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English Resources: Writing a Literary Analysis

Resources for English

Thesis Statements

Other Literary Analysis Resources

What is a Literary Analysis

The purpose of a literacy analysis is to provide a careful examination and evaluation of a work of literature to better understand the work. It is not meant to be a summary of the work.

Example topics of literacy analysis include (but at not limited to):

  • Discussing the nature and potential symbolism of characters (are they meant to stand in for a particular ideology or emotion)
  • Compare and contact choices different characters make
  • A reading of a work based on an outside perspective (i.e. looking at a work from a feminist standpoint)
  • A study of the historical events taking place in the background of a particular work and how it effects the characters and story
  • An analysis of a reoccurring symbol or image in the work
  • A study of the social, political, or economic context in which a work was written

What Makes a Good Literary Analysis?

In selecting the focus of your paper, you want to make sure that you have a debatable thesis statement with a solid argument backed up by evidence. Your thesis should be limited in scope and offer a specific interpretation of the work that will guide you in organizing your paper.

What Type of Evidence Should be Used?

Your analysis should use a mix of primary and secondary sources.

The primary source for a literary analysis is the work which you are writing about and which is the central focus on your paper.

Secondary sources are resources that discuss the primary source or discuss other information such as theories, symbols, social and historical contexts, etc. To find secondary sources, you can use the databases listed on the main page of this guide.

What Are Examples of Evidence?

Your evidence may include:

  • Examples from the text in the form of direct quotations, summaries, and paraphrases (Primary)
  • Other literary critic's opinions or analysis of a work in the form of critical essays - they can be used as support or as counter arguments (secondary)
  • Background information discussion the historical and social context in the form of books or article (Secondary)

Your main evidence should be coming from the text itself and secondary sources (such as critic's opinions and background information) should be used sparingly.

Citing Evidence with MLA

In-text citations for MLA require two elements: Author's last name and page number. There is no punctuation between these two elements.

Direct Quotations

Require a page number. If a page number is not evident, you can also provide a paragraph number i.e. (Smith par. 3).


If you are paraphrasing a part of the literary work, you still need to provide a page number or page range to indicate where you are getting your information from i.e. (Smith 11-13)


If you are summarizing a work as a whole or a large chuck of a work, a page number or page range is not required, however, you still need to provide a citation or the author's last name.

Paraphrasing Vs Summarizing


  • putting a passage into your own words

  • condensing idea slightly

  • requires a page number


  • summarizing only the main points or broad overview

  • requires citation; but not a page number

Ways to Format In-Text Citations

The following are different ways you can format your in-text citations:

Author’s name in text (page number):
According to Cuno, “for years, archaeologists have lobbied for national and international laws, treaties, and conventions to prohibit the international movement of antiquities” (1).

Author’s name in reference (page number):
The argument runs that, “the term 'Czechoslovak' had become a rich source of contention almost immediately after the state's formation” (Innes 16).

No known author:
A similar study was done of students learning to format a research paper ("MLA In-Text Citations").

Note: Use an abbreviated version of the title of the page in quotation marks to substitute for the name of the author

Citing authors with same last names, provide the first initial:

Although some medical ethicists claim that cloning will lead to designer children (R. Miller 12), others note that the advantages for medical research outweigh this consideration (A. Miller 46).

Author’s name in text (no page number):
Cassell and Jenkins compared reaction times. . . .

Author’s name in reference (no page number):
In a recent study of reaction times (Cassell & Jenkins). . .

Note: If the source does not have page numbers, but explicitly labels its paragraphs or sections, you can give that number instead with the appropriate abbreviation. For example, (Lee, par. 2). When a source has no page number or not other kind of numbering, do not give a page number in the parathesis. Do not count paragraphs if they are not numbered.