How to Analyze an Essay
Essays are generally short pieces of prose (not always) that revolve around an already formulated thought. Essays are written analyses by established writers and critics. In school settings, they can range from one paragraph to one page to twenty pages. Most importantly, they are non-fiction. They are not stories, novels, or poems. Rather, they are complete and formulated thoughts organized into prose. Now, it is your job to analyze someone else's analysis of an issue. It can be confusing. And sometimes it can be downright frustrating digging so deep. Nonetheless, it is a necessary force of education and can force you to think of new concepts in innovative and creative ways.
When you begin to analyze an essay, follow these steps in order to avoid confusion.
Because essays are one person's view on an issue, it will be imperative that you understand that view cold. You do not have to agree with the essay. You simply have to understand it. Generally, essays can be complex, so they will take several reads to fully understand. Analyzing an essay you only 'sort of know' will do you no good. Your analysis will be shoddy and it will come across through your writing (or presentation).
Once you have read the essay sufficiently to understand it as best you can, it is helpful to discuss with another person. If this essay was assigned in school, you will probably be discussing it in class, where you will have the guidance of a teacher and opinions of several other students. More brains are always better than one; consequently, open your mouth and ask your questions. Bring your analysis into the forefront of a conversation so that you can discuss ideas. You may discover that you have found a brilliant new way to view a story. Or, you may discover that your analysis is so far off track that you will need to re-read the story to understand what is truly occurring within.
Essays will more than likely cover a specific topic. You must hone in on that topic and form your own thoughts. You must look at the essay's analysis of a topic and analyze not the topic, but the analysis — the writing. You will not be writing about the "plot" of the essay. Rather, you will be writing about the formulation of the essay. How was it structured? How is it effective? How does the writer convey his/her message?
Once you have decided how the essay is (or is not) successful, you can research it. You can find other sources that back your view and add them to your analysis. This additional step is key to a highly successful analysis. Your own thoughts are good. However, if other people have had them, as well, then your own thoughts will be excellent. Again, you are looking for ways to back up your analysis of the essay's criticism (and not necessarily the essay's theme).
Like any analysis, essay, or research paper, an outline is vital. It is the skeleton of your analysis, the scaffolding that holds your ideas together. It is your organizational crutch. Your outline for the essay analysis should begin with an introduction (including a thesis statement), followed by at least three reasons for it in the essay, and a conclusion bringing all the examples together. This conclusion will be significant in an analysis, for you will be putting together what you have just explained into a greater context. The conclusion is the ultimate analysis of the essay and should leave the audience/readership understanding the essay in a new light.
Now that you have all your themes and ideas written down in a nice outline, you are ready to write your analysis. While it initially seemed like a daunting task, because you have done all the work already, you can now simply place all the work together into a nice organized and complete analysis.
If your essay analysis is meant to be an oral presentation, follow the same steps. You will still need an outline, as presentations are no different than written papers in content. The only difference is presentation. Your outline will serve as your notes. It will be your guide as you speak to your teacher and class.