Categories: Literature Reviews

Planning Your Essay

If you have actively reread the work you plan to write about and have made notes or
annotations, you are already well on your way to writing your paper. Your mind has
already begun to work through some initial impressions and ideas. Now you need to
arrange those early notions into an organized and logical essay. Here is some advice
on how to manage the writing process:
® Leave yourself time. Good writing involves thought and revision. Anyone
who has ever been a student knows what it’s like to pull an all-nighter, churning
out a term paper hours before it is due. Still, the best writing evolves over
time. Your ideas need to marinate. Sometimes, you’ll make false starts, and you’ll
need to salvage what you can and do the rest from scratch. For the sake of your
writing—not to mention your health and sanity—it’s far better to get the job
started well before your deadline.
m Choose a subject you care about. If you have been given a choice of literary
works to write about, always choose the play, story, or poem that evokes the
strongest emotional response. Your writing will be liveliest if you feel engaged by
your subject.
m Know your purpose. As you write, keep the assignment in mind. You may
have been asked to write a response, in which you describe your reactions to a
literary work. Perhaps your purpose is to interpret a work, analyzing how one or
more of its elements contribute to its meaning. You may have been instructed
to write an evaluation, in which you judge a work’s merits. Whatever the
assignment, how you approach your essay will depend in large part on your
purpose.
m Think about your audience. When you write journal entries or rough drafts,
you may be composing for your own eyes only. More often, though, you are
likely to be writing for an audience, even if it is an audience of one: your professor.
Whenever you write for others, you need to be conscious of your readers.
Your task is to convince them that your take on a work of literature is a plausible
one. To do so, you need to keep your audience’s needs and expectations in
mind.
® Define your topic narrowly. Worried about having enough to say,
students sometimes frame their topic so broadly that they can’t do justice to it
in the allotted number of pages. Your paper will be stronger if you go more
deeply into your subject than if you choose a gigantic subject and touch on
most aspects of it only superficially. A thorough explication of a short story is
hardly possible in a 250-word paper, but an explication of a paragraph or two
could work in that space. A profound topic (“The Character of Hamlet”)
might overflow a book, but a more focused one (“Hamlet’s View of Acting” or
“Hamlet’s Puns”) could result in a manageable paper. A paper entitled
“Female Characters in Hamlet” couldn’t help being too general and vague, but
one on “Ophelia’s Relationship to Laertes” could make for a good marriage of
length and subject.

bookworm

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