How To Write a Literary Analysis Chapter Without Having a Meltdown


As you know from reading this post, I have to write a 20,000 word critical piece of work for my PhD. I’ve got a stress-free system figured out for writing my critical chapters and I wanted to share it with you.

(*This is very similar to my Fifth Element Method for Writing a Novel.)

Note: Though this is intended for a literary analysis, if you are working on a different kind of critical piece, my suggestions still might help you organize and write!

before you start

Prior to these steps, you should’ve already read your primary sources and understood them, and you have a clear vision of what you want to discuss in the chapter. Now you need to find the examples in the text(s) to create the argument.

1. Close-read of primary + Secondary source(s)

Take meticulous notes while you are reading. Whether this is highlighting or using post-its with a hard-copy book, or reading and highlighting electronically with an e-reader.

(I read on the Kindle App of my iPad or I scan the book at the library and email it as a PDF so I can look at it online and highlight electronically.)

2. write down all quotes + notes

Pull up the sources online beside a fresh word document and copy down every quote, writing a quick explanation afterwards or even adding a hashtag. If you added hashtags with specific themes, you could select Control+F and find the specific themed-quotes instantly.

*Extra organizing tip: Number each source with a code (aka S1, S2, S3, etc) so you can quickly place the quotes with the page number and code into your essay, and go back to add in the real citation information later.

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3. organize quotes into themes (examples below)

Open a new word document and put this side to side with the quotations. Go through all of the quotations, organizing them by theme.

*Click to enlarge

4. create bullet-point outline

Write out the overall theme of each chapter, or even each paragraph, and add specifics with a quick bullet-point that you will expand on once you get writing.

5. insert quotes into bullet-point outline (Examples below)

Go back through the outline and copy and paste the quotes roughly where you’d want them to go. This isn’t going to be perfect by any means, but it will help as a guideline when you begin writing.

*Click to enlarge

6. write, edit, repeat

Open up a blank word document, keep your Outline beside it, and write as the outline tells you to.

*Extra organizing tip: Select and strike-through each quote in your Outline once you’ve used one so you don’t accidentally use it again.

enjoy the process

It won’t be perfect the first time around,. If you try to make it perfect, you’ll never finish, let alone start!

Just write it out first and accept that it might look like crap to begin with. Then you go back and edit, fix things, move things around, add more here and there. Eventually you’ll have a perfect piece of critical analysis and think “Phew, that wasn’t so hard!”