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What is an analytical essay?

An analytical or analysis essay is one that analyzes, that is, interprets or examines something. There are several different kinds of analytical essay including cause and effect, description, literary analysis, and process analysis.

Cause and Effect

A cause and effect essay examines or interprets the causes or effects of a situation. In this kind of essay, you may start from a known result or situation and examine what brought about that result. For example, it is known and observable that the sky appears blue, so you could write about why that sky appears blue, what causes it. Or, a cause and effect essay might begin from a known situation and then examine the effects of that situation. For example, intensive agriculture uses enormous amounts of fertilizer, so you could write about the effects of fertilizer that runs off farmland when it rains.

Description

Some essays do nothing but describe. To describe something in an essay, it's a good idea to use some of the same techniques as you would use in creative writing. Make use of all five senses: how does a thing look, feel, taste, smell, and sound? Note those small, unique details that really enable a reader to see what it is about the thing you are describing that makes it different from other things like it. Descriptive essays can easily slip over the dividing line between something you have to write for school and a true piece of creative non-fiction.

Don't forget, though, that clarity and accuracy are important, so stay away from abstraction as much as possible. And remember that the techniques of the descriptive essay are useful in other essay types, as well. How can you analyze something without a quick description of it, at least?

Literary Analysis

A literary analysis essay interprets literature (a poem, short story, play, etc). It may discuss the meaning of the work, or it may evaluate the use of particular literary techniques, style and so on. Generally, a literary analysis focuses on three aspects of literature: a writer, a specific literary work or works, or a literary element. These three can be combined in various ways; for example, you could choose to write about Shakespeare's use of the rhyming couplet in his comedies, you could write about Shakespeare as a typical (or atypical) playwright of his time, or you could examine the theme of Macbeth.

Process Analysis

A process analysis essay looks at how something is done. You could approach your topic as a how-to, and guide your readers through the process that they will follow. For example, you could write an essay describing how to hand-polish a car in a step-by-step format that allows readers to polish their own car following your instructions. Or you could look at the topic as something that has already been done. For example, you could write about the grandfather clock in your front hallway, describing the process by which it was made. Thus the process analysis paper can either instruct (teach someone how-to) or inform (illuminate a past event).

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