James Pickett

Writing Guidelines

An analytical essay should consist of an introductory paragraph, clearly defined body paragraphs, and a concluding paragraph. The introductory paragraph should contain a thesis (i.e. overarching argument) broad enough to encapsulate the subtopics of the body paragraphs, but narrow enough that someone could potentially disagree. Each body paragraph should introduce a sub-argument complementary to the larger thesis in the form of a topic sentence, as well as a concluding sentence bridging into the next body paragraph. The concluding paragraph should recapitulate the thesis, and perhaps also anticipate potential criticisms.

Essays will be evaluated first and foremost based on structure, argumentation, and evidence. Style will also be considered as a secondary criterion. Particularly if you have limited experience with analytical writing, it will be helpful to outline in advance, consult model esssays, read the essay outloud to yourself, and have classmates review it before submission. The Writing Center is another important resource.

Please keep the following principles in mind:

  • Any factual statements must be accompanied by a proper citation, e.g.: (Radishchev, 63).
    • You are encouraged to use footnotes with the full reference apparatus using the Chicago Manual of Style (especially if you are a history major). However, simple parenthetical references are acceptable so long as they contain the page number and it is clear which assigned reading you are referencing.
    • Cite the original page number of the publication, not the pdf page number, whenever possible.
  • Prioritize citing primary sources, then secondary works, then textbooks, then lectures, in that order.
    • You may also cite lectures using the following format: (Lecture 4.1).
    • Wikipedia is not a valid source for this exercise (even though it can be an invaluable resource in other contexts), nor are any other websites.
    • You may reference outside readings, but they are not a substitute for assigned readings.
  • Keep in mind that in addition to writing a strong essay for its own sake, you are also illustrating your mastery of material covered over the course of the semester. Therefore, it is important to engage with a diverse array of sources.
  • Write clearly, avoid jargon, frontload key insights.
    • Define your terms clearly (and without quoting the dictionary).
  • The thesis should do more than simply list the sub-arguments of the body paragraphs (although the introductory paragraph might also do that). A strong thesis finds the connective tissue between all of the body paragraphs, the larger thematic argument uniting the entire essay.
  • There is nothing wrong with using the first person per se (e.g. “I argue that…”), but this is not a venue for offering personal opinions or perspectives, however interesting they might be. Rather, you are attempting to persuade the reader to your interpretation of a common body of evidence.
  • Note that the provided essay prompts are just that: prompts. You still set the scope of your own essay, meaning that it is perfectly fine to engage just part of the essay topic, or extend beyond it, so long as that topic allows you to write a strong essay per the above criteria. (In fact, you need not even mention which prompt you are responding to in the heading: your parameters should be clear from the essay itself.)
  • It is perfectly fine to advance an argument posited in lecture or an assigned reading. Although creativity is of course encouraged, as a criterion of evaluation, originality is a tertiary concern after structure / argument / evidence and style.

A Very Rough Rubric

  • 95-100: In addition to illustrating all the fundamentals of strong essay writing, these essays do a little something extra, such as advance an original argument or make innovative use of a source. Exceptionally strong style can also make a difference above the 95 mark.
  • 90-95: These essays have internalized all of the core fundamentals: strong thesis; reflective engagement with a diverse source base; clear structure.
  • 80-89: Many of the fundamentals of analytical writing are present, but something important is missing. Perhaps the thesis is vague. Perhaps the source base is thin. Perhaps the paragraphs do not delineate clearly defined topics.
  • 70-79: These essays illustrate some degree of engagement with course material generally, but not an appreciation of the genre of analytical essay writing.
Last updated on September 19, 2020
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