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Writing a Lit A nalysis P aper . A step by step guide  . PART ONE. Effective Topic Sentences. TOPIC SENTENCES. Topic Sentences (TS) answer specific topics (ideas) in the thesis.

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writing a lit a nalysis p aper

Writing a Lit Analysis Paper

A step by step guide 

part one


Effective Topic Sentences

topic sentences
  • Topic Sentences (TS) answer specific topics (ideas) in the thesis.
    • Sample Thesis: Fitzgerald’s use of geographical settings to represent the growing moral decay and emptiness of characters like George Wilson and Tom Buchanan signifies the hollow corruption of the American Dream.
    • What are the important nouns?
      • (geographical settings, Tom Buchanan, George Wilson, American Dream)
    • What are the important associations?
      • (moral decay, emptiness, hollow corruption)
    • What is the relationship pattern?
      • Repetition (growing)
topic sentences1
  • Big IDEA: geographic settings lead to moral decay and emptiness in George Wilson
  • Big IDEA: geographic settings lead to moral decay and emptiness in Tom Buchanan
  • Little IDEA: this decay, then, leads to the corruption of the American Dream
    • Each idea gets its own topic sentence!
    • Think of the “who, what, when, where, why, and how” that explains each topic.
topic sentences2
  • Remember, a topic sentence:
    • ALWAYS proves a specific idea within the thesis.
    • ALWAYS contains associations that help prove the ideas in the thesis
    • ALWAYS contains a relationship word to establish pattern (repeat or contrast)
    • NEVER contains exact evidence from the primary or secondary sources (this limits the focus!)

Example: Through his symbolic connection to the Valley of Ashes,George Wilson is repeatedly shown as a weak man whose hope for a better life is broken by the materialism surrounding him.

topic sentences3
  • Gather evidence from the book to support your TS. Think:
    • WHO
    • WHAT
    • WHEN
    • WHERE
    • WHY
    • HOW
    • Remember, it doesn’t just have to be dialogue!
part two


Blended Evidence

blending evidence
  • Evidence is used to prove the ideas in your topic sentence…the sentence that proves your thesis.
  • Evidence should relate directly to your ideas.
  • Evidence should be enhanced by associative lead-ins and lead-outs (blending!)
  • All Evidence should be properly cited!
    • Primary source (page number)
    • Secondary source (author) or (editor) or (2-3 significant words of the article’s title, in italics)
      • See parenthetical citation and evidence sheet in your research packet!
blending evidence1
  • Blend the evidence into your associative voice using LEAD INs
    • establish the context (the reason!) for the evidence. This may include:
      • who is speaking, to whom, the situation surrounding the evidence
      • Transitional words help add organization (time, place, idea)
      • Don’t forget your associations, abstract “feeling words” or devices that connect back to your topic sentence ideas. --- “carelessly” or “with faltering conviction in his voice” or “an allusion to…”
    • every lead-in should be a FRAGMENT that flows naturally into the evidence….if it can stand-alone as a complete sentence, adding evidence makes it a run-on!
      • BAD: George Wilson is broken hearted, “I just loved her so!”
      • GOOD: Broken hearted, George Wilson exclaims, “I just loved her so!”
    • lead-ins are NOT just simple attribution, like:
      • Jay Gatsby says, “Good to see you, old sport!”
    • Remember to place a comma before the quotation!
blending evidence2
  • Continue to blend the evidence into associative voice by using LEAD OUTs
    • analyze the meaning of the evidence and its purpose in the essay
      • Who, what, when, where, why…pattern established (repetition or contrast)?
      • Don’t forget your associations!
    • Lead-outs are part of your commentary! Do not enter into another piece of evidence without explaining the purpose behind the evidence! Typically 2-3 sentences.
    • Avoid phrasing like "This shows that," "This means that," "This proves that," “the reader sees” and "This is a good example because.”
    • Lead outs can continue within the same sentence as the lead in and evidence, or they can be the next sentence.
    • Close evidence with punctuation outside the quotation after citation!
      • …until the end” (15).
  • See your highlighted “George Wilson sample paragraph” in the research packet for assistance.
blending evidence3
  • Using secondary sources…
    • These quotes SUPPORT primary evidence analysis!
    • They DO NOT come before a quote from the book in a body paragraph
    • They DO NOT appear in the introduction or conclusion
    • They reference the ANALYSIS (lead-out, commentary) of the primary evidence
blending evidence4

(PRIMARY EVIDENCE) Later on, the full extent of his broken hope is shown when he feels the judgment of God from the eyes of the billboard outside his window, exclaiming to his wife, “’You can fool me, but you can’t fool God!’” (159) to show his despair at her cheating ways. Looking at the mess of his once promising life, George cannot help but feel forsaken by God and love. His despair only increases upon the accidental death of his wife.

(SECONDARY EVIDENCE) Consequently, George becomes forlorn at his now truly desperate situation and “takes out his anger [on Gatsby] for his ineffectual life,” (Stevens) whom he incorrectly blames for her adultery and death.

part three


Establishing the introduction

introduction paragraph

1st: Hook

2nd: Background

3rd: Context/Transition

4th: Thesis Statement

introduction paragraph1
  • HOOK your reader!
  • You will first want to start off with a frame, some single word, image or allusion that you can use to open up your paper (NOT personal experience).
    • Anecdotes (tell a short, relevant, engaging story)
    • Analogies (make a comparison_
    • Facts/details (cite relevant details)
    • Imagery (illustrate the idea!)
introduction paragraph2
  • Provide background information!
  • MUST include:
    • Title of novel (The Great Gatsby in our case)
    • Author of the piece (F. Scott Fitzgerald)
    • Historical information on the time period (1920s)
      • Post WWI / Jazz Age, Flappers, Consumerism / Before the Great Depression (use your notes or research!)
      • Don’t forget to discuss the American Dream!
introduction paragraph3
  • Add context!
  • transition from background info to setting the stage for your thesis
    • What info does your reader need to know from to better understand your thesis?
      • Insight into the topic or debatable opinion – does it need to be defined or set in new context?
      • Relevant character information or generalized plot? (not specifics!)
  • For example, if your thesis statement analyzes the oppressive behaviors of Abigail Williams from The Crucible, I need to know a bit about what oppression means and how/why Abigail (in general, not specific instances) is an oppressive character.
introduction paragraph4
  • The last sentence is your thesis statement!
  • Your ONE (complex) sentence claim.
  • This is the foundation of your paper and where ALL of your topic sentences come from.
    • It is not a run-on sentence
    • It contains a subject + topic + debatable opinion
structure of the intro paragraph



part four


Closing with a Concluding Paragraph

concluding paragraphs
  • Typically restates (says in a different way, not repeats) the thesis
  • Contains “echoes” of ideas in the introduction in order to give a sense of closure
  • DOES NOT contain evidence or reiterate points already made in the body paragraphs; DOES NOT offer new insight into characters or the novel.
  • Makes broader implication of the ideas described in the paper in order to answer “So what? Why should the reader care?”
    • create an analogy to relate topic to a larger idea
    • Make compelling examples or add significant details
    • Analyze the meaning, implication of the novel’s title
    • Reference the author and his/her purpose in writing the novel
part five


10 Common Analysis Errors

1 italics
#1: Italics
  • The title of the book is italicized.
    • The Great Gatsby
2 point of view
#2: Point of View
  • NO 1st person: I, me, we, our
  • NO 2nd person: you
  • ONLY 3rd person: he, she, they, his, her
    • Be an outside observer! 
    • Use the “control-F” function to search for and remove…until it’s in a direct quote!
3 no organizational strategy
#3: No Organizational Strategy
  • You must use transitions that give time, place, or idea
  • Use the same strategy throughout the paper
    • Tom is first shown…
    • Initially, Gatsby is…
    • At his house, Gatsby…Again at his house, …
    • Tom is selfish when he…His selfishness continues when…
4 blend evidence
#4: Blend Evidence
  • Lead in to your evidence with the context and association(s) to make
  • …and lead out with the association(s) and the purpose of the quote.
    • WRONG: He fails to show that he is old money by the artificial, materialistic side to him. “…thin beard of raw ivy…more than 40 acres of lawn and garden.” (Fitzgerald, 5).
    • RIGHT: The artificiality of his house with its “thin beard of raw ivy” (5) suggests the phoniness of his wealth.
5 failing to add supporting commentary
#5: Failing to add supporting commentary
  • You mustelaborateon what you meant by the evidence, showing how it proves your TS
    • Look at the example from the last screen and add to it:
      • The artificiality of his house with its “thin beard of raw ivy” (5) suggests the phoniness of his wealth.
      • Gatsby is trying to imitate old-money grandeur that he has seen before, with rolling acres of green lawn and luscious landscaping. However, the fact that the ivy is so new and undeveloped mimics his own wealth: the depth of his aristocracy is fake and it shows in his simulated possessions.
6 using evidence to prove evidence
#6: Using Evidence to prove evidence
  • Use your authentic voice! Other author’s words should not be your only commentary
    • WRONG: The artificiality of his house with its “thin beard of raw ivy” suggests the phoniness of his wealth (Fitzgerald 5). Proving that “the depth of his aristocracy is just not there” (Smith).
    • RIGHT: The artificiality of his house with its “thin beard of raw ivy” suggests the phoniness of his wealth (Fitzgerald 5). Gatsby is trying to imitate old-money grandeur that he has seen before, with rolling acres of green lawn and luscious landscaping. However, the fact that the ivy is so new and undeveloped mimics his own wealth and “the depth of his aristocracy is just not there” (Smith).
7 evidence is too long
#7: Evidence is too long.
  • Use only what you need to establish your associations. More than 4 lines = block quote! 
    • WRONG: But Tom and Daisy were perfect because “They were careless people, they smashed up things and creatures and then retreated back to their money or their vast carelessness or whatever it was that kept them together and let other people clean up the mess they made” (179) .
    • RIGHT to paraphrase: But Tom and Daisy were perfect together, each wrecking havoc before “retreating back to their money” (179) and letting others tidy up their chaos.
    • RIGHT to direct quote: But Tom and Daisy were perfect together, “smashing up things and creatures” before “let[ting] other people clean up the mess they made” (179).
8 evidence has no connection to associations
#8: Evidence has no connection to Associations
  • Don’t just stick any evidence in – make it meaningful, that it can prove the association on its own.
    • WRONG: This hope repeats itself through his side business with “Wolfsheim and selling illegal alcohol” (133), which is how he got his wealth in the first place.
    • The evidence used must show you clearly understand the ideas and are using it to prove your thesis!
9 improper punctuation
#9: Improper punctuation

Punctuation AFTER citation

…and “reaching for the green light” (7).

UNLESS the original quote had a question mark or exclamation point.

…asking, “Whatever did you mean?” (Sutton).

… “Why of course you can!” (46).

10 required grammar
#10: Required Grammar
  • Complex sentence
    • an independent clause joined by one or more dependent clauses. A complex sentence always has a subordinator such as because, since, after, although, or when or a relative pronoun such as that, who, or which.
      • Because I want to graduate, I will give my best effort to the research paper.
  • Compound sentence
    • two independent clauses joined by a conjunction(For And Nor But Or Yet So)
      • I love English class, but I hate writing research papers.
  • Present Participial Phrase (PrPP)
    • Verb that functions as an adjective and ends in –ing; modifies the nearest noun.
      • Promoting the sale of his new book, the author did several book-signings over the weekend.
      • The spy, listening carefully, secures the secret code.
  • Absolute Phrase (AbP)
    • noun IMMEDIATELY followed by an adjective, often --- but not always --- a participle or participial phrase
      • Ears pricked, the dog listened for the intruder.
      • Mrs. Cross stared down the class, research papers in hand.
final thoughts
Final Thoughts

What’s with all the random, unnecessary capitalizations? No…just no…

Seriously, that red line under a word means it’s misspelled. Fix it.

I am not your BFF. Avoid conversational, slang terms.

Use grown up words. And synonyms.

Write complex sentences because commas and conjunctions are dope.

Cite your evidence properly and make sure it matches your Works Cited entries…avoid plagiarism!

Use your checklist!

This SHOULD be uncomfortable to do!

It means you are growing, people!