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.
- 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
- 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
(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.
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
- 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.
Contact Tavistock Tutors today for more information on
how to perfect your English literature essay.
For More English Literature Tutors at a specific level see these pages:
GCSE – English
A-Level – English
IB – English
Postgraduate – English
How to Write an English