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How to Write a Literary Analysis for a Research Paper

Updated on December 14, 2011

Do you have a research paper due and need to write a literary analysis? Do not fret, this article will give you step-by-step instructions on how to write a perfect literary analysis that will help you get the grade you deserve.

A literary analysis is used in research papers to give background information on the subject you are researching. This analysis is meant to show what research has already been done on your subject and prompt questions that you will answer in your essay.

Philosopher Bernard of Chartres once said that "we are like dwarfs on the shoulders of giants, so that we can see more than they, and things at a greater distance, not by virtue of any sharpness of sight on our part, or any physical distinction, but because we are carried high and raised up by their giant size." What he meant by this passage is that since there is probably already research related to your topic, you are building upon what other researchers have discovered.

Similarly, a literary analysis covers all of the research done prior to your paper, dissertation or essay, while showing the need for further research. So, your literary analysis should be a summary and critique of older research--not an introduction to your own. This article will help you make the perfect literary analysis.


How Many Sources Do I Need?

# of Pages Required for Length of Entire Essay
# of Sources Needed
50 or more
25 (at least)
20 or less


Before writing your literary analysis, you will have to read all of the relevant materials to your topic. You can search databases like Google Scholars, JSTOR and INFOMINE for these articles. Make sure to use only peer-reviewed articles in order to assure that your sources have accurate data.

Read and Collect Quotes

Once you have a good amount of articles (see the right for page lengths and number of sources), you will have to read them through and highlight or copy-and-paste quotes from these articles that you would like to include in your text.

You will also want to write points that the article makes. Remember, citing someone does not always mean that you quoted them. If they state something in their work that you would like to use and not quote, write down the point you like from their essay.

You may not use all of the quotes you collect, but collecting them is vital to your understanding of the topic as well as organizing your literary analysis.

I suggest collecting quotes in a word document or on index cards. While you collect quotes, try to organize them by topic. Helpful (and general) topics to use include: history, causes, effects. These are much too general to tie to a specific study, but they may be helpful if you make them more specific (i.e. the history of the vinyl record, the making of the CD, the effects of CD reissuing on vinyl record sales).

Remember to always cite your sources as you collect quotes and ideas. By placing them right next to the quote or point, you will not have to remember who wrote it later on. This will save you a ton of time, trust me.

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Organizing Your Quotes

Once you have finished reading, reorganize your collected quotes. You will want to start with a history of the subject. If you didn't do this already in your introduction, it will give a nice background on the subject as well as show that you have done your research.

After you have placed all of your history quotes together, you can start sorting the other points. Now, remember, a literary analysis is not formatted in a "he said, she said" fashion. You want to have opposing arguments next to each other, but do not write a paragraph per source.

A literary analysis should NOT look like this:

Johnson wrote, "Dogs have fleas..." (Johnson 2004: 1).
Shelly wrote, "Dogs don't have fleas..." (Shelly 2002: 2).
Higgins writes that fleas like cats better (Higgins 1999: 43).

A literary analysis should look more like this:

While Johnson writes that "Dogs have fleas" (Johnson 2004: 1), Shelly states that they do not (Shelly 2002: 2). Higgins believes that Shelly may be right due to the fact that fleas like cats better (Higgins 1999: 43).

See how the last example tells you more about the contrasting ideas rather than lumping them on top of each other? The literary analysis needs to have a cohesive feel--almost like a mini-paper on research that has already been done about your topic.

Fill in the Blanks and Write

Now that you have sorted all of your quotes and points, you will now have to fill in the blanks of your essay with original text. Like the example above, you will need to compare the ideas of others while forming a cohesive narrative that explains why you want to perform further research.

At the end of your literary analysis, introduce what your research is about and how this will add significant information to society. If you need any more tips or have questions, feel free to leave them below in the comments section and I will be happy to help you.


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    • akader profile image

      Kader 3 years ago from Algeria

      It s very interesting , helpful and useful tips.

    • profile image

      ahsan ali 4 years ago

      good ideas thanks

    • htodd profile image

      htodd 5 years ago from United States

      Nice and interesting post..Thanks a lot

    • brittanytodd profile image

      Brittany Kennedy 6 years ago from Kailua-Kona, Hawaii

      I've got a hub on how to write fast when you've already procrastinated haha. I hope this one (and maybe the other also) will come in handy. Thanks for reading!

    • barryrutherford profile image

      Barry Rutherford 6 years ago from Queensland Australia

      Hopefully next year I wont procrastinate so much when I refer to your hints on writing a Literary Review for Justice Subjects...

    • brittanytodd profile image

      Brittany Kennedy 6 years ago from Kailua-Kona, Hawaii

      Thank you so much, Derdriu. I was asked to do a literary analysis in school before I was ever taught how to do it. Now that I have completed so many, I realize that others can benefit from this information. Even when you search for a literary analysis, you get a very different type of literary analysis. Thank you so much for reading and commenting. Have a wonderful day. -Brittany

    • profile image

      Derdriu 6 years ago

      Brittany: What a concise, logical, useful summary of the steps in writing literary analysis! It is most helpful to make such practical tips available because some students or would-be writers have something to say but just never learned the proper way to do so. In such cases, they need the format information which you give in order to make their content available and gradable to the grade levels which they really deserve.

      Thank you for sharing, etc.,


    • brittanytodd profile image

      Brittany Kennedy 6 years ago from Kailua-Kona, Hawaii

      HSB, thank you so much! Some people do sell their articles and essays. I thought about it once (but then I found HubPages, haha). I agree that it promotes "the easy way out" and the consumer does not learn anything. Thanks again for reading.

      Warren, thank you so much!

      Mahalo to both of you.

    • Warren Baldwin profile image

      Warren Baldwin 6 years ago from Kansas

      Pass it on to one of my college kids.

    • homesteadbound profile image

      Cindy Murdoch 6 years ago from Texas

      Great article. I would not have thought about purchasing an essay... I guess it does happen though. It seems to me that writing is so critical, that purchasing the work really does not help you learn what you need to.

    • brittanytodd profile image

      Brittany Kennedy 6 years ago from Kailua-Kona, Hawaii

      GClark, that is unfortunate. Hopefully this will help those who feel they need to resort to purchasing a paper before they do. Thanks for reading! -Brittany

    • GClark profile image

      GClark 6 years ago from United States

      Useful hub - maybe it will encourage students to do their own research and to enjoy the process! Unfortunately, there are still too many sources for purchasing papers on any subject you want and it flourishes because it is fast. GClark

    • brittanytodd profile image

      Brittany Kennedy 6 years ago from Kailua-Kona, Hawaii

      Thank you so much, J. I hope it comes in handy.

    • J Burgraff profile image

      J Burgraff 6 years ago

      Very helpful. It's been a while since I wrote a research paper and was just thinking about taking a course to refresh myself. Your article is going to nudge me in the right direction!