subject from different angles StudySmarter

An image of a building from different angles, representing looking at a subject from different angles,

Analytical Essay Topics

If you get to choose an analytical essay topic, keep these tips in mind:

  • Avoid analytical essay topics that are too specific or vague. Your essay will appear shallow and rushed if your subject is too wide-ranging. An example of a too-broad topic is "90s Grunge Bands." Conversely, you will not have enough to write about if the scope of your topic is too limited. Choosing a band Eddie Vedder was in before he joined Pearl Jam as the focus of an essay would be difficult to find information about.
  • Pick a topic idea you know something about and are interested in to cut down on some of the research and make the analytical essay fun to write.
  • Pick a relatively mainstream topic, so you will not have a hard time finding reliable sources for your analytical essay.

Here are a few potential topic ideas for your analytical essay:

  • Is graffiti art?
  • Analyze your favorite song
  • What makes “I Have a Dream” a compelling speech?
  • Analyze your favorite movie
  • Analyze a turning point in a war

Analytical Essay Structure

Follow the standard essay format for your analytical essay:

  • Introduction: Use a hook to grab the reader’s attention. A thought-provoking quote or statistic makes the reader curious, so they want to read more. Next, relate your subject to the hook and provide some brief, general information. Finally, round out the introduction with a thesis statement that clearly outlines the argument and main points of your analytical essay.
  • Body Paragraphs: Body paragraphs vary by topic, but there should be at least three.
  • Conclusion: Use the conclusion for final thoughts on the main points of your analytical essay and restate your thesis.

Use the CER Model to help construct the body paragraphs of your analytical essay:

Claim: The main point/ topic sentence of a body paragraph. The main points of the essay work to support the thesis statement.

Evidence: Support your claim with an example from the text or a source.

Reasoning: Explain the connection between the main point and the evidence.

Analytical Essay Outline

Before constructing your outline, brainstorm your topic. Writing out your thoughts and knowledge of the subject is an effective way to figure out a clear and concise thesis for your analytical essay. Formulate your outline to look like this:

I. Introduction

A. Hook

B. Introduce Subject

C. Thesis Statement

II. Body Paragraphs

A. Claim

B. Evidence

C. Reason

III. Conclusion

A. Summarize Main Points

B. Restate Thesis

C. Final Impression

Analytical Essays Kaleidoscope sunflower represents individual interpretation StudySmarter

A kaleidoscope image of a sunflower represents individual interpretation within analytical essays

Analytical Essay Example

This analytical essay sample is an abbreviated example of a film analysis that focuses on framing an episode of a television show within the context of its current events:

“You know what? There’s a lesson here somewhere,”1 says Canadian border agent Beau while he shares a beer with an American congressman. The Creepshow episode “Drug Traffic” discusses the issues of high prescription costs, know-it-all bureaucracy, and political showboating. “Drug Traffic” uses hyperbole to express frustration over the lack of control people have regarding their health care.

The sample analytical essay uses a quote from the episode as a hook. The thesis statement expresses both an argument and a main point.

In “Drug Traffic,” a mother is desperate to get her daughter Mai the medication she needs, so she agrees to be part of a congressman’s photo op. The congressman arranges to film himself bringing a group of Americans across the Canadian border to access the medications they can’t afford at home.

Unfortunately, as Mai’s health begins to deteriorate rapidly, she and her mother get caught in the ideological crossfire of Beau and the congressman. As a result, Mai’s condition worsens until she becomes a disembodied head that feeds on the group. Finally, rather than getting Mai the medicine she needs to return to normal, Beau and the congressman join forces and attempt to murder her.

Beau’s repeated roadblocks and the congressman’s exaggerated political ambition make them caricatures of their job titles. Mai’s blood is literally on Beau and the congressman’s hands, and face, and clothes, as one expresses useless “if onlys” and the other muses over political spin.1 The viewer’s sympathy lies with Mai after watching her and her mother do everything in their power to overcome the hurdles that led to this outcome.

After a brief paragraph summarizing the episode, a new body paragraph states a claim. It is supported with evidence from the episode and followed with reasoning that connects the claim and the evidence.

Writer Christopher Larsen uses over-the-top body horror to shed light on how chronic illness and the American healthcare system intersect. As with other medications, pharmaceutical companies have prioritized profit over accessibility. Throughout the episode, the anguished look on Mai’s face alludes to the viewer that she constantly struggles with her body, like any chronically ill person. Mai’s mother feels she has no other choice than to depend on the help of a wannabe career politician who sees these people’s sickness as an opportunity. Mai is visibly ill, but her mother is treated first as hysterical and then as a criminal when she becomes anxious. Mai’s transformation into a disembodied head symbolizes her loss of control over her body. Director Greg Nicotero uses this hyperbolic image to visually smack the viewer into awareness of the disconnect between patients and their healthcare options.

Many of the literary devices used by authors can be applied to visual media as well. Alluding to something means that the visual object or words remind the audience of something else without mentioning that something else specifically. The author of the sample analytical essay offers an interpretation of a visual effect that uses an example of symbolism.

“Drug Traffic” effectively uses body horror to discuss the frustrating struggle numerous chronically ill people have with the healthcare system. Some people go to drastic lengths to access expensive medications for their loved ones. Unfortunately for many, it’s too little, too late, or sometimes not at all. In a world of slow-moving bureaucracy and self-serving politicians, the viewer relates most to a disembodied, cannibalistic head.

The conclusion restates the thesis in a different way and makes a bold statement in connection with the information shared in the article to leave a lasting impression on the audience.

Analytical Essay - Key Takeaways

  • An analytical essay interprets a subject from different perspectives and explores the way it works in terms of how it fits into its genre, culture, society, or history.
  • When writing a literary or rhetorical analysis, include how the author's choices affect your understanding of the subject.
  • A literary analysis examines the literary devices an author uses to convey their message. A rhetorical essay examines how the author shares their message.
  • Choose an analytical essay topic that is neither too specific nor too vague.
  • Using the CER Model (Claim, Evidence, Reasoning) for your analytical essay helps construct effective body paragraphs.

1Nicotero, Greg, Dir. "Drug Traffic." Creepshow. 2021

Frequently Asked Questions about Analytical Essay

An analytical essay interprets a subject from different perspectives and explores the way it works in terms of how it fits into its genre, culture, society, or history. 

An analytical essay is structured into the typical essay format and includes an introduction, at least three body paragraphs, and a conclusion.

To write a thesis for an analytical essay, brainstorm your topic. This helps organize your thoughts and knowledge on the subject into a clear and concise thesis statement.

Restate your thesis and summarize the main points in the conclusion of the analytical essay. Include a final thought that is a result of information shared in the essay to leave a final impression on the audience.

To write an introduction for an analytical essay, use a hook, such as a thought-provoking quote, statistic, or anecdote, to grab the reader's attention. Next, relate your subject to the hook and offer some general information about the subject. Finally, round out the introduction with a thesis statement that clearly outlines the main points and argument of the essay.

Final Analytical Essay Quiz


What is an analytical essay?

Show answer


An analytical essay interprets a subject from different perspectives and explores the way it works in terms of how it fits into its genre, culture, society, or history.  

Show question


True or False: An analytical essay is a neutral discussion of its subject.

Show answer


False. An analytical essay uses evidence-based opinion in its discussion.

Show question


What explanation should you include as part of literary or rhetorical analysis?

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While writing a literary or rhetorical analysis, include an explanation of how the author's word choices influence your understanding of the text.

Show question


Which are topics of discussion within a rhetorical analysis?

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All of the above

Show question


True or False: Analytical essays rely on insight.

Show answer


True: Analytical essays want to know your thought process and what conclusions you drew while examining your topic.

Show question


What is "pathetic fallacy?"

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Pathetic fallacy is a type of personification that paints nature with human actions or emotions. It is usually connected to a character and expresses their inner thoughts and feelings.

Show question


What are literary devices?

Show answer


Literary devices engage the reader by evoking their senses or guiding them to make new connections between different objects or ideas.

Show question


How is brainstorming helpful when writing an analytical essay?

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Brainstorming is helpful when writing an analytical essay because when you write out your thoughts and knowledge of the subject they are more easily organized into a clear and concise thesis statement.

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What is included in the CER Model?

Show answer


All of the above

Show question


Why should you be careful to avoid a topic that is too specific or too vague?

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You should be careful to avoid choosing a topic that is too specific or too vague because a topic that is too specific will severely limit the information you can write about, and a topic that is too vague will produce an essay that appears shallow and rushed.

Show question


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