Psci0103 nrhorning What is an Analytical Essay?

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What is an Analytical Essay?

An analytical essay is a sustained attempt to prove a point: it is an argument. An argument must have a point, or it is only so many words. The point of an essay is announced in the thesis.

The Thesis
A thesis is at most two sentences, usually at the beginning or end of the first paragraph, which states the claim of the writer’s argument. The thesis is the core, the focus, the whole meaning of the essay. It is the anchor that grounds your essay, and the guidepost that tells you (and the reader) where you are going. A “thesis-less” essay is no essay at all; it has no direction, no purpose. [Note; Interesting theses often use words like “because,” “since,” “therefore,” or “thus.” Such words announce a discovery, linking an easily granted premise with a hitherto unglimpsed conclusion. They also convey a sense of excitement and vitality.]
The thesis defines the essay’s scope. A competent essay is like society in the middle ages: a place for everything and everything in its place. Anything without a necessary and logical place, anything that doesn’t participate in the inexorable advance of the argument toward its conclusion, absolutely must go.
From the thesis, make an outline. Your outline is the skeleton of your argument. It consists of the sub-points you must prove in order to demonstrate your thesis. An outline differs from a list in that it has a logical order. The material we cover in this course has been specifically selected to allow students to make more than one kind of argument. Still, every argument—no matter how creative—will have sub-points, and these should be clearly grouped under larger headings in your outline. The sub-points should be ordered so as to best support your overarching argument. Any observations, no matter how brilliant, that don’t fit within this logical order must go.
Besides this logical or argumentative order, your essay will possess a rhetorical order, which it shares with all other essays. This rhetorical order is simple—beginning, middle, end—but ignoring it reduces an essay to confusion.

The Beginning
The beginning tells your reader what you are writing about, and why s/he should pay attention. It states the problem to be sorted out and culminates in the thesis.
Opening with such phrases as “this paper will” or “my thesis is” are straightforward approaches, and perfectly acceptable. Still, sometimes they are inelegant. An alternative approach is to find a way to start talking about your subject, without talking about your paper. Some writers write their introductory remarks last. If you find yourself having difficulty beginning your essay, you might want to consider this strategy.
Avoid long introductory remarks—“throat clearing”—that merely rehash the facts of the reading. Such remarks aren’t just boring; they also waste precious space. In a 4-5 page essay you will face definite space constraints, so get right to the point.

The Middle

The middle is where the real work of the paper gets done. It makes the argument indicated in the thesis. The middle is composed of a succession of paragraphs, each of which is an essay in miniature. A paragraph either begins with or builds toward a topic sentence, which expresses the mini-thesis of the paragraph. A paragraph makes a single point, then a new paragraph begins. Any sentence that doesn’t contribute to this point, and any paragraph that doesn’t advance the larger argument, must go. No reader can tolerate unemployed, meandering sentences and paragraphs for very long.


Analytic essays often employ terms that are relevant to a specific concept, theory, or discipline. These terms must be defined and explained—both to demonstrate that the author understands them, and to help the uninformed reader understand what them too. As an analyst, your job is to convey precise information to the readers; don’t assume they will understand absent a clear definition.

An argument does more than provide mere assertions; it also provides proof. It proceeds from recognized facts or evidence to its conclusion. In order not to descend into mere assertion, an analytic essay has to support itself by: a) the power of logic, and/or b) documented facts. This means citations.
Always remember to cite. Citations are insurance—they prove that what you’re saying is really in the text. A good essayist, while giving them proper credit, often paraphrases his sources; a poor essayist settles for stringing together quotations without demonstrating that s/he understands them well enough to restate their ideas in his or her own words. That said, providing some brief, pointed, relevant quotations is often the best way to stay true to the meaning of the text. But, don’t “over quote”; that is, don’t let citations substitute for your own analysis. The goal of your essay is to present your own argument based on the texts. So select your quotes carefully, and don’t be afraid to use the language of the text where the choice of words is crucial.
Strong arguments also anticipate objections; those that don’t get “ambushed” by easily produced counter arguments. Show that you have thought about objections to your own claims. You don’t have to anticipate every possible objection, but certainly, you should address the most forceful ones that might be advanced. The best way to do this is to consider the alternative explanation(s), and demonstrate—with evidence and reasons—why your own position is superior. An alternative approach some writers adopt is simply to state their claims in ways that foreclose objections that might reasonably come to mind. Anticipating and preempting objections in this way also furthers the task of analysis. It will help you get to the root issues, and getting to the root issues will, in turn, help you focus your argument.
The End
Weak essays have no end; they simply stop. Like the beginning, the end should be a full paragraph, one that drives the point home, pushes the implications wide, and brings the reader to rest with a sense of completion. It reiterates, summarizes, and emphasizes, capitalizing on the writer’s last chance to impress the reader.
The final paragraph should convey a sense of assurance and repose, of business completed. Its structure complements that of the beginning paragraph. Its topic sentence is a version of the original thesis, frequently marked by a transitional word or phrase like “then,” “finally,” “thus,” or “so.”
Rhetoric and Style

Good writing is concise, forceful, and parallel. While these aren’t the only virtues of good writing, they are the most important ones, and a writer who can handle these generally does well in the other aspects.

Wordiness is the most common sin in writing. It has two causes—either the writer has no clear point in mind, or doesn’t know how to make it. The writer tries to hide the problem by throwing words at it, thinking none will dare question him or her if only s/he can use enough impressive words.
A good sentence, however, conveys its meaning simply and directly, with a minimum of words. The words themselves are chosen for their clarity, not their length. Sentences stop after a reasonable number of words, and when they contain a single clear idea. As a result, the sentence says what the essayist means.
The guiding rule on concision is simple: shorter is better. If you can cut a word, phrase, sentence, or whole paragraph without losing the meaning, you should.
This rule has many corollaries. Some of the more common are:
• flowery adjectives and fancy descriptive phrases that really do nothing but take up space MUST GO;

unsubstantiated praise, criticism, or other assertions MUST GO; a good rule of thumb is: if you want to say it, prove it;

• catch-phrases that have no real meaning MUST GO;

• excessive jargon and colloquialisms MUST GO.

Good essay writing is active and forceful. It shows in its choice of verbs. It relies on short and dynamic verbs and prefers simpler forms to more complex. Good writing always takes responsibility for what it says, instead of hiding behind subjective or impersonal expressions and the passive voice. Constructions like “it is necessary that,” or “it seems [to me] that” as well as the passive voice (“this essay was written by me”) are not just weak, but wordy--committing two sins simultaneously.
Good writing is parallel. In a sentence, or a set of related sentences, it makes the same type of point in the same sort of way with the same part of speech. For example:
NOT: The Prime Minister was tall, thin, and talked a lot.

BUT: The Prime Minister was tall, thin, and talkative.

Understanding Grammar
(Or, How to Write Good Stuff)

  1. Avoid run-on sentences they are hard to read.

  2. Never use no double negatives.

  3. Use the semicolon properly, always where it is appropriate; and never where it is not.

  4. Reserve the apostrophe for it’s proper use and omit it where its not needed.

  5. Verbs has to agree with their subjects.

  6. No sentence fragments.

  7. Proofread carefully to see if you any words out.

  8. Avoid commas, that are not necessary.

  9. If you reread your work, you will find on rereading that a great deal of repetition can be avoided by rereading and editing.

  10. A writer must not shift your point of view.

  11. Do not overuse exclamation marks!!!

  12. And do not start a sentence with a conjunction.

  13. Place pronouns as closely as possible, especially in long sentences as of ten or more words, to their antecedents.

  14. Hyphenate only between syllables and avoid un-necessary hyphens.

  15. Write all adverbial forms correct.

  16. Don’t use contractions.

  17. Writing carefully, dangling participles must be avoided.

  18. It is incumbent on us to avoid archaisms.

  19. If any word is improper at the end of a sentence, a linking verb is.

  20. Steer clear of incorrect verb forms that have snuck into the language.

  21. Take the bull by the hand and avoid mixed metaphors.

  22. Avoid modernisms that sound flaky.

  23. Avoid barbarism: they impact too forcefully.

  24. Never, ever use repetitive redundancies.

  25. Everyone should be careful to use singular pronouns with singular nouns in their writing.

  26. If I’ve told you once, I’ve told you a hundred times: avoid hyperbole.

  27. Also, avoid awkward or affected alliteration.

  28. Do not string a large number of prepositional phrases together unless you are walking through the Valley of the Shadow of Death.

  29. Always pick, on the correct idiom.

  30. “Avoid overuse of ‘quotation “marks.” ’”

  31. Never use more words than necessary in order to get your point across: be concise.

  32. Always chek you’re spilling.

  33. Always be avoided by the passive voice.

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