How to Structure an English Literature Essay (AS and A-Level)
Understanding how to structure an essay can be difficult so we asked Hannah one of our English Literature Tutors to guide you through the process.
- Use the opening paragraph to frame the project, i.e. what you intend to prove/analyse in this essay to show your individual and original perspective on the text.
- Introduce the text as a construct making comments about why the text has been written and the context in which it has been produced.
- Include, in a succinct manner, the following: names of text and author and dates of publication/performance, some brief explanation of text’s reception and its context and a concise consideration of the relevant themes of the text.
- The key to a successful introduction is brevity, establishing the basic facts of the text whilst employing a clear critical voice: this will immediately establish an academic register in your writing.
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- In this section you outline your argument in response to the title question, clearly sign posting to the reader what you intend to do in the essay.
- Acknowledge the terms of the question to discuss what the implications of the question are in terms of how you are going to write your response.
- Use this section to introduce your own interpretation of the question, adopting an individual critical voice to show your engagement with the text by expressing yourself imaginatively and creatively in your writing.
- As with the introduction, the thesis should be brief and succinct, giving the reader a general but engaging summary of what you intend to argue throughout your essay.
3. Main Body Paragraphs
- This will make up the majority of your essay and is where you explore each point of your argument. You want to ensure that each paragraph has one significant point which is supported with evidence from the text which you then unpack, explain and explore in relation to your thesis. Ensure that the point you make in each paragraph is relevant to the argument in your thesis and sustainable through textual evidence.
- The following outline is a useful guideline for structuring each body paragraph:
(a) Point – opening the paragraph by stating the point you intend to make. This needs to be one of the ideas that is contributing to your overall thesis.
(b) Evidence from text – this can either be an embedded quotation that enhances or examples the point you are making about the text OR a brief description of something from the text that supports your idea. Your evidence should be carefully chosen to clearly and efficiently back up the point that you are trying to prove.
(c) Exploration of evidence and idea – this element of the paragraph is crucial as you are trying to prove an argument by bringing your point and textual evidence together to explore your idea. Explain how your chosen quotation demonstrates your idea and comment on the quotation in its context, e.g. relevant remarks about how the language used by the writer shows how they are trying to achieve a particular effect. Justify the credibility of your argument through a convincing exploration of your ideas.
(d) Refer back to the thesis – having acknowledged the terms of the question and established what your argument will be in the thesis section, you need to show how what you have written in the body paragraph is relevant to your argument. A couple of sentences on this is effective for showing how the analysis you have just made is proving the argument of your essay.
- This section is where you lay out your argument, moving from observation to analysis to write an intelligent and convincing response to the question. Be efficient in your choice of quotations and textual evidence; using only what you need shows a succinct and thought-out response. Within these paragraphs always signpost where you are going with your argument to guide the reader through your ideas for a clear and concise writing style.
- The conclusion of an essay is an opportunity for you to give a final, original perspective on the text. It should not be a re-iteration of the introduction or a repetition of the points of your argument. Instead, you should briefly summarise how the ideas you have written about overall agree or disagree with the title question and provide your own definitive response to the title question.
- The conclusion is where you can demonstrate your engagement with the text on a personal, as well as intellectual, level; it is an opportunity to be creative and inventive in your writing by offering the reader a final insight that they might not have thought about. You should ensure that what you say about the text in the conclusion is something that you haven’t had the opportunity to write about in the rest of the essay. However, keep the conclusion in proportion and avoid tangents that might obscure the positive points you have made previously: be original, yet concise.
- Some ways that you can conclude an essay might be:
(a) Commenting on your personal reaction to the text.
(b) Commenting on how the text still holds relevance for readers in the present day.
(c) Commenting on why the text is successful as a work of literature in terms of its characters, themes or structure.
Overall, excellent essay-writing must be logical, persuasive and creative, teaming your personal engagement with the text with the ability to observe, analyse and argue a series of coherent and concise points. A well-written essay demonstrates a thorough understanding of the text as well as a unique perspective on a range of ideas presented in the text. Logical argument, close knowledge of the text and an individual response will make your essay stand out from the crowd.
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