How do you write a good analytical essay?

Feb 11, 2020

You’re sitting in your crowded lecture hall. From the front of the room you hear “Produce an analytical essay about the causes of the Second World War in Europe”. Everyone murmurs around you. “Huh?” you think, “What does that mean? Where do I begin?”. While the task can seem daunting, there are some steps you can take to ensure that your analytical essay will meet, and even exceed, expectations:

  • Understand what you are writing about. Read and re-read the question or statement provided by the lecturer, ask questions of your lecturer, tutor or classmates if you need to. Understanding the topic and the objective of the work are fundamental to your success.
  • Complete preliminary reading to understand the question and form your initial argument. If it is a topic that has been discussed in class, then you should have notes or PowerPoint slides that can form your initial understanding and allow you to appropriately search for sources.
  • Based on all the information gathered up to this point, develop a central thesis statement. Simply writing about the lead-up to the war in Europe is too vague for an analytical essay. Take a stand. For instance: “Although the lead-up to the Second World War was undoubtedly multifaceted, it was particularly driven by economic forces set in motion by the First World War”. Your job is to now analyse that statement.
  • Decide on an approach. Are you going to provide a timeline of the economic events leading to WW2 and analyse how each event contributed to the situation or will you focus on themes (economic reparations, unemployment, etc)? The so-called three-prong approach is generally utilised in analytical essays where three major themes are covered and support the thesis statement.
  • Deciding on the approach taken should allow you to form an outline of the work. Within this outline you will be able to place relevant sources and see how the argument is evolving and where supporting information can be slotted in. From the outline, the essay can be written in a rather straightforward manner.
  • As you write, be sure to effectively analyse the information that you have gathered from the sources and are utilising. Continue to ask yourself the simple “Who? What? Where? When? Why?” questions and actively evaluate your own assumptions and the literature.
  • After writing the work, proofread and edit it and have others do the same.

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