Expanding on Analysis

You have a prompt and a due date. You’ve got a thesis that you feel you can write about (or maybe just one that your teacher has approved). You’ve gathered your quote evidence, but when asked to analyze that evidence – ideally the meat of your essay – you’ve got nothing.

Even worse, you’ve included analysis after the quote, but someone editing told you to put more in…  …blerg…

Very rarely is someone born an amazing writer. Most often we gather a set of tools, over years of experience and schooling, that can be applied to different situations. When it comes to quote analysis, these are the tools I return to again and again, for both literary and stylistic analysis. (Again, these are my opinions based on my personal experiences. If your teacher has a specific method or expectation then always go with what they say)

In my experience, it’s helps to imagine my reader as a computer. They know the events of the book, but then need the emotional and stylistic effects to be explained to them. Most importantly, because they’re a computer that explanation needs to be simple, logical, and clearly stated. Generally speaking, in analysis I try to explain:

What is happening in the quote evidence: this can be the actions taken by characters or the stylistic choices made by the author to convey that action. Tell your reader what you want them to see in the quote in general.

What are the important effects (on the characters or on the reader): Narrow down and describe the evidence you want to call attention to. Explain to the reader why specific character actions are notable or different that what you might expect, and what those actions say about how the character feels. When discussing style, describe the effect that an author’s choice has on the reader, and the way a piece is conveyed or read.

and finally, How does the evidence you’ve provided relate to or show your theme/thesis: This is where you connect the character or reader’s emotional response (that you described before) to your overall argument, your theme or thesis. This will probably be the longest part of your analysis, and may take a few sentences to cover. This is the section where you really have to remember to keep things logical and clear (for your computer-reader friend)

These questions are not meant to be a solution to every analysis problem. However they have been an extremely handy tool in my writing arsenal. In answering them I have often realized that I have much more to say about a quote than I first thought, and – though length requirements shouldn’t be your first thought when writing – I have been able to add quality length to a too-short essay (instead of just “fluff”).

It’s not a perfect solution, but these questions have often helped me to create at least a rough draft even when I felt there was nothing to write about. Hopefully it can do the same for you.



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Thoughts on the Thesis

For such an important element in an essay I remember having the hardest time grasping what a thesis should be. I knew that it was important, I knew that essays should have one, but when it came to writing one myself, the whole thing just fell apart.

It took me years to feel like I could reliably and effectively structure an essay. In the hope of saving you all some time, here’s my thoughts on the thesis. (Before we continue, know that these are my own interpretations and strategies that I have used as a student and writer of essays. If a teacher asks you for something else or expects a certain result, always go with what they say.)

When you’re given a prompt you’re essentially being asked a question. The essay you give back should be a long-form answer to that question, and will ideally contain within it all the evidence and reasoning you need to present your ideas. The exact nature of the evidence you give and the reasoning you apply will change radically based on the topic, but in my experience this skeleton has worked well.

If your whole essay is a long answer to a prompt, then the thesis of your essay should be a short answer version. Because it is short, it can’t hold evidence or argument; what it can offer is a definitive statement of what the writer thinks about the prompt. The whole rest of your essay is where you argue and convince.

From a strong thesis alone, a reader should be able to guess what the prompt might have been, or to even create their own essay that arrives at the same conclusion. If you list your evidence in the thesis, as we’re often taught to do, then that new essay could be essentially identical to your own.

At this point I’ve become a victim of semantic satiation, and the word “thesis” has lost all meaning. Essentially the idea that took me so long to fully grasp when it came to thesis statements was that they don’t need to be complicated or special. Ideally as a writer, answering a question, they’re something you’re already building in an informal way in your own head. From the moment you start thinking about your essay, it solidifies when you decide what to write about. The challenge is then finding a coherent and precise way to convey that to your reader.



PS. Did you know a thesis is a kind of car? I had no idea.

A couple of resources:

Purdue OWL 


UNC Writing Center



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Writing Lab Second Term

Back to our regularly scheduled programming, the Writing Lab is open and available for students to help brainstorm, outline, and edit essays, DBQs, short stories, poetry, resumes–anything and everything you feel passionate about!

Make an appointment online here, send me an email at SDAWritingLab@sduhsd.net, or stop by the Learning Commons anytime to make your work shine!

Tuesday: 7:30 AM – 4:00 PM
Wednesday: 8:00 AM – 12:00 PM (Late start 9AM-1PM)
Friday: 7:30 AM – 3:00 PM


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Finals Week Hours

Due to the odd schedule next week the Writing Lab will be open Monday and closed Friday. This change is reflected in the online appointment calendar, and the regular schedule will resume with the new term on February 1st.


Monday: 7:30a-3p
Tuesday: 7:30a-4p
Wednesday: 8a-12p

Good luck with those finals everyone!


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Happy 2107 SDA!

Big news for the new year, writing lab appointments are now made online!!

This has been the dream since the beginning (I’ve got the archived posts and emails of past tutors to prove it), and it’s finally available! Of course you can always email or drop-in if that’s more comfortable too.

Check out the Making Appointments page to experience all the magic.


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