Literature and Ourselves Writing About Literature: Introduction Ways to Write About Literature

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Literature and Ourselves

Ways to Write About Literature

  • Literary Response Essay
  • Comparison/Contrast Essay
  • Critical Analysis Essay
  • Evaluative Essay
  • Research Essay

Literary Response Essay

  • Allows reader to make connections between literary work and his impressions
  • Refers to literary theory known as Reader Response criticism – each reader brings his own history, outlook, and values to a work
  • Assumes that there is no “correct”reading of a text, but that meaning is created when the reader interacts with the text

Comparison/Contrast Essay

  • Compares two literary works to each other
  • Does not just simply list similarities and differences between the works
  • Makes connections and provides analysis
  • Starts with critical reading, noting parallel themes – love and hate, innocence and experience, life, death and rebirth, progress and tradition, gender, family issues, freedom and responsibility, human nature, search for identity, etc.

Critical Analysis Essay

  • Examines how a part or parts of a literary work connect to the whole work
  • Requires careful analysis of work to see how these parts contribute to the meaning of the entire work – how a character influences the outcome, how a play turns on a critical scene
  • Often focuses on an element – structure, language, characters, sound, plot, irony, etc.
  • Is NOT a paraphrase, but an explanation on how the work communicates its idea

Evaluative Essay

  • Judges a work based on criteria set by what the reader/essayist has learned, experienced, and observed
  • Allows reader/essayist to agree or not with the set of values expressed in the work
  • May allow essayist to prove a point - why conclusions in literary work are faulty or why the work is unrealistic

Research Essay

  • Allows reader to explore in depth a particular aspect of a work using secondary sources – books, journals, Internet sources, interviews, etc.
  • May employ any of the above essay forms – literary response, comparison/contrast, critical analysis, or evaluation

Writing a Strong Argumentative Essay - Terms

  • Argument
  • Deductive Reasoning
  • Inductive Reasoning
  • Warrants
  • Literary Argument
  • Evaluating Sources


  • Argument – writing or speech designed to persuade or convince
  • Benefits of writing argumentative essays about literature –
    • Prepares essayist to use argument in a variety of fields – history, economics, political science, etc.
    • Teaches essayist to think critically – rationally and systematically – about issues which impact life

Deductive Reasoning

  • Deductive Reasoning – uses widely accepted general principles to demonstrate the truth of a more specific statement – “all men are created equal” is “self-evident truth”
  • General observations are used to arrive at specific conclusions
    • All apples are fruit.
    • All fruits grow on trees.
    • Therefore, all apples grow on trees.

Inductive Reasoning

  • Inductive Reasoning – uses specific observations to arrive at general conclusions – the scientific method
  • Specific observations result in a general conclusion
    • After several cakes baked in the same cake pan came out burned,
    • Carl concluded that if he bakes a cake in that particular cake pan
    • it will probably come out burned

Inductive Argument

  • Thesis (called the claim) must be debatable
  • Counterclaim (claim made by those who disagree with you) must be possible
  • Claims make judgments about what must, should, or needs to be done, about inadequacy of certain practices, or about debatable matters
    • Because Atlanta’s traffic is nightmarish, because its streams and rivers are increasingly polluted, and because smog often reaches hazardous levels, the municipalities around Atlanta should limit development


  • Warrants – assumptions or interpretative principles that an author shares and that provides the basis for interpreting facts
  • Warrants show the connection between the claim (thesis) and the facts that support it
    • Because Atlanta’s traffic is nightmarish, because its streams and rivers are increasingly polluted, and because smog often reaches hazardous levels

Literary Argument

  • Because they are often interpretative in nature, articles and papers about works of literature are often argumentative
  • Whenever an essay deals with issues having more than one interpretation, it will be argumentative

Evaluating Sources

  • Reliable sources of evidence must be used for the argument to be convincing
  • In evaluating a source, consider the credentials of the writer and the reputation of the publication
  • Reliable sources are unbiased – willing to consider both sides of an issue
  • Be skeptical about editorial and opinion pages, though reporting of large newspapers and newsmagazines is usually reliable

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