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EN112 Bollinger: Steps to Literary Criticism

A guide for students in EN112 showing library resources to support and enhance your coursework and academic experience

Step 1 -- Read

As you read the work, ask yourself questions, such as:

  • Why did the author write this?

  • What is the theme or themes?

  • How is the style relevant to the content?

  • How are the characters developed?

  • What do the characters learn?

  • How are the characters connected to the themes?

  • What does the format and style suggest about the story?

Step 2 -- Thesis

The thesis is a road map for the paper—it tells the reader what to expect. A good thesis is specific, limited in scope, and offers a perspective or interpretation on a subject. 

  • Focus on specific attribute(s) of the text(s).

  • Make a specific, arguable point (thesis) about these attributes.

  • Defend this point with reasons and evidence drawn from the text and secondary sources.

  • As you do research and your paper evolves, don't hesitate to revamp your original thesis statement.

Step 3 -- Research

Find evidence that supports your thesis. This evidence may include:

  • Opinions of other critics.‚Äč

  • Discussion of the text's historical and social context.

  • Discussions in books or articles about your text.

  • Discussions in books and articles about theories related to your argument.


Step 4 -- Support

In addition to support for your thesis in sources you have located in your research, you will use support directly from the text, such as:

  • Direct quotations

  • Summaries of scenes

  • Paraphrases

Reminder: Do not summarize the plot. You are writing an analysis; not a review or summary.

For more information about paraphrasing:

OWL Purdue

The Writer's Handbook

Step 5 -- Edit

The final step is to edit and polish the paper:

  • Check for spelling and grammar mistakes.

  • Ask a friend to review it for you. Since you have read it so many times, you may overlook obvious mistakes.

  • Make sure you follow all formatting guidelines.

Some questions to consider as you review your paper:

  • Do you get the reader's attention in the introductory paragraph?

  • Do you vary the sentence structure?

  • Do your paragraphs transition well?

  • Do your quotes and research clearly support your thesis?

  • Does your conclusion tie up all the loose ends?

How to Analyze Literature

Created by HACC, Central Pennsylvania's Community College

Literary Terms

OWL at Purdue Literary Terms

This includes a list of literary terms from the OWL at Purdue website that can help you "interpret, critique, and respond" to different literary works.   

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