Interesting Literature

How to Write a Good English Literature Essay

By Dr Oliver Tearle (Loughborough University)

How do you write a good English Literature essay? Although to an extent this depends on the particular subject you’re writing about, and on the nature of the question your essay is attempting to answer, there are a few general guidelines for how to write a convincing essay – just as there are a few guidelines for writing well in any field.

We at Interesting Literature  call them ‘guidelines’ because we hesitate to use the word ‘rules’, which seems too programmatic. And as the writing habits of successful authors demonstrate, there is no  one way to become a good writer – of essays, novels, poems, or whatever it is you’re setting out to write. The French writer Colette liked to begin her writing day by picking the fleas off her cat.

Edith Sitwell, by all accounts, liked to lie in an open coffin before she began her day’s writing. Friedrich von Schiller kept rotten apples in his desk, claiming he needed the scent of their decay to help him write. (For most student essay-writers, such an aroma is probably allowed to arise in the writing-room more organically, over time.)

We will address our suggestions for successful essay-writing to the average student of English Literature, whether at university or school level. There are many ways to approach the task of essay-writing, and these are just a few pointers for how to write a better English essay – and some of these pointers may also work for other disciplines and subjects, too.

Of course, these guidelines are designed to be of interest to the non-essay-writer too – people who have an interest in the craft of writing in general. If this describes you, we hope you enjoy the list as well. Remember, though, everyone can find writing difficult: as Thomas Mann memorably put it, ‘A writer is someone for whom writing is more difficult than it is for other people.’ Nora Ephron was briefer: ‘I think the hardest thing about writing is writing.’ So, the guidelines for successful essay-writing:

1. Planning is important, but don’t spend too long perfecting a structure that might end up changing.

This may seem like odd advice to kick off with, but the truth is that different approaches work for different students and essayists. You need to find out which method works best for you.

It’s not a bad idea, regardless of whether you’re a big planner or not, to sketch out perhaps a few points on a sheet of paper before you start, but don’t be surprised if you end up moving away from it slightly – or considerably – when you start to write.

Often the most extensively planned essays are the most mechanistic and dull in execution, precisely because the writer has drawn up a plan and refused to deviate from it. What  is a more valuable skill is to be able to sense when your argument may be starting to go off-topic, or your point is getting out of hand,  as you write . (For help on this, see point 5 below.)

We might even say that when it comes to knowing how to write a good English Literature essay,  practising  is more important than planning.

2. Make room for close analysis of the text, or texts.

Whilst it’s true that some first-class or A-grade essays will be impressive without containing any close reading as such, most of the highest-scoring and most sophisticated essays tend to zoom in on the text and examine its language and imagery closely in the course of the argument. (Close reading of literary texts arises from theology and the analysis of holy scripture, but really became a ‘thing’ in literary criticism in the early twentieth century, when T. S. Eliot, F. R. Leavis, William Empson, and other influential essayists started to subject the poem or novel to close scrutiny.)

Close reading has two distinct advantages: it increases the specificity of your argument (so you can’t be so easily accused of generalising a point), and it improves your chances of pointing up something about the text which none of the other essays your marker is reading will have said. For instance, take In Memoriam  (1850), which is a long Victorian poem by the poet Alfred, Lord Tennyson about his grief following the death of his close friend, Arthur Hallam, in the early 1830s.

When answering a question about the representation of religious faith in Tennyson’s poem  In Memoriam  (1850), how might you write a particularly brilliant essay about this theme? Anyone can make a general point about the poet’s crisis of faith; but to look closely at the language used gives you the chance to show  how the poet portrays this.

For instance, consider this stanza, which conveys the poet’s doubt:

A solid and perfectly competent essay might cite this stanza in support of the claim that Tennyson is finding it increasingly difficult to have faith in God (following the untimely and senseless death of his friend, Arthur Hallam). But there are several ways of then doing something more with it. For instance, you might get close to the poem’s imagery, and show how Tennyson conveys this idea, through the image of the ‘altar-stairs’ associated with religious worship and the idea of the stairs leading ‘thro’ darkness’ towards God.

In other words, Tennyson sees faith as a matter of groping through the darkness, trusting in God without having evidence that he is there. If you like, it’s a matter of ‘blind faith’. That would be a good reading. Now, here’s how to make a good English essay on this subject even better: one might look at how the word ‘falter’ – which encapsulates Tennyson’s stumbling faith – disperses into ‘falling’ and ‘altar’ in the succeeding lines. The word ‘falter’, we might say, itself falters or falls apart.

That is doing more than just interpreting the words: it’s being a highly careful reader of the poetry and showing how attentive to the language of the poetry you can be – all the while answering the question, about how the poem portrays the idea of faith. So, read and then reread the text you’re writing about – and be sensitive to such nuances of language and style.

The best way to  become attuned to such nuances is revealed in point 5. We might summarise this point as follows: when it comes to knowing how to write a persuasive English Literature essay, it’s one thing to have a broad and overarching argument, but don’t be afraid to use the  microscope as well as the telescope.

3. Provide several pieces of evidence where possible.

Many essays have a point to make and make it, tacking on a single piece of evidence from the text (or from beyond the text, e.g. a critical, historical, or biographical source) in the hope that this will be enough to make the point convincing.

‘State, quote, explain’ is the Holy Trinity of the Paragraph for many. What’s wrong with it? For one thing, this approach is too formulaic and basic for many arguments. Is one quotation enough to support a point? It’s often a matter of degree, and although one piece of evidence is better than none, two or three pieces will be even more persuasive.

After all, in a court of law a single eyewitness account won’t be enough to convict the accused of the crime, and even a confession from the accused would carry more weight if it comes supported by other, objective evidence (e.g. DNA, fingerprints, and so on).

Let’s go back to the example about Tennyson’s faith in his poem  In Memoriam  mentioned above. Perhaps you don’t find the end of the poem convincing – when the poet claims to have rediscovered his Christian faith and to have overcome his grief at the loss of his friend.

You can find examples from the end of the poem to suggest your reading of the poet’s insincerity may have validity, but looking at sources beyond the poem – e.g. a good edition of the text, which will contain biographical and critical information – may help you to find a clinching piece of evidence to support your reading.

And, sure enough, Tennyson is reported to have said of  In Memoriam : ‘It’s too hopeful, this poem, more than I am myself.’ And there we have it: much more convincing than simply positing your reading of the poem with a few ambiguous quotations from the poem itself.

Of course, this rule also works in reverse: if you want to argue, for instance, that T. S. Eliot’s  The Waste Land is overwhelmingly inspired by the poet’s unhappy marriage to his first wife, then using a decent biographical source makes sense – but if you didn’t show evidence for this idea from the poem itself (see point 2), all you’ve got is a vague, general link between the poet’s life and his work.

Show  how the poet’s marriage is reflected in the work, e.g. through men and women’s relationships throughout the poem being shown as empty, soulless, and unhappy. In other words, when setting out to write a good English essay about any text, don’t be afraid to  pile on  the evidence – though be sensible, a handful of quotations or examples should be more than enough to make your point convincing.

4. Avoid tentative or speculative phrasing.

Many essays tend to suffer from the above problem of a lack of evidence, so the point fails to convince. This has a knock-on effect: often the student making the point doesn’t sound especially convinced by it either. This leaks out in the telling use of, and reliance on, certain uncertain  phrases: ‘Tennyson might have’ or ‘perhaps Harper Lee wrote this to portray’ or ‘it can be argued that’.

An English university professor used to write in the margins of an essay which used this last phrase, ‘What  can’t be argued?’

This is a fair criticism: anything can be argued (badly), but it depends on what evidence you can bring to bear on it (point 3) as to whether it will be a persuasive argument. (Arguing that the plays of Shakespeare were written by a Martian who came down to Earth and ingratiated himself with the world of Elizabethan theatre is a theory that can be argued, though few would take it seriously. We wish we could say ‘none’, but that’s a story for another day.)

Many essay-writers, because they’re aware that texts are often open-ended and invite multiple interpretations (as almost all great works of literature invariably do), think that writing ‘it can be argued’ acknowledges the text’s rich layering of meaning and is therefore valid.

Whilst this is certainly a fact – texts are open-ended and can be read in wildly different ways – the phrase ‘it can be argued’ is best used sparingly if at all. It should be taken as true that your interpretation is, at bottom, probably unprovable. What would it mean to ‘prove’ a reading as correct, anyway? Because you found evidence that the author intended the same thing as you’ve argued of their text? Tennyson wrote in a letter, ‘I wrote In Memoriam  because…’?

But the author might have lied about it (e.g. in an attempt to dissuade people from looking too much into their private life), or they might have changed their mind (to go back to the example of  The Waste Land : T. S. Eliot championed the idea of poetic impersonality in an essay of 1919, but years later he described  The Waste Land as ‘only the relief of a personal and wholly insignificant grouse against life’ – hardly impersonal, then).

Texts – and their writers – can often be contradictory, or cagey about their meaning. But we as critics have to act responsibly when writing about literary texts in any good English essay or exam answer. We need to argue honestly, and sincerely – and not use what Wikipedia calls ‘weasel words’ or hedging expressions.

So, if nothing is utterly provable, all that remains is to make the strongest possible case you can with the evidence available. You do this, not only through marshalling the evidence in an effective way, but by writing in a confident voice when making your case. Fundamentally, ‘There is evidence to suggest that’ says more or less the same thing as ‘It can be argued’, but it foregrounds the  evidence rather than the argument, so is preferable as a phrase.

This point might be summarised by saying: the best way to write a good English Literature essay is to be honest about the reading you’re putting forward, so you can be confident in your interpretation and use clear, bold language. (‘Bold’ is good, but don’t get too cocky, of course…)

5. Read the work of other critics.

This might be viewed as the Holy Grail of good essay-writing tips, since it is perhaps the single most effective way to improve your own writing. Even if you’re writing an essay as part of school coursework rather than a university degree, and don’t need to research other critics for your essay, it’s worth finding a good writer of literary criticism and reading their work. Why is this worth doing?

Published criticism has at least one thing in its favour, at least if it’s published by an academic press or has appeared in an academic journal, and that is that it’s most probably been peer-reviewed, meaning that other academics have read it, closely studied its argument, checked it for errors or inaccuracies, and helped to ensure that it is expressed in a fluent, clear, and effective way.

If you’re serious about finding out how to write a better English essay, then you need to study how successful writers in the genre do it. And essay-writing is a genre, the same as novel-writing or poetry. But why will reading criticism help you? Because the critics you read can show you how to do all of the above: how to present a close reading of a poem, how to advance an argument that is not speculative or tentative yet not over-confident, how to use evidence from the text to make your argument more persuasive.

And, the more you read of other critics – a page a night, say, over a few months – the better you’ll get. It’s like textual osmosis: a little bit of their style will rub off on you, and every writer learns by the examples of other writers.

As T. S. Eliot himself said, ‘The poem which is absolutely original is absolutely bad.’ Don’t get precious about your own distinctive writing style and become afraid you’ll lose it. You can’t  gain a truly original style before you’ve looked at other people’s and worked out what you like and what you can ‘steal’ for your own ends.

We say ‘steal’, but this is not the same as saying that plagiarism is okay, of course. But consider this example. You read an accessible book on Shakespeare’s language and the author makes a point about rhymes in Shakespeare. When you’re working on your essay on the poetry of Christina Rossetti, you notice a similar use of rhyme, and remember the point made by the Shakespeare critic.

This is not plagiarising a point but applying it independently to another writer. It shows independent interpretive skills and an ability to understand and apply what you have read. This is another of the advantages of reading critics, so this would be our final piece of advice for learning how to write a good English essay: find a critic whose style you like, and study their craft.

If you’re looking for suggestions, we can recommend a few favourites: Christopher Ricks, whose  The Force of Poetry is a tour de force; Jonathan Bate, whose  The Genius of Shakespeare , although written for a general rather than academic audience, is written by a leading Shakespeare scholar and academic; and Helen Gardner, whose  The Art of T. S. Eliot , whilst dated (it came out in 1949), is a wonderfully lucid and articulate analysis of Eliot’s poetry.

James Wood’s How Fiction Works  is also a fine example of lucid prose and how to close-read literary texts. Doubtless readers of  Interesting Literature will have their own favourites to suggest in the comments, so do check those out, as these are just three personal favourites. What’s your favourite work of literary scholarship/criticism? Suggestions please.

Much of all this may strike you as common sense, but even the most commonsensical advice can go out of your mind when you have a piece of coursework to write, or an exam to revise for. We hope these suggestions help to remind you of some of the key tenets of good essay-writing practice – though remember, these aren’t so much commandments as recommendations. No one can ‘tell’ you how to write a good English Literature essay as such.

But it can be learned. And remember, be interesting – find the things in the poems or plays or novels which really ignite your enthusiasm. As John Mortimer said, ‘The only rule I have found to have any validity in writing is not to bore yourself.’

Finally, good luck – and happy writing!

And if you enjoyed these tips for how to write a persuasive English essay, check out our advice for how to remember things for exams  and our tips for becoming a better close reader of poetry .

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30 thoughts on “How to Write a Good English Literature Essay”

You must have taken AP Literature. I’m always saying these same points to my students.

I also think a crucial part of excellent essay writing that too many students do not realize is that not every point or interpretation needs to be addressed. When offered the chance to write your interpretation of a work of literature, it is important to note that there of course are many but your essay should choose one and focus evidence on this one view rather than attempting to include all views and evidence to back up each view.

Reblogged this on SocioTech'nowledge .

Not a bad effort…not at all! (Did you intend “subject” instead of “object” in numbered paragraph two, line seven?”

Oops! I did indeed – many thanks for spotting. Duly corrected ;)

That’s what comes of writing about philosophy and the subject/object for another post at the same time!

Reblogged this on Scribing English .

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Great post on essay writing! I’ve shared a post about this and about the blog site in general which you can look at here: http://writeoutloudblog.com/2015/01/13/recommended-resource-interesting-literature-com-how-to-write-an-essay/

All of these are very good points – especially I like 2 and 5. I’d like to read the essay on the Martian who wrote Shakespeare’s plays).

Reblogged this on Uniqely Mustered and commented: Dedicate this to all upcoming writers and lovers of Writing!

I shall take this as my New Year boost in Writing Essays. Please try to visit often for corrections,advise and criticisms.

Reblogged this on Blue Banana Bread .

Reblogged this on worldsinthenet .

All very good points, but numbers 2 and 4 are especially interesting.

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Reblogged this on rainniewu .

Reblogged this on pixcdrinks .

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Great post. Interesting infographic how to write an argumentative essay http://www.essay-profy.com/blog/how-to-write-an-essay-writing-an-argumentative-essay/

Reblogged this on DISTINCT CHARACTER and commented: Good Tips

Reblogged this on quirkywritingcorner and commented: This could be applied to novel or short story writing as well.

Reblogged this on rosetech67 and commented: Useful, albeit maybe a bit late for me :-)

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Literary Analysis Essay

Literary Analysis Essay Writing

Last updated on: May 21, 2023

Literary Analysis Essay - Ultimate Guide By Professionals

By: Cordon J.

Reviewed By: Rylee W.

Published on: Dec 3, 2019

Literary Analysis Essay

A literary analysis essay specifically examines and evaluates a piece of literature or a literary work. It also understands and explains the links between the small parts to their whole information.

It is important for students to understand the meaning and the true essence of literature to write a literary essay.

One of the most difficult assignments for students is writing a literary analysis essay. It can be hard to come up with an original idea or find enough material to write about. You might think you need years of experience in order to create a good paper, but that's not true.

This blog post will show you how easy it can be when you follow the steps given here.Writing such an essay involves the breakdown of a book into small parts and understanding each part separately. It seems easy, right?

Trust us, it is not as hard as good book reports but it may also not be extremely easy. You will have to take into account different approaches and explain them in relation with the chosen literary work.

It is a common high school and college assignment and you can learn everything in this blog.

Continue reading for some useful tips with an example to write a literary analysis essay that will be on point. You can also explore our detailed article on writing an analytical essay .

Literary Analysis Essay

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What is a Literary Analysis Essay?

A literary analysis essay is an important kind of essay that focuses on the detailed analysis of the work of literature.

The purpose of a literary analysis essay is to explain why the author has used a specific theme for his work. Or examine the characters, themes, literary devices , figurative language, and settings in the story.

This type of essay encourages students to think about how the book or the short story has been written. And why the author has created this work.

The method used in the literary analysis essay differs from other types of essays. It primarily focuses on the type of work and literature that is being analyzed.

Mostly, you will be going to break down the work into various parts. In order to develop a better understanding of the idea being discussed, each part will be discussed separately.

The essay should explain the choices of the author and point of view along with your answers and personal analysis.

How To Write A Literary Analysis Essay

So how to start a literary analysis essay? The answer to this question is quite simple.

The following sections are required to write an effective literary analysis essay. By following the guidelines given in the following sections, you will be able to craft a winning literary analysis essay.

Introduction

The aim of the introduction is to establish a context for readers. You have to give a brief on the background of the selected topic.

It should contain the name of the author of the literary work along with its title. The introduction should be effective enough to grab the reader’s attention.

In the body section, you have to retell the story that the writer has narrated. It is a good idea to create a summary as it is one of the important tips of literary analysis.

Other than that, you are required to develop ideas and disclose the observed information related to the issue. The ideal length of the body section is around 1000 words.

To write the body section, your observation should be based on evidence and your own style of writing.

It would be great if the body of your essay is divided into three paragraphs. Make a strong argument with facts related to the thesis statement in all of the paragraphs in the body section.

Start writing each paragraph with a topic sentence and use transition words when moving to the next paragraph.

Summarize the important points of your literary analysis essay in this section. It is important to compose a short and strong conclusion to help you make a final impression of your essay.

Pay attention that this section does not contain any new information. It should provide a sense of completion by restating the main idea with a short description of your arguments. End the conclusion with your supporting details.

You have to explain why the book is important. Also, elaborate on the means that the authors used to convey her/his opinion regarding the issue.

For further understanding, here is a downloadable literary analysis essay outline. This outline will help you structure and format your essay properly and earn an A easily.

DOWNLOADABLE LITERARY ANALYSIS ESSAY OUTLINE (PDF)

Types of Literary Analysis Essay

  • Close reading - This method involves attentive reading and detailed analysis. No need for a lot of knowledge and inspiration to write an essay that shows your creative skills.
  • Theoretical - In this type, you will rely on theories related to the selected topic.
  • Historical - This type of essay concerns the discipline of history. Sometimes historical analysis is required to explain events in detail.
  • Applied - This type involves analysis of a specific issue from a practical perspective.
  • Comparative - This type of writing is based on when two or more alternatives are compared

Examples of Literary Analysis Essay

Examples are great to understand any concept, especially if it is related to writing. Below are some great literary analysis essay examples that showcase how this type of essay is written.

A ROSE FOR EMILY LITERARY ANALYSIS ESSAY

TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD LITERARY ANALYSIS ESSAY

THE GREAT GATSBY LITERARY ANALYSIS ESSAY

THE YELLOW WALLPAPER LITERARY ANALYSIS ESSAY

If you do not have experience in writing essays, this will be a very chaotic process for you. In that case, it is very important for you to conduct good research on the topic before writing.

There are two important points that you should keep in mind when writing a literary analysis essay.

First, remember that it is very important to select a topic in which you are interested. Choose something that really inspires you. This will help you to catch the attention of a reader.

The selected topic should reflect the main idea of writing. In addition to that, it should also express your point of view as well.

Another important thing is to draft a good outline for your literary analysis essay. It will help you to define a central point and division of this into parts for further discussion.

Literary Analysis Essay Topics

Literary analysis essays are mostly based on artistic works like books, movies, paintings, and other forms of art. However, generally, students choose novels and books to write their literary essays.

Some cool, fresh, and good topics and ideas are listed below:

  • Role of the Three Witches in flaming Macbeth’s ambition.
  • Analyze the themes of the Play Antigone,
  • Discuss Ajax as a tragic hero.
  • The Judgement of Paris: Analyze the Reasons and their Consequences.
  • Oedipus Rex: A Doomed Son or a Conqueror?
  • Describe the Oedipus complex and Electra complex in relation to their respective myths.
  • Betrayal is a common theme of Shakespearean tragedies. Discuss
  • Identify and analyze the traits of history in T.S Eliot’s ‘Gerontion’.
  • Analyze the theme of identity crisis in The Great Gatsby.
  • Analyze the writing style of Emily Dickinson.

If you are still in doubt then there is nothing bad in getting professional writers’ help.

We at 5StarEssays.com can help you get a custom paper as per your specified requirements with our do essay for me service.

Our essay writers will help you write outstanding literary essays or any other type of essay. Such as compare and contrast essays, descriptive essays, rhetorical essays. We cover all of these.

So don’t waste your time browsing the internet and place your order now to get your well-written custom paper.

Frequently Asked Questions

What should a literary analysis essay include.

A good literary analysis essay must include a proper and in-depth explanation of your ideas. They must be backed with examples and evidence from the text. Textual evidence includes summaries, paraphrased text, original work details, and direct quotes.

What are the 4 components of literary analysis?

Here are the 4 essential parts of a literary analysis essay;

No literary work is explained properly without discussing and explaining these 4 things.

How do you start a literary analysis essay?

Start your literary analysis essay with the name of the work and the title. Hook your readers by introducing the main ideas that you will discuss in your essay and engage them from the start.

How do you do a literary analysis?

In a literary analysis essay, you study the text closely, understand and interpret its meanings. And try to find out the reasons behind why the author has used certain symbols, themes, and objects in the work.

Why is literary analysis important?

It encourages the students to think beyond their existing knowledge, experiences, and belief and build empathy. This helps in improving the writing skills also.

What is the fundamental characteristic of a literary analysis essay?

Interpretation is the fundamental and important feature of a literary analysis essay. The essay is based on how well the writer explains and interprets the work.

Cordon J.

Law, Finance Essay

Cordon. is a published author and writing specialist. He has worked in the publishing industry for many years, providing writing services and digital content. His own writing career began with a focus on literature and linguistics, which he continues to pursue. Cordon is an engaging and professional individual, always looking to help others achieve their goals.

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Like all university essays, the English paper requires critical thought and strong argumentation, but its focus on language and close textual analysis makes it unique. Here are some tips that you’ll want to keep in mind when writing about literature.

Avoid plot summary. The main purpose of an English paper is to advance an argument. As a general rule, mention only plot details that are relevant to your argument. You may occasionally need to contribute a small amount of additional information about the storyline to make your analysis coherent, but keep the summary to a minimum, and leave plenty of space for your own ideas. You can usually assume that your reader knows the narrative well.

Master the art of the analytical thesis. A good thesis is a statement of roughly one to three sentences that says something intelligent about a literary work. It is not sufficient simply to identify a theme in your thesis. For instance, saying that a text deals with the theme of love or death or betrayal is not enough. (Instead, though, you might consider the ways in which love or death or betrayal come to be understood within the text.) A thesis must be complex enough that it would not be immediately obvious to a casual reader, but it must be simple enough that it can be stated in a relatively short amount of space.

Here is a list of possible questions around which you might construct a solid thesis: How does the author’s or narrator’s perspective on a given theme shift as the text develops? Are there any apparent tensions or contradictions within the text? If so, how might they be resolved? How does the text engage with the major political or cultural ideas of the era in which it was written? How does the text challenge or undermine the dominant conventions of the genre in which it was written? These are just a few suggestions. There are thousands of ways to craft a thesis, so don’t feel limited to the questions above. Here are two examples of effective thesis statements:

By incorporating novelistic techniques—such as sustained imagery and character development—into a non-novelistic work, Alice Munro, in her short story collection Who Do You Think You Are? , subverts the narrative conventions of novelistic discourse.
Yeats’s “Easter, 1916” appears both to condemn and to celebrate the revolutionary impulse in early-twentieth-century Ireland. It is neither a nationalist rallying cry nor an anti-nationalist cautionary tale. Rather it conveys profound ambivalence toward the Easter uprising.

Let the structure of your argument determine the structure of your paper. In most cases, you will best serve your argument by deviating from the chronology of events in the text you are critiquing. It is fully acceptable to pluck pertinent evidence from the beginning, middle, and end of a literary text and to use these disparate examples in the same paragraph. Sometimes you may be asked to provide a close reading of a given literary work. Often a close reading is structured the same way as any other English paper: you present a thesis and then defend it through detailed analysis of the text. But occasionally, your professor might ask you to do a line-by-line or paragraph-by-paragraph reading of a poem, passage, or story. This is one of those rare instances in which a more sequential approach is appropriate.

Opt for analysis instead of evaluative judgments. When writing a paper, focus on analyzing the work, not celebrating it. Instead of telling your reader that a given work is beautiful, lyrical, or timeless, focus on the ideas the text conveys and the ways it goes about conveying them. You may come across a line in a poem or novel that is so beautiful, or so sloppy, that you cannot resist commenting on it. If you’re burning up to make an evaluative point, then do so. But keep it short and sweet (or short and snarky), and don’t let it become the focus of your paragraph.

Don’t confuse the author with the speaker. Often, particularly when you are analyzing a poem, it is tempting to assume that the author is also the narrator. This is usually not the case. Poetry, like the novel or short story, is a creative genre in which authors are free to inhabit the voice(s) of any character(s) they like. Most poems do not identify a narrator by name, but the fact that the speaker is unnamed does not necessarily imply that he or she stands in for the author. Remember, the person doing the writing is the writer, and the person doing the speaking is the speaker. In some cases, you may choose to treat the speaker as a stand-in for the writer. In these instances, make sure you have a reason for doing so—and consider mentioning that reason somewhere in your paper.

In the opening to Ezra Pound’s short poem “A Pact,” the speaker addresses the nineteenth-century American poet Walt Whitman, Pound’s literary predecessor: I make a pact with you, Walt Whitman— I have detested you long enough. I come to you as a grown child Who has had a pig-headed father; I am old enough now to make friends. (1-5)

Here, the speaker seeks to make amends with Whitman, whose poetry he once detested. Although the passage conveys a desire for reconciliation, it does not do so in an amicable manner. The writing is portioned out into short, terse statements, with little concession to diplomatic language. Consequently, the passage reads more like a pledge or vow than a peace offering. Moreover, Pound’s verse is inflected with familial language. The speaker refers to himself as a “grown child” who is finally “old enough now to make friends,” whereas he positions Whitman as the “pig-headed father.” Clearly, the speaker is motivated not by a genuine need for conciliation but by a begrudging sense of familial duty toward a father whom he never respected.

Integrate quotations fully into your argument. Whenever you incorporate a literary quotation into your writing, you must justify its usage. First, be sure to contextualize the quotation by giving some information about it (who is speaking, what part of the text it comes from, etc.). Then, follow each quotation with a few sentences in which you unpack the passage and relate it back to your argument. In other words, a quotation should never speak for itself: you must do the necessary work to demonstrate what the quotation means in the context of your argument. The following passage offers an argumentative close reading of a quotation from Keats:

In the opening of “To Autumn,” Keats depicts the harvest period as a “Season of mists and mellow fruitfulness / Close bosom-friend of the maturing sun” (1-2). Here, the speaker juxtaposes images of seasonal abundance with notions of loss connected to the impending winter. The word “fruitfulness” has obvious associations with agricultural productivity; however, it is modified by the adjective “mellow,” which limits the reader’s conception of unbridled abundance. Moreover, Keats’s phrase “the maturing sun” sets associations with warmth and comfort against notions of old age and declining prowess.

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Introduction

You’ve been assigned a literary analysis paper—what does that even mean? Is it like a book report that you used to write in high school? Well, not really.

A literary analysis essay asks you to make an original argument about a poem, play, or work of fiction and support that argument with research and evidence from your careful reading of the text.

It can take many forms, such as a close reading of a text, critiquing the text through a particular literary theory, comparing one text to another, or criticizing another critic’s interpretation of the text. While there are many ways to structure a literary essay, writing this kind of essay follows generally follows a similar process for everyone

Crafting a good literary analysis essay begins with good close reading of the text, in which you have kept notes and observations as you read. This will help you with the first step, which is selecting a topic to write about—what jumped out as you read, what are you genuinely interested in? The next step is to focus your topic, developing it into an argument—why is this subject or observation important? Why should your reader care about it as much as you do? The third step is to gather evidence to support your argument, for literary analysis, support comes in the form of evidence from the text and from your research on what other literary critics have said about your topic. Only after you have performed these steps, are you ready to begin actually writing your essay.

Writing a Literary Analysis Essay

How to create a topic and conduct research:.

Writing an Analysis of a Poem, Story, or Play

If you are taking a literature course, it is important that you know how to write an analysis—sometimes called an interpretation or a literary analysis or a critical reading or a critical analysis—of a story, a poem, and a play. Your instructor will probably assign such an analysis as part of the course assessment. On your mid-term or final exam, you might have to write an analysis of one or more of the poems and/or stories on your reading list. Or the dreaded “sight poem or story” might appear on an exam, a work that is not on the reading list, that you have not read before, but one your instructor includes on the exam to examine your ability to apply the active reading skills you have learned in class to produce, independently, an effective literary analysis.You might be asked to write instead or, or in addition to an analysis of a literary work, a more sophisticated essay in which you compare and contrast the protagonists of two stories, or the use of form and metaphor in two poems, or the tragic heroes in two plays.

You might learn some literary theory in your course and be asked to apply theory—feminist, Marxist, reader-response, psychoanalytic, new historicist, for example—to one or more of the works on your reading list. But the seminal assignment in a literature course is the analysis of the single poem, story, novel, or play, and, even if you do not have to complete this assignment specifically, it will form the basis of most of the other writing assignments you will be required to undertake in your literature class. There are several ways of structuring a literary analysis, and your instructor might issue specific instructions on how he or she wants this assignment done. The method presented here might not be identical to the one your instructor wants you to follow, but it will be easy enough to modify, if your instructor expects something a bit different, and it is a good default method, if your instructor does not issue more specific guidelines.You want to begin your analysis with a paragraph that provides the context of the work you are analyzing and a brief account of what you believe to be the poem or story or play’s main theme. At a minimum, your account of the work’s context will include the name of the author, the title of the work, its genre, and the date and place of publication. If there is an important biographical or historical context to the work, you should include that, as well.Try to express the work’s theme in one or two sentences. Theme, you will recall, is that insight into human experience the author offers to readers, usually revealed as the content, the drama, the plot of the poem, story, or play unfolds and the characters interact. Assessing theme can be a complex task. Authors usually show the theme; they don’t tell it. They rarely say, at the end of the story, words to this effect: “and the moral of my story is…” They tell their story, develop their characters, provide some kind of conflict—and from all of this theme emerges. Because identifying theme can be challenging and subjective, it is often a good idea to work through the rest of the analysis, then return to the beginning and assess theme in light of your analysis of the work’s other literary elements.Here is a good example of an introductory paragraph from Ben’s analysis of William Butler Yeats’ poem, “Among School Children.”

“Among School Children” was published in Yeats’ 1928 collection of poems The Tower. It was inspired by a visit Yeats made in 1926 to school in Waterford, an official visit in his capacity as a senator of the Irish Free State. In the course of the tour, Yeats reflects upon his own youth and the experiences that shaped the “sixty-year old, smiling public man” (line 8) he has become. Through his reflection, the theme of the poem emerges: a life has meaning when connections among apparently disparate experiences are forged into a unified whole.

In the body of your literature analysis, you want to guide your readers through a tour of the poem, story, or play, pausing along the way to comment on, analyze, interpret, and explain key incidents, descriptions, dialogue, symbols, the writer’s use of figurative language—any of the elements of literature that are relevant to a sound analysis of this particular work. Your main goal is to explain how the elements of literature work to elucidate, augment, and develop the theme. The elements of literature are common across genres: a story, a narrative poem, and a play all have a plot and characters. But certain genres privilege certain literary elements. In a poem, for example, form, imagery and metaphor might be especially important; in a story, setting and point-of-view might be more important than they are in a poem; in a play, dialogue, stage directions, lighting serve functions rarely relevant in the analysis of a story or poem.

The length of the body of an analysis of a literary work will usually depend upon the length of work being analyzed—the longer the work, the longer the analysis—though your instructor will likely establish a word limit for this assignment. Make certain that you do not simply paraphrase the plot of the story or play or the content of the poem. This is a common weakness in student literary analyses, especially when the analysis is of a poem or a play.

Here is a good example of two body paragraphs from Amelia’s analysis of “Araby” by James Joyce.

Within the story’s first few paragraphs occur several religious references which will accumulate as the story progresses. The narrator is a student at the Christian Brothers’ School; the former tenant of his house was a priest; he left behind books called The Abbot and The Devout Communicant. Near the end of the story’s second paragraph the narrator describes a “central apple tree” in the garden, under which is “the late tenant’s rusty bicycle pump.” We may begin to suspect the tree symbolizes the apple tree in the Garden of Eden and the bicycle pump, the snake which corrupted Eve, a stretch, perhaps, until Joyce’s fall-of-innocence theme becomes more apparent.

The narrator must continue to help his aunt with her errands, but, even when he is so occupied, his mind is on Mangan’s sister, as he tries to sort out his feelings for her. Here Joyce provides vivid insight into the mind of an adolescent boy at once elated and bewildered by his first crush. He wants to tell her of his “confused adoration,” but he does not know if he will ever have the chance. Joyce’s description of the pleasant tension consuming the narrator is conveyed in a striking simile, which continues to develop the narrator’s character, while echoing the religious imagery, so important to the story’s theme: “But my body was like a harp, and her words and gestures were like fingers, running along the wires.”

The concluding paragraph of your analysis should realize two goals. First, it should present your own opinion on the quality of the poem or story or play about which you have been writing. And, second, it should comment on the current relevance of the work. You should certainly comment on the enduring social relevance of the work you are explicating. You may comment, though you should never be obliged to do so, on the personal relevance of the work. Here is the concluding paragraph from Dao-Ming’s analysis of Oscar Wilde’s The Importance of Being Earnest.

First performed in 1895, The Importance of Being Earnest has been made into a film, as recently as 2002 and is regularly revived by professional and amateur theatre companies. It endures not only because of the comic brilliance of its characters and their dialogue, but also because its satire still resonates with contemporary audiences. I am still amazed that I see in my own Asian mother a shadow of Lady Bracknell, with her obsession with finding for her daughter a husband who will maintain, if not, ideally, increase the family’s social status. We might like to think we are more liberated and socially sophisticated than our Victorian ancestors, but the starlets and eligible bachelors who star in current reality television programs illustrate the extent to which superficial concerns still influence decisions about love and even marriage. Even now, we can turn to Oscar Wilde to help us understand and laugh at those who are earnest in name only.

Dao-Ming’s conclusion is brief, but she does manage to praise the play, reaffirm its main theme, and explain its enduring appeal. And note how her last sentence cleverly establishes that sense of closure that is also a feature of an effective analysis.

You may, of course, modify the template that is presented here. Your instructor might favour a somewhat different approach to literary analysis. Its essence, though, will be your understanding and interpretation of the theme of the poem, story, or play and the skill with which the author shapes the elements of literature—plot, character, form, diction, setting, point of view—to support the theme.

Academic Writing Tips : How to Write a Literary Analysis Paper. Authored by: eHow. Located at: https://youtu.be/8adKfLwIrVk. License: All Rights Reserved. License Terms: Standard YouTube license

BC Open Textbooks: English Literature Victorians and Moderns: https://opentextbc.ca/englishliterature/back-matter/appendix-5-writing-an-analysis-of-a-poem-story-and-play/

Literary Analysis

The challenges of writing about english literature.

Writing begins with the act of reading . While this statement is true for most college papers, strong English papers tend to be the product of highly attentive reading (and rereading). When your instructors ask you to do a “close reading,” they are asking you to read not only for content, but also for structures and patterns. When you perform a close reading, then, you observe how form and content interact. In some cases, form reinforces content: for example, in John Donne’s Holy Sonnet 14, where the speaker invites God’s “force” “to break, blow, burn and make [him] new.” Here, the stressed monosyllables of the verbs “break,” “blow” and “burn” evoke aurally the force that the speaker invites from God. In other cases, form raises questions about content: for example, a repeated denial of guilt will likely raise questions about the speaker’s professed innocence. When you close read, take an inductive approach. Start by observing particular details in the text, such as a repeated image or word, an unexpected development, or even a contradiction. Often, a detail–such as a repeated image–can help you to identify a question about the text that warrants further examination. So annotate details that strike you as you read. Some of those details will eventually help you to work towards a thesis. And don’t worry if a detail seems trivial. If you can make a case about how an apparently trivial detail reveals something significant about the text, then your paper will have a thought-provoking thesis to argue.

Common Types of English Papers Many assignments will ask you to analyze a single text. Others, however, will ask you to read two or more texts in relation to each other, or to consider a text in light of claims made by other scholars and critics. For most assignments, close reading will be central to your paper. While some assignment guidelines will suggest topics and spell out expectations in detail, others will offer little more than a page limit. Approaching the writing process in the absence of assigned topics can be daunting, but remember that you have resources: in section, you will probably have encountered some examples of close reading; in lecture, you will have encountered some of the course’s central questions and claims. The paper is a chance for you to extend a claim offered in lecture, or to analyze a passage neglected in lecture. In either case, your analysis should do more than recapitulate claims aired in lecture and section. Because different instructors have different goals for an assignment, you should always ask your professor or TF if you have questions. These general guidelines should apply in most cases:

  • A close reading of a single text: Depending on the length of the text, you will need to be more or less selective about what you choose to consider. In the case of a sonnet, you will probably have enough room to analyze the text more thoroughly than you would in the case of a novel, for example, though even here you will probably not analyze every single detail. By contrast, in the case of a novel, you might analyze a repeated scene, image, or object (for example, scenes of train travel, images of decay, or objects such as or typewriters). Alternately, you might analyze a perplexing scene (such as a novel’s ending, albeit probably in relation to an earlier moment in the novel). But even when analyzing shorter works, you will need to be selective. Although you might notice numerous interesting details as you read, not all of those details will help you to organize a focused argument about the text. For example, if you are focusing on depictions of sensory experience in Keats’ “Ode to a Nightingale,” you probably do not need to analyze the image of a homeless Ruth in stanza 7, unless this image helps you to develop your case about sensory experience in the poem.
  • A theoretically-informed close reading. In some courses, you will be asked to analyze a poem, a play, or a novel by using a critical theory (psychoanalytic, postcolonial, gender, etc). For example, you might use Kristeva’s theory of abjection to analyze mother-daughter relations in Toni Morrison’s novel Beloved. Critical theories provide focus for your analysis; if “abjection” is the guiding concept for your paper, you should focus on the scenes in the novel that are most relevant to the concept.
  • A historically-informed close reading. In courses with a historicist orientation, you might use less self-consciously literary documents, such as newspapers or devotional manuals, to develop your analysis of a literary work. For example, to analyze how Robinson Crusoe makes sense of his island experiences, you might use Puritan tracts that narrate events in terms of how God organizes them. The tracts could help you to show not only how Robinson Crusoe draws on Puritan narrative conventions, but also—more significantly—how the novel revises those conventions.
  • A comparison of two texts When analyzing two texts, you might look for unexpected contrasts between apparently similar texts, or unexpected similarities between apparently dissimilar texts, or for how one text revises or transforms the other. Keep in mind that not all of the similarities, differences, and transformations you identify will be relevant to an argument about the relationship between the two texts. As you work towards a thesis, you will need to decide which of those similarities, differences, or transformations to focus on. Moreover, unless instructed otherwise, you do not need to allot equal space to each text (unless this 50/50 allocation serves your thesis well, of course). Often you will find that one text helps to develop your analysis of another text. For example, you might analyze the transformation of Ariel’s song from The Tempest in T. S. Eliot’s poem, The Waste Land. Insofar as this analysis is interested in the afterlife of Ariel’s song in a later poem, you would likely allot more space to analyzing allusions to Ariel’s song in The Waste Land (after initially establishing the song’s significance in Shakespeare’s play, of course).
  • A response paper A response paper is a great opportunity to practice your close reading skills without having to develop an entire argument. In most cases, a solid approach is to select a rich passage that rewards analysis (for example, one that depicts an important scene or a recurring image) and close read it. While response papers are a flexible genre, they are not invitations for impressionistic accounts of whether you liked the work or a particular character. Instead, you might use your close reading to raise a question about the text—to open up further investigation, rather than to supply a solution.
  • A research paper. In most cases, you will receive guidance from the professor on the scope of the research paper. It is likely that you will be expected to consult sources other than the assigned readings. Hollis is your best bet for book titles, and the MLA bibliography (available through e-resources) for articles. When reading articles, make sure that they have been peer reviewed; you might also ask your TF to recommend reputable journals in the field.

Harvard College Writing Program: https://writingproject.fas.harvard.edu/files/hwp/files/bg_writing_english.pdf

In the same way that we talk with our friends about the latest episode of Game of Thrones or newest Marvel movie, scholars communicate their ideas and interpretations of literature through written literary analysis essays. Literary analysis essays make us better readers of literature.

Only through careful reading and well-argued analysis can we reach new understandings and interpretations of texts that are sometimes hundreds of years old. Literary analysis brings new meaning and can shed new light on texts. Building from careful reading and selecting a topic that you are genuinely interested in, your argument supports how you read and understand a text. Using examples from the text you are discussing in the form of textual evidence further supports your reading. Well-researched literary analysis also includes information about what other scholars have written about a specific text or topic.

Literary analysis helps us to refine our ideas, question what we think we know, and often generates new knowledge about literature. Literary analysis essays allow you to discuss your own interpretation of a given text through careful examination of the choices the original author made in the text.

ENG134 – Literary Genres Copyright © by The American Women's College and Jessica Egan is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License , except where otherwise noted.

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The Subtle Art of Writing an Literary Analysis Essay

29 July, 2020

12 minutes read

Author:  Tomas White

When studying at school, college, or university, you get dozens of writing tasks, and a literary analysis essay is one of them. You have to study a piece of literature and write about the core idea, characters, or the author’s intentions. In some cases, it’s necessary to explore style, plot, structure, and other elements to explain how they complement or weaken each other.

Literary Analysis Essay

Although it’s an interesting task, students often don’t have enough time or writing skills to craft a literary analysis essay excellently. Our article will help you cope with the assignment and compose a flawless paper. Discover how to craft an outline, start a literary analysis essay, and many more.

literature essays writing

What is a Literary Analysis Essay?

Paper quality depends not only on the writer’s skills or the presence of fresh ideas in a text but also on their understanding of what is a literary analysis essay. Many students make the same mistake and compose reviews or just describe what they’ve read, but it’s not the purpose of this task. Take a look at the explanation of a literary analysis below to avoid the confusion:

Literary analysis essay definition

A literary analysis essay involves studying the text, evaluating the plot, analyzing characters, and determining devices used by the author to engage and influence readers. A novel, tale, poem, play, or another piece of literature can become the object of your research. When composing a literary analysis essay, a writer explores the text form, style, perspective, and characters.

What is the purpose of a literary analysis essay?

An excellently composed literary analysis essay demonstrates that you’ve looked at the events described in the literature piece from different perspectives. Examination of all the major elements, including a text structure, plot, author’s style, characters’ qualities, main theme, and form is an essential stage of the writing process. After you study all the important components, provide a conclusion on how they interact with each other and influence your overall impression.

How to Start a Literary Analysis Essay?

Now that you know a literary analysis essay definition, you’re ready to move further and discover the secrets of writing the paper. When reading the text, you must be very attentive. Notice the tricks the author uses to engage the reader, surprising details, and uncommon character’s features. Use these elements for your analysis.

It’s also necessary to answer a few important questions to discover the essence of the literature piece you’ve just read:

  • Which parts are the most essential ones?
  • What literary devices did the author use, and why did they choose them?
  • Do characters change somehow?

After you’ve answered these questions, you’ll have to determine the relationships between the ideas and storyline, the characters’ behavior, and how their roles change in a piece. Conduct comprehensive research to get information about the text, its background, and the author. These materials will help you understand the writer’s intentions and ideas better.

Literary Analysis Essay Outline

Crafting a literary analysis essay outline is an efficient method to organize your materials and structure a paper. An outline will contain all the core thoughts of your research. It helps an essay writer figure out whether they’ve studied all the essential elements and mentioned all the points.

Before you design an outline, it’s necessary to write a thesis statement that shortly describes your paper’s content. Usually, it contains one sentence and presents the entire sense of the essay. Crafting an outline is the next step after composing a thesis statement. Traditionally, it consists of 3 sections:

  • Introduction . This part is the most important one, as it should explain the main points of the body text and grab the reader’s attention. However, it’s not only a brief description of the essay’s content – you have to compose a catchy introduction that engages the audience. It’s necessary to use a hook to grab the reader’s attention and make them wonder what happens in the next literary analysis essay’s section. You can add a quote, an interesting fact connected with the book or the author, or write a question and promise to provide the answer in the next part.
  • Body text . After you’ve composed the introduction, it’s necessary to move to the next step in your writing. Body text will contain all your statements, arguments, and important details supporting your analysis. Usually, this section has 3 paragraphs, but you can extend it depending on the task complexity and the professor’s requirements. When designing an outline, use the columns or bullet points to present the main ideas. These lists will help you figure out which details are unnecessary in your essay.
  • Conclusion . Your final thoughts will shape the entire paper and influence the reader’s impression. At this point, the audience gets the overall impression of your analysis and decides whether you’re right or wrong. Name the paper’s core thoughts and write your final statement. You can write a sentence or two about the significance of the author’s idea or the impact made by the piece.

Literary Analysis Essay Examples

Check this short list of literary analysis essay example to get the idea:

  • http://web.cocc.edu/cagatucci/classes/eng104/midtermexamples.htm
  • https://www.unm.edu/~aobermei/Eng200/sonnet95a.html

20 Literary Analysis Essay Topics

Sometimes professors allow students to pick topics themselves, and it’s a lucky ticket in the academic world. You can choose your favorite book or novel, research it, and provide excellent analysis. If you’ve written about the piece you love before or want to impress the professor, we recommend you to check our list of literary analysis essay topics for more ideas:

  • Examining the structure of Kurt Vonnegut’s “ Slaughterhouse-Five. ”
  • Explaining the importance of Ray Bradbury’s “ Fahrenheit 451. ”
  • Analyzing the changes in Ebenezer Scrooge’s character over the course of “ A Christmas Carol. ”
  • The importance of symbolism in “ Wuthering Heights .”
  • Examining Ernest Hemingway’s writing style.
  • The connection of plot lines in “ Froth of Days ” by Boris Vian.
  • The lasting influence of “ The Catcher in the Rye .”
  • Literary devices used by George Orwell in “ 1984. ”
  • The use of humor in Mark Twain’s short stories.
  • The impact of “ To Kill a Mockingbird .”
  • Analyzing the allegory in William Golding’s “ Lord of the Flies .”
  • “ Pride and Prejudice ” character analysis.
  • “ Love in the Time of Cholera ”: Florentino Ariza character analysis.
  • The significance of Herman Melville’s “ Moby-Dick .”
  • Plot analysis of William Shakespeare’s “ Hamlet. ”
  • The influence of Jack London’s life on his works.
  • The analysis of Jane Eyre’s personality.
  • Mysticism in Edgar Allan Poe’s novels.
  • Language analysis in Haper Lee’s “ To Kill  Mockingbird .”
  • Stylistic analysis of “ The Great Gatsby .”

Useful Tips for Literary Analysis Essay

A literary analysis essay requires time, patience, and attentiveness. When reading a piece, don’t be lazy to write down all the important details connected with characters, plot, author’s style, ideas, etc. You also must be very attentive to notice important elements. However, attentiveness isn’t the only thing that will help you craft a paper. Read our tips to learn how to write a literary analysis essay flawlessly and get the best grade:

1. Read carefully

Choose a cozy place for reading – it’s where no one will disturb you, and noise won’t interrupt the process. Only in this case, you’ll notice the most important details. If you pick the right environment, you’ll be able to concentrate on a story. You can choose a quiet place in a park, stay in your room, or go to a library.

2. Take notes

Do characters have specific features? What makes the writer’s style special? How does symbolism influence text comprehension? Write down all the interesting or intriguing details you notice. You can use this information in your literary analysis essay.

3. Determine literary devices

Writers use literary devices to create special effects that help readers understand their intentions, interpret their works, and analyze them. Besides, these elements often become the author’s identifying feature that helps them stand out from the crowd. Here’s the list of literary devices you have to know:

  • Personification
  • Alliteration
  • Foreshadowing

4. Consider language style

It’s necessary to pay attention to the length of sentences, terminology, descriptions, presence of metaphors, etc. Does the writer use simple words to describe an object or go poetic? Is it easy to understand the text? Does the author use slang or conventional terms?

The writer’s style tells a lot about their piece – even more than you can imagine. Besides, the characters’ language style is one of their most important features. It helps readers understand their personalities. If your topic is connected with the character analysis, taking notes about language is a must for you.

5. Determine the narrator

Who’s telling the story? It can be told by a character or by an author watching the course of events from a distant perspective. You have to determine the role of the narrator in a story. Do they know everything about other characters? Is their role important for story development? Of course, if an author is a narrator, you won’t have to wonder whether they influence the piece somehow. If a character tells the story, the chances are that they hide some information or don’t know much about different events. In this case, some details may become evident in the end.

Write a Literary Analysis Essay with HandmadeWriting

If you need someone to help you craft a literary analysis essay, it’s necessary to choose a reputable service. You can rely on HandmadeWriting whenever assignments seem too difficult to cope with solely. It doesn’t matter if you don’t have enough time for the task completion because a professional writer will compose a flawless paper within the tightest timeframes.

HandmadeWriting has over 700 experienced writers specializing in different fields. They cope even with the most complicated tasks and deliver original papers in time. Writers at HandmadeWriting do their best to help students compose excellent essays. They’re passionate researchers who use many credible sources where they get the necessary information from. All the papers are also checked for plagiarism and edited.

Writing a literary analysis essay is an exciting yet time-consuming process. It’s necessary to read the piece of literature carefully to notice all the essential details. Composing a thesis statement, outlining an essay, and writing a meaningful paper are the next steps. If you aren’t sure about your skills or simply don’t have time because of the academic overload, you can address HandmadeWriting for professional help.

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Essay 3: A How-To Guide

What makes an effective researched argument.

Goal: The goal of any literary research paper is to add an original interpretation to a scholarly conversation about a literary text. Take a look at how rhetorical and literary theorist Kenneth Burke describes all acts of researched writing:

Imagine that you enter a parlor. You come late. When you arrive, others have long preceded you, and they are engaged in a heated discussion, a discussion too heated for them to pause and tell you exactly what it is about. In fact, the discussion had already begun long before any of them got there, so that no one present is qualified to retrace for you all the steps that had gone before. You listen for a while, until you decide that you have caught the tenor of the argument; then you put in your oar. Someone answers; you answer him; another comes to your defense; another aligns himself against you, to either the embarrassment or gratification of your opponent, depending upon the quality of your ally’s assistance. However, the discussion is interminable. The hour grows late, you must depart. And you do depart, with the discussion still vigorously in progress. [1] [2]

In a researched argument, you should:

  • Establish the scholarly conversation that you are entering.
  • Engage in debate with other scholars by analyzing the literary text
  • Form an original interpretation about the literary text through close reading

Introductions

  • Develops an interpretive or intellectual problem—either drawn from research into how other scholars have interpreted the poem or short story or drawn from a detail in the story itself that bears some tension, irony, ambiguity, or disjunction that connects to a larger scholarly conversation.
  • Adds new evidence
  • Adds a new interpretation
  • Disagrees with a previous interpretation

Sample Introductions

The Introduction should accomplish four steps:

  • Establish an Interpretive Problem: Observe the juxtaposing elements in the story that have caused an interpretive gap or tension and establish the significance of these elements.
  • Describe a Major Interpretive Debate: Describe, in a couple of sentences, how various scholars have approached this text, genre, or work from this poet/time period. What problems have emerged in writing about this exhibit? What conversation are you joining?
  • Thesis Statement: After reviewing the previous scholarship, state your claim. What are you arguing in this paper?
  • Road Map: How are you going to support your argument? What’s the layout for this paper?

Take a look at the sample introductions from Laura Wilder and Joanna Wolfe’s  Digging into Literature.  [3]   Where/How does this introduction accomplish each of these four steps?

Schwab, Melinda. “A Watch for Emily.” Studies in Short Fiction 28.2 (1991): 215-17.

The critical attention given to the subject of time in Faulkner most certainly fills as many pages as the longest novel of Yoknapatawpha County. A goodly number of those pages of criticism deal with the well-known short story, “A Rose for Emily.” Several scholars, most notably Paul McGlynn, have worked to untangle the confusing chronology of this work (461-62). Others have given a variety of symbolic and psychological reasons for Emily Grierson’s inability (or refusal) to acknowledge the passage of time. Yet in all of this careful literary analysis, no one has discussed one troubling and therefore highly significant detail. When we first meet Miss Emily, she carries in a pocket somewhere within her clothing an “invisible watch ticking at the end of [a] gold chain” (Faulkner 121). What would a woman like Emily Grierson, who seems to us fixed in the past and oblivious to any passing of time, need with a watch? An awareness of the significance of this watch, however, is crucial for a clear understanding of Miss Emily herself. The watch’s placement in her pocket, its unusually loud ticking, and the chain to which it is attached illustrate both her attempts to control the passage of years and the consequences of such an ultimately futile effort (215).

Fick, Thomas, and Eva Gold. “’He Liked Men’: Homer, Homosexuality, and the Culture of Manhood in Faulkner’s ‘A Rose for Emily.’” Eureka Studies in Teaching Short Fiction 8.1 (2007): 99-107.

Over the last few years critics have discussed homosexuality in Faulkner’s “A Rose for Emily,” one of Faulkner’s most frequently anthologized works and a mainstay of literature classes at all levels. Hal Blythe, for example, asserts outright that Homer Barron is gay, while in a more nuanced reading James Wallace argues that the narrator merely wishes to suggest that Barron is homosexual in order to implicate the reader in a culture of gossip (Blythe 49-50; Wallace 105-07). Both readings rest on this comment by the narrator: “Then we said, ‘She will persuade him yet,’ because Homer himself had remarked—he liked men, and it was known that he drank with the younger men at the Elks’ Club—that he was not a marrying man” (Faulkner 126)…While we agree that the narrator’s comment suggests something important about Homer’s sexual orientation, in contrast with Blythe we believe that it says Homer is combatively heterosexual.

  • Engages in conversation with literary scholars throughout the essay, showing how their interpretation affirms, contrasts, contradicts and resolves the interpretive problem posed by literary scholars.
  • Uses contextual and argumentative sources to support and challenge their analysis of the text.
  • Uses close reading strategies to deeply analyze the literary text.
  • Resolves the interpretive problem through a deep analysis of the text.

Conclusion:

  • Discuss the significance of their analysis to the research being done on that area of literary study.
  • Identify one question or problem that still remains for the field of scholarship on the subject.

Sample Researched Argument

The White Gaze in “On Being Brought from Africa to America”

Paragraph 1

Phillis Wheatley was born in West Africa, captured at a young age, and sold into slavery. Despite the violent history that she lives through, her poem “On Being Brought from Africa to America” opens by expressing gratitude towards a system only referred to in the poem as “mercy.” Due to this discrepancy between the violent history she lives through and the evangelical understanding of that history expressed in the poem, critics have long questioned whether her poetry is a true expression of herself. No one tells the story of Wheatley’s legacy better than Henry Louis Gates, Jr. who, in his article “Phillis Wheatley on Trial,” describes how the Black Nationalist movement zeroed in on “On Being Brought from Africa to America” because there was no outcry in the poem—no objection to being brought to America. The poem was absent of the longing to return back to Africa that the Black Nationalist movement invested in (Gates 87). These critics also decried her poetic style, which imitated White, Enlightenment poets like Alexander Pope (Baraka, Barnum, and Thurman, as cited in Gates 87). Despite this backlash to Wheatley’s poetry, the authenticity of her work remains hotly debated today. Debates over her poetry were revived in the 80’s/90’s when scholars like William J. Scheik, Sondra O’Neale, James Levernier, and Mark Edelman Boren began to document how the biblical allusions and metaphors of her poetry, when read closely, were more subversive than appeared on first glance. This is how Wheatley has continued to be read today, with scholars questioning to what extent her subversions were explicit enough to change the cultural landscape of eighteenth-century America.

Paragraph 2

This paper will argue that the binary readings of Wheatley presented—one in which she is an “Uncle Tom figure” (Gross, as cited in Gates 87) and another in which she is a subversive, revolutionary poet (Levernier)—are both self-consciously represented by Wheatley in the poem. The poem is an example of early discussions of Black identity formation, one in which she is locked into two modes of being: gratitude and resistance. We will start by looking at the most contentious aspects of the poem—the gratitude for Christianity. Looking at the rhetorical construction of the speaker/reader relationship, we will uncover how the poem imagines her White, Christian reader and, in turn, how that White, Christian reader imagines her subjectivity. Following, we will then look at the allusions to the Transatlantic Slave Trade to affirm that these allusions demonstrate the subversiveness of her poetry. Subversive both in demonstrating the White reader’s understanding of her diasporic identity and in showcasing the fluidity of that identity in its early formation.

Paragraph 3

Arguments against reading Wheatley in a subversive light hinge on the evangelical Christian sentiments that open the first lines, particularly the idea that Africa consists of a “pagan land.” As Henry Louis Gates discusses, for Black nationalist thinkers, her description of her African origins as a “pagan” place was a rejection of her Black identity, an attempt to assimilate to her white readership. However, these opening lines are particularly interesting because of the pronoun usage in the opening lines. The opening line says, “’Twas mercy brought me from my Pagan land,” (Wheatley 1). While on the surface the line looks like a benign Christian gratitude for salvation, the pronoun usage in these early lines suggests an alienation that Wheatley feels between herself and her African origins. She has been “brought,” perhaps we might imagine “removed” from her land. The disjunction between “me” and “my pagan land,” suggests a fundamental bifurcation of the self that begins the poem. In many accounts of Wheatley’s Black identity, she is conceived to be assimilationist because her poem suggests, “ludicrous [departure] from the huge black voices that splintered southern nights with their hollers, chants, arwhoolies, and ballits,” (Baraka, as cited in Gates 87). But, I want to suggest that the bifurcation of the self that begins the poem, which initially may look like an assimilationist rejection of Africa—is actually a meditation on how the transatlantic slave trade has shaped her identity—an early example of Du Bois’s “double consciousness” of African-American identities.

Paragraph 4

As many scholars have noted, the poem seems to subversively contend with her relationship with evangelical Christianity, which we may note was a condition of her education. The reference to “mercy” in the first line is particularly troubling—as we know that it was not mercy, but the transatlantic slave trade that brought her to the U.S. How are we to read this reference to mercy? Are we to read it as a moment of cognitive dissonance between Wheatley’s understanding of her history and herself? Are we to read it as an imitation of forms of poetry that she was reading as part of her education? I suggest that we read it as ironic. In both of the interpretations mentioned above, there is a fundamental tension between the reader’s awareness and, supposedly, Wheatley’s awareness. In fact, the title page of the original publication announces that she was a “servant to John Wheatley”—the 18th century reader would have been well-aware of the implications of this position of servitude, would have been aware of the conditions of life that brought Africans to the U.S. Rather than looking at this line for absence of reference to the transatlantic slave trade, I think we should attend to the passivity of the line—the lack of agency she expresses in this opening of the poem. The passive construction of the sentence gives agency to mercy rather than any singular person for the double-consciousness that she is expressing in the rest of the line. It is because of this passivity that she is able to call the land “pagan,” the italicization of which suggests irony. In fact, Mark Edelman Boren suggests that stress is being put on the term pagan in order to undercut the conventional association between the idea of Africa as a pagan landscape and the Africa that Wheatley comes from (45). In this opening line, Wheatley seems to be undercutting the conventional notions that the reader might have of African poets—undercutting the idea that they are grateful for the violence being inflicted on them.

Paragraph 5

This passive construction continues to influence Wheatley’s perception of herself in the next line of the poem: “Taught my benighted soul to understand” (2). Based on the claims I’ve made in the previous paragraphs, we can trust that Wheatley has already unmoored the reader’s associations between both: the evangelical conception that the transatlantic slave trade was founded on benevolence and the association between Africa and paganism. The poem continues to make her identity the focus of the poem. In this line, she is now thinking about her “benighted soul.” While we may look at the denotative definition of this line and think that it suggests that her soul was lacking of the opportunity to be saved before she was enslaved, we might also continue to look at the passive construction of this definition. Wheatley uses the term benighted because, while suggesting that she lacked the opportunity to be saved, it also suggests that the lack of opportunity was bestowed on her by another force or person. There is an external influence shaping Wheatley’s identity in the poem—perhaps, that of the reader. As James Levernier notes, despite, or because of, the reader’s awareness of the horrors of the transatlantic slave trade, the poem would not have been published if Wheatley expressed explicit protest of the conditions of her enslavement (174). At the same time, this passive construction as well as the irony in these opening lines suggests that Wheatley is self-consciously aware of the suppression of her ideas brought about by the presence of the reader. As she constructs the image of herself as a poet, she has to remove herself from her African origins, has to invest in the gratitude conditioned by evangelical Christianity, has to alienate herself from the consciousness of her enslaved condition.

Paragraph 6

In other words, our reading of the first two lines of the poem suggests that this poem is actually about her identity as a Black poet. In W.E.B. DuBois’s “Strivings of the Negro People,”, he describes “double-consciousness” as “this sense of always looking at one’s self through the eyes of others, of measuring one’s soul by the tape of a world that looks on in amused contempt and pity.” In the first two lines of the poem, we see the measurements of White evangelical Christianity—with its expectation that an African poet is grateful for her servitude—being ironically unsettled by Wheatley. If we look at the pattern of pronouns being used throughout the poem, we can see a self-consciousness in the first half of her octave, with a consistent attention on “me…my land…my benighted soul…I…” (1, 2, 4). Then, in the second half of the poem, as Wheatley shifts from a discussion of Christianity to a more overt discussion of the perceptions of Africans, her pronouns shift as well: “Our…Their…Christians…” (5-7). While the first half of the poem may look assimilationist, the second half of the poem showcases a conscious alignment with an African race. She is, as DuBois writes “an American, a Negro; two souls, two thoughts, two unreconciled strivings; two warring ideals in one dark body.”

Paragraph 7

In the opening lines of the poem, Wheatley seems to be contesting the White reader’s idea that the Black poet, Black person, is ultimately grateful for their condition. In the second half of the poem, her task is to define the Black identity. As she tries to do so, she realizes that she is limited by the terms given to her by the White Christian establishment. In the final lines of the poem, she writes, “Remember, Christians, Negros, black as Cain,/May be refin’d, and join th’ angelic train” (7-8). It is here that we get our first references to the transatlantic slave trade, if we choose to read them that way. The final line describes the condition of reformed Black Christians as “refin’d” an oddly classed word to use if we perceive that line as depicting the conversion of Christians (8). However, the word would also have been used as a reference to the process of ‘refining sugar,’ a process by which manufacturers remove impurities and color from the unprocessed cane. Given its most popular usage in the eighteenth century, I suspect that the eighteenth century reader would have associated the word “refined” with sugar manufacturing (“Refine, V.”). Levernier also notes that these words had already taken on the association with these industries in Quaker circles—that is, circles that sought to abolish slavery it the Americas (182). Upon further looking at the language of the last two lines, we may also see the simile “black as Cain” as contributing to our imagination that she is referring to sugar (7). While she is making a biblical allusion to the more violent of Cain and Abel, the homophone also makes the allusion to sugar cane, which is black in nature. By looking carefully at the language she is using, we can see that her description of the religious system of conversion is also an allusion to the process of refining sugar. As White Christians take indigenous people and convert them to Christianity, so too do enslaved Africans farm black cane and refine it into white sugar. In these final lines of the poem, Wheatley seems to acknowledge that the language of Christianity can’t escape the slave trade. As a poet and author, neither can she.

Paragraph 8

As Wheatley tries to define and articulate a Black identity, she finds herself limited by the language of the transatlantic slave trade. In other words, we can read her poem as an articulation of the ways Black identity becomes founded on the violence of the transatlantic slave trade. While the reference to the sugar refinement process is her most referenced subversive metaphor, she also refers to her Black-ness as a “die” and the race itself as “sable.” In other words, when Wheatley constructs race, she does it under the metaphors of the valuable industrial trades: either a dye used for clothing or a valuable fur. We can read these metaphors in two complementary respects. First, the metaphors are skin-based, suggesting that this early social construction of race is partially based on skin color. Second, the metaphors are both references to a violent process enacted on an object that is then likened to violence being perpetuated on the bodies of African slaves—either through the burning of skin as a result of the dying process or the skinning of an animal. As Gates notes, Seymour Gross has said that Wheatley was a “perfect Uncle Tom Figure” (87). However, this ironic use of dialogue suggests otherwise. This suggests that, while criticizing the White reader’s perception of Black writers, she also must criticize the transatlantic slave trade, for limiting her ability to articulate Black identity in the first place.

Paragraph 9

In other words, we may re-read Wheatley’s poem as an early articulation of Black diasporic identities. In Michelle Wright’s Becoming Black: Creating Identity in the African Diaspora , she discusses the difficulties of expressing diasporic identities in Western literature. “On one end stands the…hypercollective, essentialist identity, which provides comfort of absolutist assertions in exchange for the total annihilation of self…” she writes. “On the other end stands the hyperindividual identity…which grants a hyperindividualized self in exchange for the annihilation of ‘Blackness’ as a collective term” (2). Wheatley’s poem seems to be straddling these two identity positions—one in which her individuality as a poet, something she is praised for in the opening advertisement of her 1773 volume of poetry, is founded on a rejection of her African heritage and one in which she can be Black, but must be perceived as part of a “diabolic” or “sable” race. Looking back at my own analysis of this poem, it seems Wheatley is limited by these dual conceptions of her identity. However, I think the poem ultimately represents an act of liberation: by self-consciously examining the limitations placed on her by the transatlantic slave trade and Christianity’s role in perpetuating the ideologies of slavery, she is able to express a fundamental tenet of Black oppression—the inability to exist outside of socially constructed categories of being.

Works Cited

Boren, Mark Edelman. “A Fiery Furnace and a Sugar Train: Metaphors That Challenge the

Legacy of Phillis Wheatley’s ‘On Being Brought from Africa to America.’” CEA Critic ,

vol. 67, no. 1, 2004, pp. 38–56.

Du Bois, W. E. B. “Strivings of the Negro People.” The Atlantic, Aug. 1987,

https://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/1897/08/strivings-of-the-negro-people/305446/ . Accessed 12 Aug. 2023.

Gates Jr., Henry Louis. “Phillis Wheatley on Trial.” The New Yorker, 20 Jan. 2003, pp. 82-87.

Levernier, James A. “Style as Protest in the Poetry of Phillis Wheatley.” Style , vol. 27, no. 2,

1993, pp. 172–93. JSTOR, http://www.jstor.org/stable/42946037. Accessed 12 Aug. 2023.

“Refine, V.” Oxford English Dictionary, Oxford UP, March 2024, https://doi.org/10.1093/OED/1053806037.

Wheatley, Phillis. “On Being Brought from Africa to America.” Penguin Book of Migration 

Literature , edited by Dohra Ahmad, Penguin, 2019.

—. Poems on Various Subjects, Religious and Moral . London, A. Bell, 1773.

Wright, Michelle. Becoming Black: Creating Identity in the African Diaspora . Duke UP, 2004.

  • Burke, Kenneth. The Philosophy of Literary Form: Studies in Symbolic Action . Louisiana State UP, 1941. ↵
  • Wilder, Laura, and Joanna Wolfe. Digging into Literature. Bedford/St. Martin’s, 2016, 222-226. ↵

Writing About Literature Copyright © by Sarah Guayante is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License , except where otherwise noted.

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Anthony Cockerill

Anthony Cockerill

| Writing | The written word | Teaching English |

How to write great English literature essays at university

Essential advice on how to craft a great english literature essay at university – and how to avoid rookie mistakes..

If you’ve just begun to study English literature at university, the prospect of writing that first essay can be daunting. Tutors will likely offer little in the way of assistance in the process of planning and writing, as it’s assumed that students know how to do this already. At A-level, teachers are usually very clear with students about the Assessment Objectives for examination components and centre-assessed work, but it can feel like there’s far less clarity around how essays are marked at university. Furthermore, the process of learning how to properly reference an essay can be a steep learning curve.

But essentially, there are five things you’re being asked to do: show your understanding of the text and its key themes, explore the writer’s methods, consider the influence of contextual factors that might influence the writing and reading of the text, read published critical work about the text and incorporate this discourse into your essay, and finally, write a coherent argument in response to the task.

With advice from English teachers, HE tutors and other people who’ve been there and done it, here are the most crucial things to remember when planning and writing an essay.

Read around the subject and let your argument evolve.

‘One of the big step-ups from A-level, where students might only have had to deal with critical material as part of their coursework, is the move toward engaging with the critical debate around a text.’

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Reading around the task and making notes is all important. Get familiar with the reading list. Become adept at searching for critical material in books and articles that’s not on the reading list. Talk with the librarian. Make sure you can find your way around the stacks. Get log-ins for the various databases of online criticism, such as the MLA International Bibliography .

‘Tutors are looking for flair… for students to be nuanced and creative with their ideas as opposed to reproducing the same criticism that others already have.’

When reading, keep notes, make summaries and write down useful quotations. Make sure you keep track of what you’ve read as you go. Note the publication details (author, publisher, year and place of publication). If you write down a quotation, note the page number. This will make dealing with citations and writing your bibliography much easier later on, as there’s nothing more annoying than getting to the end of the first draft of your essay and realising you’ve no idea which book or article a quote came from or which page it was on.

‘The more I read, the sharper my own writing style became because I developed an opinion of the writing style I liked and I had a clear sense of the subject matter that I was discussing.’
‘Don’t wing the reading. Or the thinking. Crap writing emerges from style over substance.’

Get to grips with the question and plan a response.

‘Brain dump at the start in the form of a mind map. This will help you focus and relax. You can add to it as go along and can shape it into a brief plan.’

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Before writing a single word, brainstorm. Do some free-thinking. Get your ideas down on paper or sticky notes. Cross things out; refine. Allow your planning to be led by ideas that support your argument.

Use different colour-coded sticky notes for your planning. In the example below, the student has used yellow sticky notes for ideas, blue for language, structure and methods, purple for context and green for literary criticism, which makes planning the sequence of the essay much easier.

Structure and sequence your ideas

‘Make your argument clear in your opening paragraph, and then ensure that every subsequent paragraph is clearly addressing your thesis.’

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Plan the essay by working out a sequence of your ideas that you believe to be the most compelling. Allow your ideas to serve as structural signposts. Augment these with relevant criticism, context and focus on language and style.

‘Read wide and look at different pieces of criticism of a particular work and weave that in with your own interpretation of said work.’

Sequencing Ideas

Write a great introduction.

‘By the end of the first paragraph, make sure you have established a very clear thesis statement that outlines the main thrust of the essay.’

Your introduction should make your argument very clear. It’s also a chance to establish working definitions of any problematic terms and to engage with key aspects of the wider critical debate.

Essay Introduction

Get to grips with academic style and draft the essay

‘[Write with] an ‘exploratory’ tone rather than ‘dogmatic’ one.’

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Academic writing is characterised by argument, analysis and evaluation. In an earlier post , I explored how students in high school might improve their analytical writing by adopting three maxims. These maxims are just as helpful for undergraduates. Firstly, aim for precise, cogent expression. Secondly, deliver an individual response supported by your reading – and citing – of published literary criticism. Thirdly, work on your personal voice. In formal analytical writing such as the university essay, your personal voice might be constrained rather more than it would be in a blog or a review, but it must nonetheless be exploratory in tone. Tentativity can be an asset as it suggests appreciation of nuances and alternative ways of thinking.

literature essays writing

‘I got to grips with what was being asked of me by reading lots of literary criticism and becoming more familiar with academic writing conventions.’

Avoid unnecessary or clunky sign-post phrases such as ‘in this essay, I am going to…’ or ‘a further thing…’ A transition devices that can work really well is the explicit paragraph link, in which a motif or phrase in the last sentence of a paragraph is repeated in the first sentence of the next paragraph.

Paragraph Transitions

Write a killer conclusion

‘There is more emphasis on finding your own voice at university, something which in many ways is inhibited by Assessment Objectives at A-Level. I don’t think ‘good’ academic writing is necessarily taught very well in schools — at least from my experience.’

The conclusion is a really important part of your essay. It’s a chance to restate your thesis and to draw conclusions. You might achieve closure or instead, allude to interesting questions or ideas the essay has perhaps raised but not answered. You might synthesise your argument by exploring the key issue. You could zoom-out and explore the issue as part of a bigger picture.

Conclusion

Be meticulous in your referencing.

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Having supported your argument with quotations from published critics, it’s important to be meticulous about how you reference these, otherwise you could be accused of plagiarism – passing someone else’s work off as your own. There are three broad ways of referencing: author-date, footnote and endnote. However, within each of these three approaches, there are specific named protocols. Most English literature faculties use either the MLA (Modern Languages Association of America) style or the Harvard style (variants of the author-date approach). It’s important to check what your faculty or department uses, learn how to use it (faculties invariably publish guidance, but ask if you’re unsure) and apply the rules meticulously.

‘Read your work aloud, slowly, sentence by sentence. It’s the best way to spot typos, and it allows you to hear what is awkward and/or ungrammatical. Then read the essay aloud again.’

Write with precision. Use a thesaurus to help you find the right word, but make sure you use it properly and in the right context. Read sentences back and prune unnecessary phrases or redundant words. Similarly, avoid words or phrases which might sound self-important or pompous.

Like those structural signposts that don’t really add anything, some phrases need to be omited, such as ‘many people have argued that…’ or ‘futher to the previous paragraph…’.

Finally, make sure the essay is formatted correctly. University departments are usually clear about their expectations, but font, size, and line spacing are usually stipulated along with any other information you’re expected to include in the essay’s header or footer. And don’t expect the proofing tool to pick up every mistake.

Featured image by Glenn Carstens-Peters on Unsplash

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What is Essay? Definition, Usage, and Literary Examples

Essay definition.

An essay (ES-ey) is a nonfiction composition that explores a concept, argument, idea, or opinion from the personal perspective of the writer. Essays are usually a few pages, but they can also be book-length. Unlike other forms of nonfiction writing, like textbooks or biographies, an essay doesn’t inherently require research. Literary essayists are conveying ideas in a more informal way.

The word essay comes from the Late Latin exigere , meaning “ascertain or weigh,” which later became essayer in Old French. The late-15th-century version came to mean “test the quality of.” It’s this latter derivation that French philosopher Michel de Montaigne first used to describe a composition.

History of the Essay

Michel de Montaigne first coined the term essayer to describe Plutarch’s Oeuvres Morales , which is now widely considered to be a collection of essays. Under the new term, Montaigne wrote the first official collection of essays, Essais , in 1580. Montaigne’s goal was to pen his personal ideas in prose . In 1597, a collection of Francis Bacon’s work appeared as the first essay collection written in English. The term essayist was first used by English playwright Ben Jonson in 1609.

Types of Essays

There are many ways to categorize essays. Aldous Huxley, a leading essayist, determined that there are three major groups: personal and autobiographical, objective and factual, and abstract and universal. Within these groups, several other types can exist, including the following:

  • Academic Essays : Educators frequently assign essays to encourage students to think deeply about a given subject and to assess the student’s knowledge. As such, an academic essay employs a formal language and tone, and it may include references and a bibliography. It’s objective and factual, and it typically uses a five-paragraph model of an introduction, two or more body paragraphs, and a conclusion. Several other essay types, like descriptive, argumentative, and expository, can fall under the umbrella of an academic essay.
  • Analytical Essays : An analytical essay breaks down and interprets something, like an event, piece of literature, or artwork. This type of essay combines abstraction and personal viewpoints. Professional reviews of movies, TV shows, and albums are likely the most common form of analytical essays that people encounter in everyday life.
  • Argumentative/Persuasive Essays : In an argumentative or persuasive essay, the essayist offers their opinion on a debatable topic and refutes opposing views. Their goal is to get the reader to agree with them. Argumentative/persuasive essays can be personal, factual, and even both at the same time. They can also be humorous or satirical; Jonathan Swift’s A Modest Proposal is a satirical essay arguing that the best way for Irish people to get out of poverty is to sell their children to rich people as a food source.
  • Descriptive Essays : In a descriptive essay, the essayist describes something, someone, or an event in great detail. The essay’s subject can be something concrete, meaning it can be experienced with any or all of the five senses, or abstract, meaning it can’t be interacted with in a physical sense.
  • Expository Essay : An expository essay is a factual piece of writing that explains a particular concept or issue. Investigative journalists often write expository essays in their beat, and things like manuals or how-to guides are also written in an expository style.
  • Narrative/Personal : In a narrative or personal essay, the essayist tells a story, which is usually a recounting of a personal event. Narrative and personal essays may attempt to support a moral or lesson. People are often most familiar with this category as many writers and celebrities frequently publish essay collections.

Notable Essayists

  • James Baldwin, “ Notes of a Native Son ”
  • Joan Didion, “ Goodbye To All That ”
  • George Orwell, “ Shooting an Elephant ”
  • Ralph Waldo Emerson, “ Self-Reliance ”
  • Virginia Woolf, " Three Guineas "

Examples of Literary Essays

1. Michel De Montaigne, “Of Presumption”

De Montaigne’s essay explores multiple topics, including his reasons for writing essays, his dissatisfaction with contemporary education, and his own victories and failings. As the father of the essay, Montaigne details characteristics of what he thinks an essay should be. His writing has a stream-of-consciousness organization that doesn’t follow a structure, and he expresses the importance of looking inward at oneself, pointing to the essay’s personal nature.

2. Virginia Woolf, “A Room of One’s Own”

Woolf’s feminist essay, written from the perspective of an unknown, fictional woman, argues that sexism keeps women from fully realizing their potential. Woolf posits that a woman needs only an income and a room of her own to express her creativity. The fictional persona Woolf uses is meant to teach the reader a greater truth: making both literal and metaphorical space for women in the world is integral to their success and wellbeing.

3. James Baldwin, “Everybody’s Protest Novel”

In this essay, Baldwin argues that Harriet Beecher Stowe’s novel Uncle Tom’s Cabin doesn’t serve the black community the way his contemporaries thought it did. He points out that it equates “goodness” with how well-assimilated the black characters are in white culture:

Uncle Tom’s Cabin is a very bad novel, having, in its self-righteous, virtuous sentimentality, much in common with Little Women. Sentimentality […] is the mark of dishonesty, the inability to feel; […] and it is always, therefore, the signal of secret and violent inhumanity, the mask of cruelty.

This essay is both analytical and argumentative. Baldwin analyzes the novel and argues against those who champion it.

Further Resources on Essays

Top Writing Tips offers an in-depth history of the essay.

The Harvard Writing Center offers tips on outlining an essay.

We at SuperSummary have an excellent essay writing resource guide .

Related Terms

  • Academic Essay
  • Argumentative Essay
  • Expository Essay
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Humanities LibreTexts

7: Writing About Literature

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  • Heather Ringo & Athena Kashyap
  • City College of San Francisco via ASCCC Open Educational Resources Initiative

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  • 7.1: The Writing Process
  • 7.2: Essay Basics- Reading, Annotating, and Reflecting
  • 7.3: Outlining and Organizing Ideas
  • 7.4: Essay Type- Literary Response
  • 7.5: Essay Type- Literary Analysis
  • 7.7: Compare & Contrast Poetry Assignments
  • 7.8: Essay Type- Literary Research
  • 7.9: How to Perform Literary Research (Navigating Secondary Sources and Library Databases)
  • 7.10: Sample Student Research Essay- “‘The Legend of Sleepy Hollow’- An Allegory for a Young America” by Monica Platton
  • 7.11: Sample Student Research Essay- “‘The Legend of Sleepy Hollow’- An Allegory for a Young America” by Monica Platton
  • 7.12: Sample Student Research Essay- "Human Nature in Margaret Cavendish’s 'The Hunting of the Hare'" by Rebekah Fish
  • 7.13: Writing about Form - Developing the Foundations of Close Reading
  • 7.14: The Foundations of New Criticism- An Overview
  • 7.15: Suggestions for Further Reading
  • 7.16: End-of-Chapter Assessment
  • 7.17: Student Sample Papers- Todd Goodwin’s “Poe’s ‘Usher’- A Mirror of the Fall of the House of Humanity” and Amy Chisnell’s “Don’t Listen to the Egg!- A Close Reading of Lewis Carroll’s ‘Jabberwocky’”
  • 7.18: Student Writer at Work- Kelly Ann Wolslegel’s Close Reading of Edna St. Vincent Millay’s “Love Is Not All”
  • 7.19: Close Reading Strategies - A Process Approach
  • 7.20: Literary Snapshot - Through the Looking-Glass
  • 7.21: Writing About Fiction and Creative Nonfiction
  • 7.22: Sample Student Fiction Essays
  • 7.23: Writing About Poetry
  • 7.24: How to Analyze Poetry
  • 7.25: Analyzing Poetry
  • 7.26: Sample Student Poetry Research Essay- "Human Nature in Margaret Cavendish’s 'The Hunting of the Hare'" by Rebekah Fish
  • 7.27: Writing About Drama
  • 7.28: Robert Browning's Memorablia
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literature essays writing

The 10 Best Essay Collections of the Decade

Ever tried. ever failed. no matter..

Friends, it’s true: the end of the decade approaches. It’s been a difficult, anxiety-provoking, morally compromised decade, but at least it’s been populated by some damn fine literature. We’ll take our silver linings where we can.

So, as is our hallowed duty as a literary and culture website—though with full awareness of the potentially fruitless and endlessly contestable nature of the task—in the coming weeks, we’ll be taking a look at the best and most important (these being not always the same) books of the decade that was. We will do this, of course, by means of a variety of lists. We began with the best debut novels , the best short story collections , the best poetry collections , and the best memoirs of the decade , and we have now reached the fifth list in our series: the best essay collections published in English between 2010 and 2019.

The following books were chosen after much debate (and several rounds of voting) by the Literary Hub staff. Tears were spilled, feelings were hurt, books were re-read. And as you’ll shortly see, we had a hard time choosing just ten—so we’ve also included a list of dissenting opinions, and an even longer list of also-rans. As ever, free to add any of your own favorites that we’ve missed in the comments below.

The Top Ten

Oliver sacks, the mind’s eye (2010).

Toward the end of his life, maybe suspecting or sensing that it was coming to a close, Dr. Oliver Sacks tended to focus his efforts on sweeping intellectual projects like On the Move (a memoir), The River of Consciousness (a hybrid intellectual history), and Hallucinations (a book-length meditation on, what else, hallucinations). But in 2010, he gave us one more classic in the style that first made him famous, a form he revolutionized and brought into the contemporary literary canon: the medical case study as essay. In The Mind’s Eye , Sacks focuses on vision, expanding the notion to embrace not only how we see the world, but also how we map that world onto our brains when our eyes are closed and we’re communing with the deeper recesses of consciousness. Relaying histories of patients and public figures, as well as his own history of ocular cancer (the condition that would eventually spread and contribute to his death), Sacks uses vision as a lens through which to see all of what makes us human, what binds us together, and what keeps us painfully apart. The essays that make up this collection are quintessential Sacks: sensitive, searching, with an expertise that conveys scientific information and experimentation in terms we can not only comprehend, but which also expand how we see life carrying on around us. The case studies of “Stereo Sue,” of the concert pianist Lillian Kalir, and of Howard, the mystery novelist who can no longer read, are highlights of the collection, but each essay is a kind of gem, mined and polished by one of the great storytellers of our era.  –Dwyer Murphy, CrimeReads Managing Editor

John Jeremiah Sullivan, Pulphead (2011)

The American essay was having a moment at the beginning of the decade, and Pulphead was smack in the middle. Without any hard data, I can tell you that this collection of John Jeremiah Sullivan’s magazine features—published primarily in GQ , but also in The Paris Review , and Harper’s —was the only full book of essays most of my literary friends had read since Slouching Towards Bethlehem , and probably one of the only full books of essays they had even heard of.

Well, we all picked a good one. Every essay in Pulphead is brilliant and entertaining, and illuminates some small corner of the American experience—even if it’s just one house, with Sullivan and an aging writer inside (“Mr. Lytle” is in fact a standout in a collection with no filler; fittingly, it won a National Magazine Award and a Pushcart Prize). But what are they about? Oh, Axl Rose, Christian Rock festivals, living around the filming of One Tree Hill , the Tea Party movement, Michael Jackson, Bunny Wailer, the influence of animals, and by god, the Miz (of Real World/Road Rules Challenge fame).

But as Dan Kois has pointed out , what connects these essays, apart from their general tone and excellence, is “their author’s essential curiosity about the world, his eye for the perfect detail, and his great good humor in revealing both his subjects’ and his own foibles.” They are also extremely well written, drawing much from fictional techniques and sentence craft, their literary pleasures so acute and remarkable that James Wood began his review of the collection in The New Yorker with a quiz: “Are the following sentences the beginnings of essays or of short stories?” (It was not a hard quiz, considering the context.)

It’s hard not to feel, reading this collection, like someone reached into your brain, took out the half-baked stuff you talk about with your friends, researched it, lived it, and represented it to you smarter and better and more thoroughly than you ever could. So read it in awe if you must, but read it.  –Emily Temple, Senior Editor

Aleksandar Hemon, The Book of My Lives (2013)

Such is the sentence-level virtuosity of Aleksandar Hemon—the Bosnian-American writer, essayist, and critic—that throughout his career he has frequently been compared to the granddaddy of borrowed language prose stylists: Vladimir Nabokov. While it is, of course, objectively remarkable that anyone could write so beautifully in a language they learned in their twenties, what I admire most about Hemon’s work is the way in which he infuses every essay and story and novel with both a deep humanity and a controlled (but never subdued) fury. He can also be damn funny. Hemon grew up in Sarajevo and left in 1992 to study in Chicago, where he almost immediately found himself stranded, forced to watch from afar as his beloved home city was subjected to a relentless four-year bombardment, the longest siege of a capital in the history of modern warfare. This extraordinary memoir-in-essays is many things: it’s a love letter to both the family that raised him and the family he built in exile; it’s a rich, joyous, and complex portrait of a place the 90s made synonymous with war and devastation; and it’s an elegy for the wrenching loss of precious things. There’s an essay about coming of age in Sarajevo and another about why he can’t bring himself to leave Chicago. There are stories about relationships forged and maintained on the soccer pitch or over the chessboard, and stories about neighbors and mentors turned monstrous by ethnic prejudice. As a chorus they sing with insight, wry humor, and unimaginable sorrow. I am not exaggerating when I say that the collection’s devastating final piece, “The Aquarium”—which details his infant daughter’s brain tumor and the agonizing months which led up to her death—remains the most painful essay I have ever read.  –Dan Sheehan, Book Marks Editor

Robin Wall Kimmerer, Braiding Sweetgrass (2013)

Of every essay in my relentlessly earmarked copy of Braiding Sweetgrass , Dr. Robin Wall Kimmerer’s gorgeously rendered argument for why and how we should keep going, there’s one that especially hits home: her account of professor-turned-forester Franz Dolp. When Dolp, several decades ago, revisited the farm that he had once shared with his ex-wife, he found a scene of destruction: The farm’s new owners had razed the land where he had tried to build a life. “I sat among the stumps and the swirling red dust and I cried,” he wrote in his journal.

So many in my generation (and younger) feel this kind of helplessness–and considerable rage–at finding ourselves newly adult in a world where those in power seem determined to abandon or destroy everything that human bodies have always needed to survive: air, water, land. Asking any single book to speak to this helplessness feels unfair, somehow; yet, Braiding Sweetgrass does, by weaving descriptions of indigenous tradition with the environmental sciences in order to show what survival has looked like over the course of many millennia. Kimmerer’s essays describe her personal experience as a Potawotami woman, plant ecologist, and teacher alongside stories of the many ways that humans have lived in relationship to other species. Whether describing Dolp’s work–he left the stumps for a life of forest restoration on the Oregon coast–or the work of others in maple sugar harvesting, creating black ash baskets, or planting a Three Sisters garden of corn, beans, and squash, she brings hope. “In ripe ears and swelling fruit, they counsel us that all gifts are multiplied in relationship,” she writes of the Three Sisters, which all sustain one another as they grow. “This is how the world keeps going.”  –Corinne Segal, Senior Editor

Hilton Als, White Girls (2013)

In a world where we are so often reduced to one essential self, Hilton Als’ breathtaking book of critical essays, White Girls , which meditates on the ways he and other subjects read, project and absorb parts of white femininity, is a radically liberating book. It’s one of the only works of critical thinking that doesn’t ask the reader, its author or anyone he writes about to stoop before the doorframe of complete legibility before entering. Something he also permitted the subjects and readers of his first book, the glorious book-length essay, The Women , a series of riffs and psychological portraits of Dorothy Dean, Owen Dodson, and the author’s own mother, among others. One of the shifts of that book, uncommon at the time, was how it acknowledges the way we inhabit bodies made up of variously gendered influences. To read White Girls now is to experience the utter freedom of this gift and to marvel at Als’ tremendous versatility and intelligence.

He is easily the most diversely talented American critic alive. He can write into genres like pop music and film where being part of an audience is a fantasy happening in the dark. He’s also wired enough to know how the art world builds reputations on the nod of rich white patrons, a significant collision in a time when Jean-Michel Basquiat is America’s most expensive modern artist. Als’ swerving and always moving grip on performance means he’s especially good on describing the effect of art which is volatile and unstable and built on the mingling of made-up concepts and the hard fact of their effect on behavior, such as race. Writing on Flannery O’Connor for instance he alone puts a finger on her “uneasy and unavoidable union between black and white, the sacred and the profane, the shit and the stars.” From Eminem to Richard Pryor, André Leon Talley to Michael Jackson, Als enters the life and work of numerous artists here who turn the fascinations of race and with whiteness into fury and song and describes the complexity of their beauty like his life depended upon it. There are also brief memoirs here that will stop your heart. This is an essential work to understanding American culture.  –John Freeman, Executive Editor

Eula Biss, On Immunity (2014)

We move through the world as if we can protect ourselves from its myriad dangers, exercising what little agency we have in an effort to keep at bay those fears that gather at the edges of any given life: of loss, illness, disaster, death. It is these fears—amplified by the birth of her first child—that Eula Biss confronts in her essential 2014 essay collection, On Immunity . As any great essayist does, Biss moves outward in concentric circles from her own very private view of the world to reveal wider truths, discovering as she does a culture consumed by anxiety at the pervasive toxicity of contemporary life. As Biss interrogates this culture—of privilege, of whiteness—she interrogates herself, questioning the flimsy ways in which we arm ourselves with science or superstition against the impurities of daily existence.

Five years on from its publication, it is dismaying that On Immunity feels as urgent (and necessary) a defense of basic science as ever. Vaccination, we learn, is derived from vacca —for cow—after the 17th-century discovery that a small application of cowpox was often enough to inoculate against the scourge of smallpox, an etymological digression that belies modern conspiratorial fears of Big Pharma and its vaccination agenda. But Biss never scolds or belittles the fears of others, and in her generosity and openness pulls off a neat (and important) trick: insofar as we are of the very world we fear, she seems to be suggesting, we ourselves are impure, have always been so, permeable, vulnerable, yet so much stronger than we think.  –Jonny Diamond, Editor-in-Chief 

Rebecca Solnit, The Mother of All Questions (2016)

When Rebecca Solnit’s essay, “Men Explain Things to Me,” was published in 2008, it quickly became a cultural phenomenon unlike almost any other in recent memory, assigning language to a behavior that almost every woman has witnessed—mansplaining—and, in the course of identifying that behavior, spurring a movement, online and offline, to share the ways in which patriarchal arrogance has intersected all our lives. (It would also come to be the titular essay in her collection published in 2014.) The Mother of All Questions follows up on that work and takes it further in order to examine the nature of self-expression—who is afforded it and denied it, what institutions have been put in place to limit it, and what happens when it is employed by women. Solnit has a singular gift for describing and decoding the misogynistic dynamics that govern the world so universally that they can seem invisible and the gendered violence that is so common as to seem unremarkable; this naming is powerful, and it opens space for sharing the stories that shape our lives.

The Mother of All Questions, comprised of essays written between 2014 and 2016, in many ways armed us with some of the tools necessary to survive the gaslighting of the Trump years, in which many of us—and especially women—have continued to hear from those in power that the things we see and hear do not exist and never existed. Solnit also acknowledges that labels like “woman,” and other gendered labels, are identities that are fluid in reality; in reviewing the book for The New Yorker , Moira Donegan suggested that, “One useful working definition of a woman might be ‘someone who experiences misogyny.'” Whichever words we use, Solnit writes in the introduction to the book that “when words break through unspeakability, what was tolerated by a society sometimes becomes intolerable.” This storytelling work has always been vital; it continues to be vital, and in this book, it is brilliantly done.  –Corinne Segal, Senior Editor

Valeria Luiselli, Tell Me How It Ends (2017)

The newly minted MacArthur fellow Valeria Luiselli’s four-part (but really six-part) essay  Tell Me How It Ends: An Essay in Forty Questions  was inspired by her time spent volunteering at the federal immigration court in New York City, working as an interpreter for undocumented, unaccompanied migrant children who crossed the U.S.-Mexico border. Written concurrently with her novel  Lost Children Archive  (a fictional exploration of the same topic), Luiselli’s essay offers a fascinating conceit, the fashioning of an argument from the questions on the government intake form given to these children to process their arrivals. (Aside from the fact that this essay is a heartbreaking masterpiece, this is such a  good  conceit—transforming a cold, reproducible administrative document into highly personal literature.) Luiselli interweaves a grounded discussion of the questionnaire with a narrative of the road trip Luiselli takes with her husband and family, across America, while they (both Mexican citizens) wait for their own Green Card applications to be processed. It is on this trip when Luiselli reflects on the thousands of migrant children mysteriously traveling across the border by themselves. But the real point of the essay is to actually delve into the real stories of some of these children, which are agonizing, as well as to gravely, clearly expose what literally happens, procedural, when they do arrive—from forms to courts, as they’re swallowed by a bureaucratic vortex. Amid all of this, Luiselli also takes on more, exploring the larger contextual relationship between the United States of America and Mexico (as well as other countries in Central America, more broadly) as it has evolved to our current, adverse moment.  Tell Me How It Ends  is so small, but it is so passionate and vigorous: it desperately accomplishes in its less-than-100-pages-of-prose what centuries and miles and endless records of federal bureaucracy have never been able, and have never cared, to do: reverse the dehumanization of Latin American immigrants that occurs once they set foot in this country.  –Olivia Rutigliano, CrimeReads Editorial Fellow

Zadie Smith, Feel Free (2018)

In the essay “Meet Justin Bieber!” in Feel Free , Zadie Smith writes that her interest in Justin Bieber is not an interest in the interiority of the singer himself, but in “the idea of the love object”. This essay—in which Smith imagines a meeting between Bieber and the late philosopher Martin Buber (“Bieber and Buber are alternative spellings of the same German surname,” she explains in one of many winning footnotes. “Who am I to ignore these hints from the universe?”). Smith allows that this premise is a bit premise -y: “I know, I know.” Still, the resulting essay is a very funny, very smart, and un-tricky exploration of individuality and true “meeting,” with a dash of late capitalism thrown in for good measure. The melding of high and low culture is the bread and butter of pretty much every prestige publication on the internet these days (and certainly of the Twitter feeds of all “public intellectuals”), but the essays in Smith’s collection don’t feel familiar—perhaps because hers is, as we’ve long known, an uncommon skill. Though I believe Smith could probably write compellingly about anything, she chooses her subjects wisely. She writes with as much electricity about Brexit as the aforementioned Beliebers—and each essay is utterly engrossing. “She contains multitudes, but her point is we all do,” writes Hermione Hoby in her review of the collection in The New Republic . “At the same time, we are, in our endless difference, nobody but ourselves.”  –Jessie Gaynor, Social Media Editor

Tressie McMillan Cottom, Thick: And Other Essays (2019)

Tressie McMillan Cottom is an academic who has transcended the ivory tower to become the sort of public intellectual who can easily appear on radio or television talk shows to discuss race, gender, and capitalism. Her collection of essays reflects this duality, blending scholarly work with memoir to create a collection on the black female experience in postmodern America that’s “intersectional analysis with a side of pop culture.” The essays range from an analysis of sexual violence, to populist politics, to social media, but in centering her own experiences throughout, the collection becomes something unlike other pieces of criticism of contemporary culture. In explaining the title, she reflects on what an editor had said about her work: “I was too readable to be academic, too deep to be popular, too country black to be literary, and too naïve to show the rigor of my thinking in the complexity of my prose. I had wanted to create something meaningful that sounded not only like me, but like all of me. It was too thick.” One of the most powerful essays in the book is “Dying to be Competent” which begins with her unpacking the idiocy of LinkedIn (and the myth of meritocracy) and ends with a description of her miscarriage, the mishandling of black woman’s pain, and a condemnation of healthcare bureaucracy. A finalist for the 2019 National Book Award for Nonfiction, Thick confirms McMillan Cottom as one of our most fearless public intellectuals and one of the most vital.  –Emily Firetog, Deputy Editor

Dissenting Opinions

The following books were just barely nudged out of the top ten, but we (or at least one of us) couldn’t let them pass without comment.

Elif Batuman, The Possessed (2010)

In The Possessed Elif Batuman indulges her love of Russian literature and the result is hilarious and remarkable. Each essay of the collection chronicles some adventure or other that she had while in graduate school for Comparative Literature and each is more unpredictable than the next. There’s the time a “well-known 20th-centuryist” gave a graduate student the finger; and the time when Batuman ended up living in Samarkand, Uzbekistan, for a summer; and the time that she convinced herself Tolstoy was murdered and spent the length of the Tolstoy Conference in Yasnaya Polyana considering clues and motives. Rich in historic detail about Russian authors and literature and thoughtfully constructed, each essay is an amalgam of critical analysis, cultural criticism, and serious contemplation of big ideas like that of identity, intellectual legacy, and authorship. With wit and a serpentine-like shape to her narratives, Batuman adopts a form reminiscent of a Socratic discourse, setting up questions at the beginning of her essays and then following digressions that more or less entreat the reader to synthesize the answer for herself. The digressions are always amusing and arguably the backbone of the collection, relaying absurd anecdotes with foreign scholars or awkward, surreal encounters with Eastern European strangers. Central also to the collection are Batuman’s intellectual asides where she entertains a theory—like the “problem of the person”: the inability to ever wholly capture one’s character—that ultimately layer the book’s themes. “You are certainly my most entertaining student,” a professor said to Batuman. But she is also curious and enthusiastic and reflective and so knowledgeable that she might even convince you (she has me!) that you too love Russian literature as much as she does. –Eleni Theodoropoulos, Editorial Fellow

Roxane Gay, Bad Feminist (2014)

Roxane Gay’s now-classic essay collection is a book that will make you laugh, think, cry, and then wonder, how can cultural criticism be this fun? My favorite essays in the book include Gay’s musings on competitive Scrabble, her stranded-in-academia dispatches, and her joyous film and television criticism, but given the breadth of topics Roxane Gay can discuss in an entertaining manner, there’s something for everyone in this one. This book is accessible because feminism itself should be accessible – Roxane Gay is as likely to draw inspiration from YA novels, or middle-brow shows about friendship, as she is to introduce concepts from the academic world, and if there’s anyone I trust to bridge the gap between high culture, low culture, and pop culture, it’s the Goddess of Twitter. I used to host a book club dedicated to radical reads, and this was one of the first picks for the club; a week after the book club met, I spied a few of the attendees meeting in the café of the bookstore, and found out that they had bonded so much over discussing  Bad Feminist  that they couldn’t wait for the next meeting of the book club to keep discussing politics and intersectionality, and that, in a nutshell, is the power of Roxane. –Molly Odintz, CrimeReads Associate Editor

Rivka Galchen, Little Labors (2016)

Generally, I find stories about the trials and tribulations of child-having to be of limited appeal—useful, maybe, insofar as they offer validation that other people have also endured the bizarre realities of living with a tiny human, but otherwise liable to drift into the musings of parents thrilled at the simple fact of their own fecundity, as if they were the first ones to figure the process out (or not). But Little Labors is not simply an essay collection about motherhood, perhaps because Galchen initially “didn’t want to write about” her new baby—mostly, she writes, “because I had never been interested in babies, or mothers; in fact, those subjects had seemed perfectly not interesting to me.” Like many new mothers, though, Galchen soon discovered her baby—which she refers to sometimes as “the puma”—to be a preoccupying thought, demanding to be written about. Galchen’s interest isn’t just in her own progeny, but in babies in literature (“Literature has more dogs than babies, and also more abortions”), The Pillow Book , the eleventh-century collection of musings by Sei Shōnagon, and writers who are mothers. There are sections that made me laugh out loud, like when Galchen continually finds herself in an elevator with a neighbor who never fails to remark on the puma’s size. There are also deeper, darker musings, like the realization that the baby means “that it’s not permissible to die. There are days when this does not feel good.” It is a slim collection that I happened to read at the perfect time, and it remains one of my favorites of the decade. –Emily Firetog, Deputy Editor

Charlie Fox, This Young Monster (2017)

On social media as in his writing, British art critic Charlie Fox rejects lucidity for allusion and doesn’t quite answer the Twitter textbox’s persistent question: “What’s happening?” These days, it’s hard to tell.  This Young Monster  (2017), Fox’s first book,was published a few months after Donald Trump’s election, and at one point Fox takes a swipe at a man he judges “direct from a nightmare and just a repulsive fucking goon.” Fox doesn’t linger on politics, though, since most of the monsters he looks at “embody otherness and make it into art, ripping any conventional idea of beauty to shreds and replacing it with something weird and troubling of their own invention.”

If clichés are loathed because they conform to what philosopher Georges Bataille called “the common measure,” then monsters are rebellious non-sequiturs, comedic or horrific derailments from a classical ideal. Perverts in the most literal sense, monsters have gone astray from some “proper” course. The book’s nine chapters, which are about a specific monster or type of monster, are full of callbacks to familiar and lesser-known media. Fox cites visual art, film, songs, and books with the screwy buoyancy of a savant. Take one of his essays, “Spook House,” framed as a stage play with two principal characters, Klaus (“an intoxicated young skinhead vampire”) and Hermione (“a teen sorceress with green skin and jet-black hair” who looks more like The Wicked Witch than her namesake). The chorus is a troupe of trick-or-treaters. Using the filmmaker Cameron Jamie as a starting point, the rest is free association on gothic decadence and Detroit and L.A. as cities of the dead. All the while, Klaus quotes from  Artforum ,  Dazed & Confused , and  Time Out. It’s a technical feat that makes fictionalized dialogue a conveyor belt for cultural criticism.

In Fox’s imagination, David Bowie and the Hydra coexist alongside Peter Pan, Dennis Hopper, and the maenads. Fox’s book reaches for the monster’s mask, not really to peel it off but to feel and smell the rubber schnoz, to know how it’s made before making sure it’s still snugly set. With a stylistic blend of arthouse suavity and B-movie chic,  This Young Monster considers how monsters in culture are made. Aren’t the scariest things made in post-production? Isn’t the creature just duplicity, like a looping choir or a dubbed scream? –Aaron Robertson, Assistant Editor

Elena Passarello, Animals Strike Curious Poses (2017)

Elena Passarello’s collection of essays Animals Strike Curious Poses picks out infamous animals and grants them the voice, narrative, and history they deserve. Not only is a collection like this relevant during the sixth extinction but it is an ambitious historical and anthropological undertaking, which Passarello has tackled with thorough research and a playful tone that rather than compromise her subject, complicates and humanizes it. Passarello’s intention is to investigate the role of animals across the span of human civilization and in doing so, to construct a timeline of humanity as told through people’s interactions with said animals. “Of all the images that make our world, animal images are particularly buried inside us,” Passarello writes in her first essay, to introduce us to the object of the book and also to the oldest of her chosen characters: Yuka, a 39,000-year-old mummified woolly mammoth discovered in the Siberian permafrost in 2010. It was an occasion so remarkable and so unfathomable given the span of human civilization that Passarello says of Yuka: “Since language is epically younger than both thought and experience, ‘woolly mammoth’ means, to a human brain, something more like time.” The essay ends with a character placing a hand on a cave drawing of a woolly mammoth, accompanied by a phrase which encapsulates the author’s vision for the book: “And he becomes the mammoth so he can envision the mammoth.” In Passarello’s hands the imagined boundaries between the animal, natural, and human world disintegrate and what emerges is a cohesive if baffling integrated history of life. With the accuracy and tenacity of a journalist and the spirit of a storyteller, Elena Passarello has assembled a modern bestiary worthy of contemplation and awe. –Eleni Theodoropoulos, Editorial Fellow

Esmé Weijun Wang, The Collected Schizophrenias (2019)

Esmé Weijun Wang’s collection of essays is a kaleidoscopic look at mental health and the lives affected by the schizophrenias. Each essay takes on a different aspect of the topic, but you’ll want to read them together for a holistic perspective. Esmé Weijun Wang generously begins The Collected Schizophrenias by acknowledging the stereotype, “Schizophrenia terrifies. It is the archetypal disorder of lunacy.” From there, she walks us through the technical language, breaks down the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual ( DSM-5 )’s clinical definition. And then she gets very personal, telling us about how she came to her own diagnosis and the way it’s touched her daily life (her relationships, her ideas about motherhood). Esmé Weijun Wang is uniquely situated to write about this topic. As a former lab researcher at Stanford, she turns a precise, analytical eye to her experience while simultaneously unfolding everything with great patience for her reader. Throughout, she brilliantly dissects the language around mental health. (On saying “a person living with bipolar disorder” instead of using “bipolar” as the sole subject: “…we are not our diseases. We are instead individuals with disorders and malfunctions. Our conditions lie over us like smallpox blankets; we are one thing and the illness is another.”) She pinpoints the ways she arms herself against anticipated reactions to the schizophrenias: high fashion, having attended an Ivy League institution. In a particularly piercing essay, she traces mental illness back through her family tree. She also places her story within more mainstream cultural contexts, calling on groundbreaking exposés about the dangerous of institutionalization and depictions of mental illness in television and film (like the infamous Slender Man case, in which two young girls stab their best friend because an invented Internet figure told them to). At once intimate and far-reaching, The Collected Schizophrenias is an informative and important (and let’s not forget artful) work. I’ve never read a collection quite so beautifully-written and laid-bare as this. –Katie Yee, Book Marks Assistant Editor

Ross Gay, The Book of Delights (2019)

When Ross Gay began writing what would become The Book of Delights, he envisioned it as a project of daily essays, each focused on a moment or point of delight in his day. This plan quickly disintegrated; on day four, he skipped his self-imposed assignment and decided to “in honor and love, delight in blowing it off.” (Clearly, “blowing it off” is a relative term here, as he still produced the book.) Ross Gay is a generous teacher of how to live, and this moment of reveling in self-compassion is one lesson among many in The Book of Delights , which wanders from moments of connection with strangers to a shade of “red I don’t think I actually have words for,” a text from a friend reading “I love you breadfruit,” and “the sun like a guiding hand on my back, saying everything is possible. Everything .”

Gay does not linger on any one subject for long, creating the sense that delight is a product not of extenuating circumstances, but of our attention; his attunement to the possibilities of a single day, and awareness of all the small moments that produce delight, are a model for life amid the warring factions of the attention economy. These small moments range from the physical–hugging a stranger, transplanting fig cuttings–to the spiritual and philosophical, giving the impression of sitting beside Gay in his garden as he thinks out loud in real time. It’s a privilege to listen. –Corinne Segal, Senior Editor

Honorable Mentions

A selection of other books that we seriously considered for both lists—just to be extra about it (and because decisions are hard).

Terry Castle, The Professor and Other Writings (2010) · Joyce Carol Oates, In Rough Country (2010) · Geoff Dyer, Otherwise Known as the Human Condition (2011) · Christopher Hitchens, Arguably (2011) ·  Roberto Bolaño, tr. Natasha Wimmer, Between Parentheses (2011) · Dubravka Ugresic, tr. David Williams, Karaoke Culture (2011) · Tom Bissell, Magic Hours (2012)  · Kevin Young, The Grey Album (2012) · William H. Gass, Life Sentences: Literary Judgments and Accounts (2012) · Mary Ruefle, Madness, Rack, and Honey (2012) · Herta Müller, tr. Geoffrey Mulligan, Cristina and Her Double (2013) · Leslie Jamison, The Empathy Exams (2014)  · Meghan Daum, The Unspeakable (2014)  · Daphne Merkin, The Fame Lunches (2014)  · Charles D’Ambrosio, Loitering (2015) · Wendy Walters, Multiply/Divide (2015) · Colm Tóibín, On Elizabeth Bishop (2015) ·  Renee Gladman, Calamities (2016)  · Jesmyn Ward, ed. The Fire This Time (2016)  · Lindy West, Shrill (2016)  · Mary Oliver, Upstream (2016)  · Emily Witt, Future Sex (2016)  · Olivia Laing, The Lonely City (2016)  · Mark Greif, Against Everything (2016)  · Durga Chew-Bose, Too Much and Not the Mood (2017)  · Sarah Gerard, Sunshine State (2017)  · Jim Harrison, A Really Big Lunch (2017)  · J.M. Coetzee, Late Essays: 2006-2017 (2017) · Melissa Febos, Abandon Me (2017)  · Louise Glück, American Originality (2017)  · Joan Didion, South and West (2017)  · Tom McCarthy, Typewriters, Bombs, Jellyfish (2017)  · Hanif Abdurraqib, They Can’t Kill Us Until they Kill Us (2017)  · Ta-Nehisi Coates, We Were Eight Years in Power (2017)  ·  Samantha Irby, We Are Never Meeting in Real Life (2017)  · Alexander Chee, How to Write an Autobiographical Novel (2018)  · Alice Bolin, Dead Girls (2018)  · Marilynne Robinson, What Are We Doing Here? (2018)  · Lorrie Moore, See What Can Be Done (2018)  · Maggie O’Farrell, I Am I Am I Am (2018)  · Ijeoma Oluo, So You Want to Talk About Race (2018)  · Rachel Cusk, Coventry (2019)  · Jia Tolentino, Trick Mirror (2019)  · Emily Bernard, Black is the Body (2019)  · Toni Morrison, The Source of Self-Regard (2019)  · Margaret Renkl, Late Migrations (2019)  ·  Rachel Munroe, Savage Appetites (2019)  · Robert A. Caro,  Working  (2019) · Arundhati Roy, My Seditious Heart (2019).

Emily Temple

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Literature Essay Writing Help

Get online help from our masters and phd qualified experts, literature essay.

If you are a literature student or not, your professor might ask you to write a review on different aspects of a book, poem, novel, or any other things. A literature essay is different from summarizing or paraphrasing anything. In this, you critically analyze the literature work.  

What is a Literature essay?  

A literature essay is a type of academic writing, in which you critically analyze different aspects of a literary piece of work.  

If you are a literature student, your professor more often gives you the assignment to write a literature essay. But the problem starts when he did not tell you how to write. Don’t worry; Assignment Studio provides you the best writer to help you.  

Steps for writing a literature essay  

You can write a literature essay by following the different steps.  

literature essays writing

Step 1: Understand the purpose of literary analysis  

When you write a literary essay, different questions arise to the mind. Why should we write it? What is the purpose of writing it? The main purpose of writing is to evaluate any piece of literary work.  It is to analyze how an author portrays characters, builds a plot, and manifests themes through characters.  

Step 2 Understand the format  

After finding the purpose behind your essay, read the piece of literature and observed the format of an essay.  

Content of a literature Essay  

In a literature essay, there is no specific paragraph to write it. If you write a literature essay about a poem, the format is different from writing about novels or dramas. But there are few aspects, which are common in all of these.  

  • Literary genre
  • Character Analysis
  • Plot structure
  • Analysis theme  
  • Use of symbols
  • Analysis of structure and writing style.

If you have a problem with understanding the content of the literature essay and you need an expert guide, then feel free to contact Assignment Studio.  

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Step 3 Outlines.  

After understanding the format of an essay, outline the main points. Like another academic essay, a literature essay also has three parts; an introduction, body, and conclusion. You should write on all aspects of writing and never miss any point related to your topic.  

Step 4: Write  

Now, start elaborated on the outline that you make of the literature essay.  

  • Introduction  

Start with a sentence that grabs the reader’s attention.  Start with a quote related to your topic. Then write a few sentences related to this quote. Add a few points related to the background and genre of the literature piece. End the introduction with thesis statements.  

If you write a good introduction, it is easy for you to write a whole essay.  

Start body paragraph with a topic sentence. Then briefly introduce your topic. Develop different arguments to support your thesis sentence. Develop your idea coherently and present it in a virtuous way. Also, use different transition words, to link all the paragraphs.  

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  • Conclusion  

Start conclusion with a topic sentence. In place of summarizing, the whole work, synthases the arguments. Do not introduce new ideas in the conclusion. In the introduction, you write with the importance of your work, also end it with related pieces of information. Describe the whole work in a few sentences that represent an overview of the essay.  

Excel in literary critique with Assignmentstudio. Our expert guidance on How to Write a Literary Analysis Essay  sharpens your analytical skills, enabling you to dissect texts with finesse and produce insightful, impactful analyses.

You should give a new idea to the related piece of literature, but avoid adding irrelevant information.  

Step 5 Edit  

When you have completed your essay, then revise it for proofreading. Carefully read the whole essay and check that if there is any mistake in the essay. Also, cross-check all aspects of your writing. Check that your arguments are valid and support your thesis statement. Furthermore, examine all the content related to the literature essay is added in an essay.  

Three Challenges to literature essay writing  

These three challenges that you faced during writing a literature essay.  

Reading and Analyzing Processes  

You often read books as a hobby. But, read the book to analyze it is a different one. During this type of reading, you have to focus on different aspects of writing and observed and write on every aspect of writing.  

Gathering of require information  

The next challenge is to gather all related information. Underline the related information or use different colors to separate different aspects.  

Write literary analysis by yourself.  

After reading, analyzing, and gathering information, the last challenge is to write it. Use proper words, support with related argument, and end it providing evidence, to complete your task.  

Here, only three challenges are discussed. You may also find certain obstacles while writing it. Just keep confidence in yourself and find the related issues.  

You can write a literature essay by learning about it. But still, if you have some misperception in your mind, you can contact our writer. We have expert writers at Assignment studio that help you to create an outstanding essay.  

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Review: Indian Literature’s issue on Trans Writing

T rans writers rarely find space in mainstream publishing and their writing about their own struggles often appears only in parochial publications. However, the Sahitya Akademi’s journal, Indian Literature, edited by Sukrita Paul Kumar dedicated the March-April 2024 issue entirely to trans writing. In her editorial note, Kumar states that “the current issue of Indian Literature has endeavoured to create a space for trans writing by trans writers, from different Indian languages, that call for a sincere reckoning with a world usually dismissed by most people as inconsequential”.

Divided into two sections, the issue includes excerpts from longer works, poetry, short fiction, essays and book reviews written in English and in the major regional languages of India including Manipuri, Tamil, Kannada, Hindi, Bengali, Malyalam and Marathi. Much of the work deals with the experience of being stigmatised with varied personal divulgences and snippets of conversations with trans writers reflecting an undertow of despair. Dissecting their trauma and sense of loss while also offering some hope, the issue shows that trans people first experience disappointment and alienation within their own homes. With time, as their freedom is curtailed, they confront increasing disrespect. Translated from Manipuri by Rubani Yumkhaibam, the prologue of Santa Khurai’s The Yellow Sparrow: Memoir of a Transgender reverberates with feelings of loss and alienation that begins at home. Its wailing mother tells The Yellow Sparrow :

You are different from the other sparrowsYour innocent body is spewing a host of Yellow feathers, increasingly, alarmingly.They will ostracise you from the rest of the flock You will live friendliness and lonely for the rest of your life. The yellow sparrow fell in loveWith his own molten loveliness

READ MORE:  Indian sci-fi: Weird and Wonderful Such is the general predicament that ossifies their anguish. However, resistance and hope also emerge in trans lives along with an illuminating sense of resilience. In their article, We Are Not Others: Reflections of A Transgender Activist , Kalki Subramaniam envisages a hopeful future: “2050 will begin the light years for the transgender community, there will be transgender people who will own massive corporations, will be influential leaders and politicians, will speed the world with charm and art, will lead in education, science, and research”. Clearly, these are not just stories of bruised individuals, they are also narratives of unalloyed courage and confidence.

Some of the authors featured here are trailblazers attempting to broaden the path to freedom for other transgenders. Their personal explorations are imbued with joy.

The critical essays in this issue offer various strands of understanding of the intricacies surrounding the idea of the transgender. The shortcoming of language to express queer diversity is a concern dealt with in Language Disparity: A Threat to Queer Diversity . In another essay, Ghar Kab J(aoge): A Reading of Intergenerational Trauma Using Parallels from Transgender Partition , the author defines the idea of home in the context of gender identity. Such essays are likely to pique the interest of researchers of gender studies making this issue a significant contribution to the field. In sum, this volume of Indian Literature is an excellent collection of contemporary Indian transgender writing.

Mohd. Farhan teaches English at Jamia Millia Islamia.

Read more news like this on HindustanTimes.com

The Sahitya Akademi journal’s issue on writing by Indian transgender authors.

A systematic literature review of empirical research on ChatGPT in education

  • Open access
  • Published: 26 May 2024
  • Volume 3 , article number  60 , ( 2024 )

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  • Yazid Albadarin   ORCID: orcid.org/0009-0005-8068-8902 1 ,
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Over the last four decades, studies have investigated the incorporation of Artificial Intelligence (AI) into education. A recent prominent AI-powered technology that has impacted the education sector is ChatGPT. This article provides a systematic review of 14 empirical studies incorporating ChatGPT into various educational settings, published in 2022 and before the 10th of April 2023—the date of conducting the search process. It carefully followed the essential steps outlined in the Preferred Reporting Items for Systematic Reviews and Meta-Analyses (PRISMA 2020) guidelines, as well as Okoli’s (Okoli in Commun Assoc Inf Syst, 2015) steps for conducting a rigorous and transparent systematic review. In this review, we aimed to explore how students and teachers have utilized ChatGPT in various educational settings, as well as the primary findings of those studies. By employing Creswell’s (Creswell in Educational research: planning, conducting, and evaluating quantitative and qualitative research [Ebook], Pearson Education, London, 2015) coding techniques for data extraction and interpretation, we sought to gain insight into their initial attempts at ChatGPT incorporation into education. This approach also enabled us to extract insights and considerations that can facilitate its effective and responsible use in future educational contexts. The results of this review show that learners have utilized ChatGPT as a virtual intelligent assistant, where it offered instant feedback, on-demand answers, and explanations of complex topics. Additionally, learners have used it to enhance their writing and language skills by generating ideas, composing essays, summarizing, translating, paraphrasing texts, or checking grammar. Moreover, learners turned to it as an aiding tool to facilitate their directed and personalized learning by assisting in understanding concepts and homework, providing structured learning plans, and clarifying assignments and tasks. However, the results of specific studies (n = 3, 21.4%) show that overuse of ChatGPT may negatively impact innovative capacities and collaborative learning competencies among learners. Educators, on the other hand, have utilized ChatGPT to create lesson plans, generate quizzes, and provide additional resources, which helped them enhance their productivity and efficiency and promote different teaching methodologies. Despite these benefits, the majority of the reviewed studies recommend the importance of conducting structured training, support, and clear guidelines for both learners and educators to mitigate the drawbacks. This includes developing critical evaluation skills to assess the accuracy and relevance of information provided by ChatGPT, as well as strategies for integrating human interaction and collaboration into learning activities that involve AI tools. Furthermore, they also recommend ongoing research and proactive dialogue with policymakers, stakeholders, and educational practitioners to refine and enhance the use of AI in learning environments. This review could serve as an insightful resource for practitioners who seek to integrate ChatGPT into education and stimulate further research in the field.

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Avoid common mistakes on your manuscript.

1 Introduction

Educational technology, a rapidly evolving field, plays a crucial role in reshaping the landscape of teaching and learning [ 82 ]. One of the most transformative technological innovations of our era that has influenced the field of education is Artificial Intelligence (AI) [ 50 ]. Over the last four decades, AI in education (AIEd) has gained remarkable attention for its potential to make significant advancements in learning, instructional methods, and administrative tasks within educational settings [ 11 ]. In particular, a large language model (LLM), a type of AI algorithm that applies artificial neural networks (ANNs) and uses massively large data sets to understand, summarize, generate, and predict new content that is almost difficult to differentiate from human creations [ 79 ], has opened up novel possibilities for enhancing various aspects of education, from content creation to personalized instruction [ 35 ]. Chatbots that leverage the capabilities of LLMs to understand and generate human-like responses have also presented the capacity to enhance student learning and educational outcomes by engaging students, offering timely support, and fostering interactive learning experiences [ 46 ].

The ongoing and remarkable technological advancements in chatbots have made their use more convenient, increasingly natural and effortless, and have expanded their potential for deployment across various domains [ 70 ]. One prominent example of chatbot applications is the Chat Generative Pre-Trained Transformer, known as ChatGPT, which was introduced by OpenAI, a leading AI research lab, on November 30th, 2022. ChatGPT employs a variety of deep learning techniques to generate human-like text, with a particular focus on recurrent neural networks (RNNs). Long short-term memory (LSTM) allows it to grasp the context of the text being processed and retain information from previous inputs. Also, the transformer architecture, a neural network architecture based on the self-attention mechanism, allows it to analyze specific parts of the input, thereby enabling it to produce more natural-sounding and coherent output. Additionally, the unsupervised generative pre-training and the fine-tuning methods allow ChatGPT to generate more relevant and accurate text for specific tasks [ 31 , 62 ]. Furthermore, reinforcement learning from human feedback (RLHF), a machine learning approach that combines reinforcement learning techniques with human-provided feedback, has helped improve ChatGPT’s model by accelerating the learning process and making it significantly more efficient.

This cutting-edge natural language processing (NLP) tool is widely recognized as one of today's most advanced LLMs-based chatbots [ 70 ], allowing users to ask questions and receive detailed, coherent, systematic, personalized, convincing, and informative human-like responses [ 55 ], even within complex and ambiguous contexts [ 63 , 77 ]. ChatGPT is considered the fastest-growing technology in history: in just three months following its public launch, it amassed an estimated 120 million monthly active users [ 16 ] with an estimated 13 million daily queries [ 49 ], surpassing all other applications [ 64 ]. This remarkable growth can be attributed to the unique features and user-friendly interface that ChatGPT offers. Its intuitive design allows users to interact seamlessly with the technology, making it accessible to a diverse range of individuals, regardless of their technical expertise [ 78 ]. Additionally, its exceptional performance results from a combination of advanced algorithms, continuous enhancements, and extensive training on a diverse dataset that includes various text sources such as books, articles, websites, and online forums [ 63 ], have contributed to a more engaging and satisfying user experience [ 62 ]. These factors collectively explain its remarkable global growth and set it apart from predecessors like Bard, Bing Chat, ERNIE, and others.

In this context, several studies have explored the technological advancements of chatbots. One noteworthy recent research effort, conducted by Schöbel et al. [ 70 ], stands out for its comprehensive analysis of more than 5,000 studies on communication agents. This study offered a comprehensive overview of the historical progression and future prospects of communication agents, including ChatGPT. Moreover, other studies have focused on making comparisons, particularly between ChatGPT and alternative chatbots like Bard, Bing Chat, ERNIE, LaMDA, BlenderBot, and various others. For example, O’Leary [ 53 ] compared two chatbots, LaMDA and BlenderBot, with ChatGPT and revealed that ChatGPT outperformed both. This superiority arises from ChatGPT’s capacity to handle a wider range of questions and generate slightly varied perspectives within specific contexts. Similarly, ChatGPT exhibited an impressive ability to formulate interpretable responses that were easily understood when compared with Google's feature snippet [ 34 ]. Additionally, ChatGPT was compared to other LLMs-based chatbots, including Bard and BERT, as well as ERNIE. The findings indicated that ChatGPT exhibited strong performance in the given tasks, often outperforming the other models [ 59 ].

Furthermore, in the education context, a comprehensive study systematically compared a range of the most promising chatbots, including Bard, Bing Chat, ChatGPT, and Ernie across a multidisciplinary test that required higher-order thinking. The study revealed that ChatGPT achieved the highest score, surpassing Bing Chat and Bard [ 64 ]. Similarly, a comparative analysis was conducted to compare ChatGPT with Bard in answering a set of 30 mathematical questions and logic problems, grouped into two question sets. Set (A) is unavailable online, while Set (B) is available online. The results revealed ChatGPT's superiority in Set (A) over Bard. Nevertheless, Bard's advantage emerged in Set (B) due to its capacity to access the internet directly and retrieve answers, a capability that ChatGPT does not possess [ 57 ]. However, through these varied assessments, ChatGPT consistently highlights its exceptional prowess compared to various alternatives in the ever-evolving chatbot technology.

The widespread adoption of chatbots, especially ChatGPT, by millions of students and educators, has sparked extensive discussions regarding its incorporation into the education sector [ 64 ]. Accordingly, many scholars have contributed to the discourse, expressing both optimism and pessimism regarding the incorporation of ChatGPT into education. For example, ChatGPT has been highlighted for its capabilities in enriching the learning and teaching experience through its ability to support different learning approaches, including adaptive learning, personalized learning, and self-directed learning [ 58 , 60 , 91 ]), deliver summative and formative feedback to students and provide real-time responses to questions, increase the accessibility of information [ 22 , 40 , 43 ], foster students’ performance, engagement and motivation [ 14 , 44 , 58 ], and enhance teaching practices [ 17 , 18 , 64 , 74 ].

On the other hand, concerns have been also raised regarding its potential negative effects on learning and teaching. These include the dissemination of false information and references [ 12 , 23 , 61 , 85 ], biased reinforcement [ 47 , 50 ], compromised academic integrity [ 18 , 40 , 66 , 74 ], and the potential decline in students' skills [ 43 , 61 , 64 , 74 ]. As a result, ChatGPT has been banned in multiple countries, including Russia, China, Venezuela, Belarus, and Iran, as well as in various educational institutions in India, Italy, Western Australia, France, and the United States [ 52 , 90 ].

Clearly, the advent of chatbots, especially ChatGPT, has provoked significant controversy due to their potential impact on learning and teaching. This indicates the necessity for further exploration to gain a deeper understanding of this technology and carefully evaluate its potential benefits, limitations, challenges, and threats to education [ 79 ]. Therefore, conducting a systematic literature review will provide valuable insights into the potential prospects and obstacles linked to its incorporation into education. This systematic literature review will primarily focus on ChatGPT, driven by the aforementioned key factors outlined above.

However, the existing literature lacks a systematic literature review of empirical studies. Thus, this systematic literature review aims to address this gap by synthesizing the existing empirical studies conducted on chatbots, particularly ChatGPT, in the field of education, highlighting how ChatGPT has been utilized in educational settings, and identifying any existing gaps. This review may be particularly useful for researchers in the field and educators who are contemplating the integration of ChatGPT or any chatbot into education. The following research questions will guide this study:

What are students' and teachers' initial attempts at utilizing ChatGPT in education?

What are the main findings derived from empirical studies that have incorporated ChatGPT into learning and teaching?

2 Methodology

To conduct this study, the authors followed the essential steps of the Preferred Reporting Items for Systematic Reviews and Meta-Analyses (PRISMA 2020) and Okoli’s [ 54 ] steps for conducting a systematic review. These included identifying the study’s purpose, drafting a protocol, applying a practical screening process, searching the literature, extracting relevant data, evaluating the quality of the included studies, synthesizing the studies, and ultimately writing the review. The subsequent section provides an extensive explanation of how these steps were carried out in this study.

2.1 Identify the purpose

Given the widespread adoption of ChatGPT by students and teachers for various educational purposes, often without a thorough understanding of responsible and effective use or a clear recognition of its potential impact on learning and teaching, the authors recognized the need for further exploration of ChatGPT's impact on education in this early stage. Therefore, they have chosen to conduct a systematic literature review of existing empirical studies that incorporate ChatGPT into educational settings. Despite the limited number of empirical studies due to the novelty of the topic, their goal is to gain a deeper understanding of this technology and proactively evaluate its potential benefits, limitations, challenges, and threats to education. This effort could help to understand initial reactions and attempts at incorporating ChatGPT into education and bring out insights and considerations that can inform the future development of education.

2.2 Draft the protocol

The next step is formulating the protocol. This protocol serves to outline the study process in a rigorous and transparent manner, mitigating researcher bias in study selection and data extraction [ 88 ]. The protocol will include the following steps: generating the research question, predefining a literature search strategy, identifying search locations, establishing selection criteria, assessing the studies, developing a data extraction strategy, and creating a timeline.

2.3 Apply practical screen

The screening step aims to accurately filter the articles resulting from the searching step and select the empirical studies that have incorporated ChatGPT into educational contexts, which will guide us in answering the research questions and achieving the objectives of this study. To ensure the rigorous execution of this step, our inclusion and exclusion criteria were determined based on the authors' experience and informed by previous successful systematic reviews [ 21 ]. Table 1 summarizes the inclusion and exclusion criteria for study selection.

2.4 Literature search

We conducted a thorough literature search to identify articles that explored, examined, and addressed the use of ChatGPT in Educational contexts. We utilized two research databases: Dimensions.ai, which provides access to a large number of research publications, and lens.org, which offers access to over 300 million articles, patents, and other research outputs from diverse sources. Additionally, we included three databases, Scopus, Web of Knowledge, and ERIC, which contain relevant research on the topic that addresses our research questions. To browse and identify relevant articles, we used the following search formula: ("ChatGPT" AND "Education"), which included the Boolean operator "AND" to get more specific results. The subject area in the Scopus and ERIC databases were narrowed to "ChatGPT" and "Education" keywords, and in the WoS database was limited to the "Education" category. The search was conducted between the 3rd and 10th of April 2023, which resulted in 276 articles from all selected databases (111 articles from Dimensions.ai, 65 from Scopus, 28 from Web of Science, 14 from ERIC, and 58 from Lens.org). These articles were imported into the Rayyan web-based system for analysis. The duplicates were identified automatically by the system. Subsequently, the first author manually reviewed the duplicated articles ensured that they had the same content, and then removed them, leaving us with 135 unique articles. Afterward, the titles, abstracts, and keywords of the first 40 manuscripts were scanned and reviewed by the first author and were discussed with the second and third authors to resolve any disagreements. Subsequently, the first author proceeded with the filtering process for all articles and carefully applied the inclusion and exclusion criteria as presented in Table  1 . Articles that met any one of the exclusion criteria were eliminated, resulting in 26 articles. Afterward, the authors met to carefully scan and discuss them. The authors agreed to eliminate any empirical studies solely focused on checking ChatGPT capabilities, as these studies do not guide us in addressing the research questions and achieving the study's objectives. This resulted in 14 articles eligible for analysis.

2.5 Quality appraisal

The examination and evaluation of the quality of the extracted articles is a vital step [ 9 ]. Therefore, the extracted articles were carefully evaluated for quality using Fink’s [ 24 ] standards, which emphasize the necessity for detailed descriptions of methodology, results, conclusions, strengths, and limitations. The process began with a thorough assessment of each study's design, data collection, and analysis methods to ensure their appropriateness and comprehensive execution. The clarity, consistency, and logical progression from data to results and conclusions were also critically examined. Potential biases and recognized limitations within the studies were also scrutinized. Ultimately, two articles were excluded for failing to meet Fink’s criteria, particularly in providing sufficient detail on methodology, results, conclusions, strengths, or limitations. The review process is illustrated in Fig.  1 .

figure 1

The study selection process

2.6 Data extraction

The next step is data extraction, the process of capturing the key information and categories from the included studies. To improve efficiency, reduce variation among authors, and minimize errors in data analysis, the coding categories were constructed using Creswell's [ 15 ] coding techniques for data extraction and interpretation. The coding process involves three sequential steps. The initial stage encompasses open coding , where the researcher examines the data, generates codes to describe and categorize it, and gains a deeper understanding without preconceived ideas. Following open coding is axial coding , where the interrelationships between codes from open coding are analyzed to establish more comprehensive categories or themes. The process concludes with selective coding , refining and integrating categories or themes to identify core concepts emerging from the data. The first coder performed the coding process, then engaged in discussions with the second and third authors to finalize the coding categories for the first five articles. The first coder then proceeded to code all studies and engaged again in discussions with the other authors to ensure the finalization of the coding process. After a comprehensive analysis and capturing of the key information from the included studies, the data extraction and interpretation process yielded several themes. These themes have been categorized and are presented in Table  2 . It is important to note that open coding results were removed from Table  2 for aesthetic reasons, as it included many generic aspects, such as words, short phrases, or sentences mentioned in the studies.

2.7 Synthesize studies

In this stage, we will gather, discuss, and analyze the key findings that emerged from the selected studies. The synthesis stage is considered a transition from an author-centric to a concept-centric focus, enabling us to map all the provided information to achieve the most effective evaluation of the data [ 87 ]. Initially, the authors extracted data that included general information about the selected studies, including the author(s)' names, study titles, years of publication, educational levels, research methodologies, sample sizes, participants, main aims or objectives, raw data sources, and analysis methods. Following that, all key information and significant results from the selected studies were compiled using Creswell’s [ 15 ] coding techniques for data extraction and interpretation to identify core concepts and themes emerging from the data, focusing on those that directly contributed to our research questions and objectives, such as the initial utilization of ChatGPT in learning and teaching, learners' and educators' familiarity with ChatGPT, and the main findings of each study. Finally, the data related to each selected study were extracted into an Excel spreadsheet for data processing. The Excel spreadsheet was reviewed by the authors, including a series of discussions to ensure the finalization of this process and prepare it for further analysis. Afterward, the final result being analyzed and presented in various types of charts and graphs. Table 4 presents the extracted data from the selected studies, with each study labeled with a capital 'S' followed by a number.

This section consists of two main parts. The first part provides a descriptive analysis of the data compiled from the reviewed studies. The second part presents the answers to the research questions and the main findings of these studies.

3.1 Part 1: descriptive analysis

This section will provide a descriptive analysis of the reviewed studies, including educational levels and fields, participants distribution, country contribution, research methodologies, study sample size, study population, publication year, list of journals, familiarity with ChatGPT, source of data, and the main aims and objectives of the studies. Table 4 presents a comprehensive overview of the extracted data from the selected studies.

3.1.1 The number of the reviewed studies and publication years

The total number of the reviewed studies was 14. All studies were empirical studies and published in different journals focusing on Education and Technology. One study was published in 2022 [S1], while the remaining were published in 2023 [S2]-[S14]. Table 3 illustrates the year of publication, the names of the journals, and the number of reviewed studies published in each journal for the studies reviewed.

3.1.2 Educational levels and fields

The majority of the reviewed studies, 11 studies, were conducted in higher education institutions [S1]-[S10] and [S13]. Two studies did not specify the educational level of the population [S12] and [S14], while one study focused on elementary education [S11]. However, the reviewed studies covered various fields of education. Three studies focused on Arts and Humanities Education [S8], [S11], and [S14], specifically English Education. Two studies focused on Engineering Education, with one in Computer Engineering [S2] and the other in Construction Education [S3]. Two studies focused on Mathematics Education [S5] and [S12]. One study focused on Social Science Education [S13]. One study focused on Early Education [S4]. One study focused on Journalism Education [S9]. Finally, three studies did not specify the field of education [S1], [S6], and [S7]. Figure  2 represents the educational levels in the reviewed studies, while Fig.  3 represents the context of the reviewed studies.

figure 2

Educational levels in the reviewed studies

figure 3

Context of the reviewed studies

3.1.3 Participants distribution and countries contribution

The reviewed studies have been conducted across different geographic regions, providing a diverse representation of the studies. The majority of the studies, 10 in total, [S1]-[S3], [S5]-[S9], [S11], and [S14], primarily focused on participants from single countries such as Pakistan, the United Arab Emirates, China, Indonesia, Poland, Saudi Arabia, South Korea, Spain, Tajikistan, and the United States. In contrast, four studies, [S4], [S10], [S12], and [S13], involved participants from multiple countries, including China and the United States [S4], China, the United Kingdom, and the United States [S10], the United Arab Emirates, Oman, Saudi Arabia, and Jordan [S12], Turkey, Sweden, Canada, and Australia [ 13 ]. Figures  4 and 5 illustrate the distribution of participants, whether from single or multiple countries, and the contribution of each country in the reviewed studies, respectively.

figure 4

The reviewed studies conducted in single or multiple countries

figure 5

The Contribution of each country in the studies

3.1.4 Study population and sample size

Four study populations were included: university students, university teachers, university teachers and students, and elementary school teachers. Six studies involved university students [S2], [S3], [S5] and [S6]-[S8]. Three studies focused on university teachers [S1], [S4], and [S6], while one study specifically targeted elementary school teachers [S11]. Additionally, four studies included both university teachers and students [S10] and [ 12 , 13 , 14 ], and among them, study [S13] specifically included postgraduate students. In terms of the sample size of the reviewed studies, nine studies included a small sample size of less than 50 participants [S1], [S3], [S6], [S8], and [S10]-[S13]. Three studies had 50–100 participants [S2], [S9], and [S14]. Only one study had more than 100 participants [S7]. It is worth mentioning that study [S4] adopted a mixed methods approach, including 10 participants for qualitative analysis and 110 participants for quantitative analysis.

3.1.5 Participants’ familiarity with using ChatGPT

The reviewed studies recruited a diverse range of participants with varying levels of familiarity with ChatGPT. Five studies [S2], [S4], [S6], [S8], and [S12] involved participants already familiar with ChatGPT, while eight studies [S1], [S3], [S5], [S7], [S9], [S10], [S13] and [S14] included individuals with differing levels of familiarity. Notably, one study [S11] had participants who were entirely unfamiliar with ChatGPT. It is important to note that four studies [S3], [S5], [S9], and [S11] provided training or guidance to their participants before conducting their studies, while ten studies [S1], [S2], [S4], [S6]-[S8], [S10], and [S12]-[S14] did not provide training due to the participants' existing familiarity with ChatGPT.

3.1.6 Research methodology approaches and source(S) of data

The reviewed studies adopted various research methodology approaches. Seven studies adopted qualitative research methodology [S1], [S4], [S6], [S8], [S10], [S11], and [S12], while three studies adopted quantitative research methodology [S3], [S7], and [S14], and four studies employed mixed-methods, which involved a combination of both the strengths of qualitative and quantitative methods [S2], [S5], [S9], and [S13].

In terms of the source(s) of data, the reviewed studies obtained their data from various sources, such as interviews, questionnaires, and pre-and post-tests. Six studies relied on interviews as their primary source of data collection [S1], [S4], [S6], [S10], [S11], and [S12], four studies relied on questionnaires [S2], [S7], [S13], and [S14], two studies combined the use of pre-and post-tests and questionnaires for data collection [S3] and [S9], while two studies combined the use of questionnaires and interviews to obtain the data [S5] and [S8]. It is important to note that six of the reviewed studies were quasi-experimental [S3], [S5], [S8], [S9], [S12], and [S14], while the remaining ones were experimental studies [S1], [S2], [S4], [S6], [S7], [S10], [S11], and [S13]. Figures  6 and 7 illustrate the research methodologies and the source (s) of data used in the reviewed studies, respectively.

figure 6

Research methodologies in the reviewed studies

figure 7

Source of data in the reviewed studies

3.1.7 The aim and objectives of the studies

The reviewed studies encompassed a diverse set of aims, with several of them incorporating multiple primary objectives. Six studies [S3], [S6], [S7], [S8], [S11], and [S12] examined the integration of ChatGPT in educational contexts, and four studies [S4], [S5], [S13], and [S14] investigated the various implications of its use in education, while three studies [S2], [S9], and [S10] aimed to explore both its integration and implications in education. Additionally, seven studies explicitly explored attitudes and perceptions of students [S2] and [S3], educators [S1] and [S6], or both [S10], [S12], and [S13] regarding the utilization of ChatGPT in educational settings.

3.2 Part 2: research questions and main findings of the reviewed studies

This part will present the answers to the research questions and the main findings of the reviewed studies, classified into two main categories (learning and teaching) according to AI Education classification by [ 36 ]. Figure  8 summarizes the main findings of the reviewed studies in a visually informative diagram. Table 4 provides a detailed list of the key information extracted from the selected studies that led to generating these themes.

figure 8

The main findings in the reviewed studies

4 Students' initial attempts at utilizing ChatGPT in learning and main findings from students' perspective

4.1 virtual intelligent assistant.

Nine studies demonstrated that ChatGPT has been utilized by students as an intelligent assistant to enhance and support their learning. Students employed it for various purposes, such as answering on-demand questions [S2]-[S5], [S8], [S10], and [S12], providing valuable information and learning resources [S2]-[S5], [S6], and [S8], as well as receiving immediate feedback [S2], [S4], [S9], [S10], and [S12]. In this regard, students generally were confident in the accuracy of ChatGPT's responses, considering them relevant, reliable, and detailed [S3], [S4], [S5], and [S8]. However, some students indicated the need for improvement, as they found that answers are not always accurate [S2], and that misleading information may have been provided or that it may not always align with their expectations [S6] and [S10]. It was also observed by the students that the accuracy of ChatGPT is dependent on several factors, including the quality and specificity of the user's input, the complexity of the question or topic, and the scope and relevance of its training data [S12]. Many students felt that ChatGPT's answers were not always accurate and most of them believed that it requires good background knowledge to work with.

4.2 Writing and language proficiency assistant

Six of the reviewed studies highlighted that ChatGPT has been utilized by students as a valuable assistant tool to improve their academic writing skills and language proficiency. Among these studies, three mainly focused on English education, demonstrating that students showed sufficient mastery in using ChatGPT for generating ideas, summarizing, paraphrasing texts, and completing writing essays [S8], [S11], and [S14]. Furthermore, ChatGPT helped them in writing by making students active investigators rather than passive knowledge recipients and facilitated the development of their writing skills [S11] and [S14]. Similarly, ChatGPT allowed students to generate unique ideas and perspectives, leading to deeper analysis and reflection on their journalism writing [S9]. In terms of language proficiency, ChatGPT allowed participants to translate content into their home languages, making it more accessible and relevant to their context [S4]. It also enabled them to request changes in linguistic tones or flavors [S8]. Moreover, participants used it to check grammar or as a dictionary [S11].

4.3 Valuable resource for learning approaches

Five studies demonstrated that students used ChatGPT as a valuable complementary resource for self-directed learning. It provided learning resources and guidance on diverse educational topics and created a supportive home learning environment [S2] and [S4]. Moreover, it offered step-by-step guidance to grasp concepts at their own pace and enhance their understanding [S5], streamlined task and project completion carried out independently [S7], provided comprehensive and easy-to-understand explanations on various subjects [S10], and assisted in studying geometry operations, thereby empowering them to explore geometry operations at their own pace [S12]. Three studies showed that students used ChatGPT as a valuable learning resource for personalized learning. It delivered age-appropriate conversations and tailored teaching based on a child's interests [S4], acted as a personalized learning assistant, adapted to their needs and pace, which assisted them in understanding mathematical concepts [S12], and enabled personalized learning experiences in social sciences by adapting to students' needs and learning styles [S13]. On the other hand, it is important to note that, according to one study [S5], students suggested that using ChatGPT may negatively affect collaborative learning competencies between students.

4.4 Enhancing students' competencies

Six of the reviewed studies have shown that ChatGPT is a valuable tool for improving a wide range of skills among students. Two studies have provided evidence that ChatGPT led to improvements in students' critical thinking, reasoning skills, and hazard recognition competencies through engaging them in interactive conversations or activities and providing responses related to their disciplines in journalism [S5] and construction education [S9]. Furthermore, two studies focused on mathematical education have shown the positive impact of ChatGPT on students' problem-solving abilities in unraveling problem-solving questions [S12] and enhancing the students' understanding of the problem-solving process [S5]. Lastly, one study indicated that ChatGPT effectively contributed to the enhancement of conversational social skills [S4].

4.5 Supporting students' academic success

Seven of the reviewed studies highlighted that students found ChatGPT to be beneficial for learning as it enhanced learning efficiency and improved the learning experience. It has been observed to improve students' efficiency in computer engineering studies by providing well-structured responses and good explanations [S2]. Additionally, students found it extremely useful for hazard reporting [S3], and it also enhanced their efficiency in solving mathematics problems and capabilities [S5] and [S12]. Furthermore, by finding information, generating ideas, translating texts, and providing alternative questions, ChatGPT aided students in deepening their understanding of various subjects [S6]. It contributed to an increase in students' overall productivity [S7] and improved efficiency in composing written tasks [S8]. Regarding learning experiences, ChatGPT was instrumental in assisting students in identifying hazards that they might have otherwise overlooked [S3]. It also improved students' learning experiences in solving mathematics problems and developing abilities [S5] and [S12]. Moreover, it increased students' successful completion of important tasks in their studies [S7], particularly those involving average difficulty writing tasks [S8]. Additionally, ChatGPT increased the chances of educational success by providing students with baseline knowledge on various topics [S10].

5 Teachers' initial attempts at utilizing ChatGPT in teaching and main findings from teachers' perspective

5.1 valuable resource for teaching.

The reviewed studies showed that teachers have employed ChatGPT to recommend, modify, and generate diverse, creative, organized, and engaging educational contents, teaching materials, and testing resources more rapidly [S4], [S6], [S10] and [S11]. Additionally, teachers experienced increased productivity as ChatGPT facilitated quick and accurate responses to questions, fact-checking, and information searches [S1]. It also proved valuable in constructing new knowledge [S6] and providing timely answers to students' questions in classrooms [S11]. Moreover, ChatGPT enhanced teachers' efficiency by generating new ideas for activities and preplanning activities for their students [S4] and [S6], including interactive language game partners [S11].

5.2 Improving productivity and efficiency

The reviewed studies showed that participants' productivity and work efficiency have been significantly enhanced by using ChatGPT as it enabled them to allocate more time to other tasks and reduce their overall workloads [S6], [S10], [S11], [S13], and [S14]. However, three studies [S1], [S4], and [S11], indicated a negative perception and attitude among teachers toward using ChatGPT. This negativity stemmed from a lack of necessary skills to use it effectively [S1], a limited familiarity with it [S4], and occasional inaccuracies in the content provided by it [S10].

5.3 Catalyzing new teaching methodologies

Five of the reviewed studies highlighted that educators found the necessity of redefining their teaching profession with the assistance of ChatGPT [S11], developing new effective learning strategies [S4], and adapting teaching strategies and methodologies to ensure the development of essential skills for future engineers [S5]. They also emphasized the importance of adopting new educational philosophies and approaches that can evolve with the introduction of ChatGPT into the classroom [S12]. Furthermore, updating curricula to focus on improving human-specific features, such as emotional intelligence, creativity, and philosophical perspectives [S13], was found to be essential.

5.4 Effective utilization of CHATGPT in teaching

According to the reviewed studies, effective utilization of ChatGPT in education requires providing teachers with well-structured training, support, and adequate background on how to use ChatGPT responsibly [S1], [S3], [S11], and [S12]. Establishing clear rules and regulations regarding its usage is essential to ensure it positively impacts the teaching and learning processes, including students' skills [S1], [S4], [S5], [S8], [S9], and [S11]-[S14]. Moreover, conducting further research and engaging in discussions with policymakers and stakeholders is indeed crucial for the successful integration of ChatGPT in education and to maximize the benefits for both educators and students [S1], [S6]-[S10], and [S12]-[S14].

6 Discussion

The purpose of this review is to conduct a systematic review of empirical studies that have explored the utilization of ChatGPT, one of today’s most advanced LLM-based chatbots, in education. The findings of the reviewed studies showed several ways of ChatGPT utilization in different learning and teaching practices as well as it provided insights and considerations that can facilitate its effective and responsible use in future educational contexts. The results of the reviewed studies came from diverse fields of education, which helped us avoid a biased review that is limited to a specific field. Similarly, the reviewed studies have been conducted across different geographic regions. This kind of variety in geographic representation enriched the findings of this review.

In response to RQ1 , "What are students' and teachers' initial attempts at utilizing ChatGPT in education?", the findings from this review provide comprehensive insights. Chatbots, including ChatGPT, play a crucial role in supporting student learning, enhancing their learning experiences, and facilitating diverse learning approaches [ 42 , 43 ]. This review found that this tool, ChatGPT, has been instrumental in enhancing students' learning experiences by serving as a virtual intelligent assistant, providing immediate feedback, on-demand answers, and engaging in educational conversations. Additionally, students have benefited from ChatGPT’s ability to generate ideas, compose essays, and perform tasks like summarizing, translating, paraphrasing texts, or checking grammar, thereby enhancing their writing and language competencies. Furthermore, students have turned to ChatGPT for assistance in understanding concepts and homework, providing structured learning plans, and clarifying assignments and tasks, which fosters a supportive home learning environment, allowing them to take responsibility for their own learning and cultivate the skills and approaches essential for supportive home learning environment [ 26 , 27 , 28 ]. This finding aligns with the study of Saqr et al. [ 68 , 69 ] who highlighted that, when students actively engage in their own learning process, it yields additional advantages, such as heightened motivation, enhanced achievement, and the cultivation of enthusiasm, turning them into advocates for their own learning.

Moreover, students have utilized ChatGPT for tailored teaching and step-by-step guidance on diverse educational topics, streamlining task and project completion, and generating and recommending educational content. This personalization enhances the learning environment, leading to increased academic success. This finding aligns with other recent studies [ 26 , 27 , 28 , 60 , 66 ] which revealed that ChatGPT has the potential to offer personalized learning experiences and support an effective learning process by providing students with customized feedback and explanations tailored to their needs and abilities. Ultimately, fostering students' performance, engagement, and motivation, leading to increase students' academic success [ 14 , 44 , 58 ]. This ultimate outcome is in line with the findings of Saqr et al. [ 68 , 69 ], which emphasized that learning strategies are important catalysts of students' learning, as students who utilize effective learning strategies are more likely to have better academic achievement.

Teachers, too, have capitalized on ChatGPT's capabilities to enhance productivity and efficiency, using it for creating lesson plans, generating quizzes, providing additional resources, generating and preplanning new ideas for activities, and aiding in answering students’ questions. This adoption of technology introduces new opportunities to support teaching and learning practices, enhancing teacher productivity. This finding aligns with those of Day [ 17 ], De Castro [ 18 ], and Su and Yang [ 74 ] as well as with those of Valtonen et al. [ 82 ], who revealed that emerging technological advancements have opened up novel opportunities and means to support teaching and learning practices, and enhance teachers’ productivity.

In response to RQ2 , "What are the main findings derived from empirical studies that have incorporated ChatGPT into learning and teaching?", the findings from this review provide profound insights and raise significant concerns. Starting with the insights, chatbots, including ChatGPT, have demonstrated the potential to reshape and revolutionize education, creating new, novel opportunities for enhancing the learning process and outcomes [ 83 ], facilitating different learning approaches, and offering a range of pedagogical benefits [ 19 , 43 , 72 ]. In this context, this review found that ChatGPT could open avenues for educators to adopt or develop new effective learning and teaching strategies that can evolve with the introduction of ChatGPT into the classroom. Nonetheless, there is an evident lack of research understanding regarding the potential impact of generative machine learning models within diverse educational settings [ 83 ]. This necessitates teachers to attain a high level of proficiency in incorporating chatbots, such as ChatGPT, into their classrooms to create inventive, well-structured, and captivating learning strategies. In the same vein, the review also found that teachers without the requisite skills to utilize ChatGPT realized that it did not contribute positively to their work and could potentially have adverse effects [ 37 ]. This concern could lead to inequity of access to the benefits of chatbots, including ChatGPT, as individuals who lack the necessary expertise may not be able to harness their full potential, resulting in disparities in educational outcomes and opportunities. Therefore, immediate action is needed to address these potential issues. A potential solution is offering training, support, and competency development for teachers to ensure that all of them can leverage chatbots, including ChatGPT, effectively and equitably in their educational practices [ 5 , 28 , 80 ], which could enhance accessibility and inclusivity, and potentially result in innovative outcomes [ 82 , 83 ].

Additionally, chatbots, including ChatGPT, have the potential to significantly impact students' thinking abilities, including retention, reasoning, analysis skills [ 19 , 45 ], and foster innovation and creativity capabilities [ 83 ]. This review found that ChatGPT could contribute to improving a wide range of skills among students. However, it found that frequent use of ChatGPT may result in a decrease in innovative capacities, collaborative skills and cognitive capacities, and students' motivation to attend classes, as well as could lead to reduced higher-order thinking skills among students [ 22 , 29 ]. Therefore, immediate action is needed to carefully examine the long-term impact of chatbots such as ChatGPT, on learning outcomes as well as to explore its incorporation into educational settings as a supportive tool without compromising students' cognitive development and critical thinking abilities. In the same vein, the review also found that it is challenging to draw a consistent conclusion regarding the potential of ChatGPT to aid self-directed learning approach. This finding aligns with the recent study of Baskara [ 8 ]. Therefore, further research is needed to explore the potential of ChatGPT for self-directed learning. One potential solution involves utilizing learning analytics as a novel approach to examine various aspects of students' learning and support them in their individual endeavors [ 32 ]. This approach can bridge this gap by facilitating an in-depth analysis of how learners engage with ChatGPT, identifying trends in self-directed learning behavior, and assessing its influence on their outcomes.

Turning to the significant concerns, on the other hand, a fundamental challenge with LLM-based chatbots, including ChatGPT, is the accuracy and quality of the provided information and responses, as they provide false information as truth—a phenomenon often referred to as "hallucination" [ 3 , 49 ]. In this context, this review found that the provided information was not entirely satisfactory. Consequently, the utilization of chatbots presents potential concerns, such as generating and providing inaccurate or misleading information, especially for students who utilize it to support their learning. This finding aligns with other findings [ 6 , 30 , 35 , 40 ] which revealed that incorporating chatbots such as ChatGPT, into education presents challenges related to its accuracy and reliability due to its training on a large corpus of data, which may contain inaccuracies and the way users formulate or ask ChatGPT. Therefore, immediate action is needed to address these potential issues. One possible solution is to equip students with the necessary skills and competencies, which include a background understanding of how to use it effectively and the ability to assess and evaluate the information it generates, as the accuracy and the quality of the provided information depend on the input, its complexity, the topic, and the relevance of its training data [ 28 , 49 , 86 ]. However, it's also essential to examine how learners can be educated about how these models operate, the data used in their training, and how to recognize their limitations, challenges, and issues [ 79 ].

Furthermore, chatbots present a substantial challenge concerning maintaining academic integrity [ 20 , 56 ] and copyright violations [ 83 ], which are significant concerns in education. The review found that the potential misuse of ChatGPT might foster cheating, facilitate plagiarism, and threaten academic integrity. This issue is also affirmed by the research conducted by Basic et al. [ 7 ], who presented evidence that students who utilized ChatGPT in their writing assignments had more plagiarism cases than those who did not. These findings align with the conclusions drawn by Cotton et al. [ 13 ], Hisan and Amri [ 33 ] and Sullivan et al. [ 75 ], who revealed that the integration of chatbots such as ChatGPT into education poses a significant challenge to the preservation of academic integrity. Moreover, chatbots, including ChatGPT, have increased the difficulty in identifying plagiarism [ 47 , 67 , 76 ]. The findings from previous studies [ 1 , 84 ] indicate that AI-generated text often went undetected by plagiarism software, such as Turnitin. However, Turnitin and other similar plagiarism detection tools, such as ZeroGPT, GPTZero, and Copyleaks, have since evolved, incorporating enhanced techniques to detect AI-generated text, despite the possibility of false positives, as noted in different studies that have found these tools still not yet fully ready to accurately and reliably identify AI-generated text [ 10 , 51 ], and new novel detection methods may need to be created and implemented for AI-generated text detection [ 4 ]. This potential issue could lead to another concern, which is the difficulty of accurately evaluating student performance when they utilize chatbots such as ChatGPT assistance in their assignments. Consequently, the most LLM-driven chatbots present a substantial challenge to traditional assessments [ 64 ]. The findings from previous studies indicate the importance of rethinking, improving, and redesigning innovative assessment methods in the era of chatbots [ 14 , 20 , 64 , 75 ]. These methods should prioritize the process of evaluating students' ability to apply knowledge to complex cases and demonstrate comprehension, rather than solely focusing on the final product for assessment. Therefore, immediate action is needed to address these potential issues. One possible solution would be the development of clear guidelines, regulatory policies, and pedagogical guidance. These measures would help regulate the proper and ethical utilization of chatbots, such as ChatGPT, and must be established before their introduction to students [ 35 , 38 , 39 , 41 , 89 ].

In summary, our review has delved into the utilization of ChatGPT, a prominent example of chatbots, in education, addressing the question of how ChatGPT has been utilized in education. However, there remain significant gaps, which necessitate further research to shed light on this area.

7 Conclusions

This systematic review has shed light on the varied initial attempts at incorporating ChatGPT into education by both learners and educators, while also offering insights and considerations that can facilitate its effective and responsible use in future educational contexts. From the analysis of 14 selected studies, the review revealed the dual-edged impact of ChatGPT in educational settings. On the positive side, ChatGPT significantly aided the learning process in various ways. Learners have used it as a virtual intelligent assistant, benefiting from its ability to provide immediate feedback, on-demand answers, and easy access to educational resources. Additionally, it was clear that learners have used it to enhance their writing and language skills, engaging in practices such as generating ideas, composing essays, and performing tasks like summarizing, translating, paraphrasing texts, or checking grammar. Importantly, other learners have utilized it in supporting and facilitating their directed and personalized learning on a broad range of educational topics, assisting in understanding concepts and homework, providing structured learning plans, and clarifying assignments and tasks. Educators, on the other hand, found ChatGPT beneficial for enhancing productivity and efficiency. They used it for creating lesson plans, generating quizzes, providing additional resources, and answers learners' questions, which saved time and allowed for more dynamic and engaging teaching strategies and methodologies.

However, the review also pointed out negative impacts. The results revealed that overuse of ChatGPT could decrease innovative capacities and collaborative learning among learners. Specifically, relying too much on ChatGPT for quick answers can inhibit learners' critical thinking and problem-solving skills. Learners might not engage deeply with the material or consider multiple solutions to a problem. This tendency was particularly evident in group projects, where learners preferred consulting ChatGPT individually for solutions over brainstorming and collaborating with peers, which negatively affected their teamwork abilities. On a broader level, integrating ChatGPT into education has also raised several concerns, including the potential for providing inaccurate or misleading information, issues of inequity in access, challenges related to academic integrity, and the possibility of misusing the technology.

Accordingly, this review emphasizes the urgency of developing clear rules, policies, and regulations to ensure ChatGPT's effective and responsible use in educational settings, alongside other chatbots, by both learners and educators. This requires providing well-structured training to educate them on responsible usage and understanding its limitations, along with offering sufficient background information. Moreover, it highlights the importance of rethinking, improving, and redesigning innovative teaching and assessment methods in the era of ChatGPT. Furthermore, conducting further research and engaging in discussions with policymakers and stakeholders are essential steps to maximize the benefits for both educators and learners and ensure academic integrity.

It is important to acknowledge that this review has certain limitations. Firstly, the limited inclusion of reviewed studies can be attributed to several reasons, including the novelty of the technology, as new technologies often face initial skepticism and cautious adoption; the lack of clear guidelines or best practices for leveraging this technology for educational purposes; and institutional or governmental policies affecting the utilization of this technology in educational contexts. These factors, in turn, have affected the number of studies available for review. Secondly, the utilization of the original version of ChatGPT, based on GPT-3 or GPT-3.5, implies that new studies utilizing the updated version, GPT-4 may lead to different findings. Therefore, conducting follow-up systematic reviews is essential once more empirical studies on ChatGPT are published. Additionally, long-term studies are necessary to thoroughly examine and assess the impact of ChatGPT on various educational practices.

Despite these limitations, this systematic review has highlighted the transformative potential of ChatGPT in education, revealing its diverse utilization by learners and educators alike and summarized the benefits of incorporating it into education, as well as the forefront critical concerns and challenges that must be addressed to facilitate its effective and responsible use in future educational contexts. This review could serve as an insightful resource for practitioners who seek to integrate ChatGPT into education and stimulate further research in the field.

Data availability

The data supporting our findings are available upon request.

Abbreviations

  • Artificial intelligence

AI in education

Large language model

Artificial neural networks

Chat Generative Pre-Trained Transformer

Recurrent neural networks

Long short-term memory

Reinforcement learning from human feedback

Natural language processing

Preferred Reporting Items for Systematic Reviews and Meta-Analyses

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The paper is co-funded by the Academy of Finland (Suomen Akatemia) Research Council for Natural Sciences and Engineering for the project Towards precision education: Idiographic learning analytics (TOPEILA), Decision Number 350560.

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Yazid Albadarin, Mohammed Saqr, Nicolas Pope & Markku Tukiainen

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YA contributed to the literature search, data analysis, discussion, and conclusion. Additionally, YA contributed to the manuscript’s writing, editing, and finalization. MS contributed to the study’s design, conceptualization, acquisition of funding, project administration, allocation of resources, supervision, validation, literature search, and analysis of results. Furthermore, MS contributed to the manuscript's writing, revising, and approving it in its finalized state. NP contributed to the results, and discussions, and provided supervision. NP also contributed to the writing process, revisions, and the final approval of the manuscript in its finalized state. MT contributed to the study's conceptualization, resource management, supervision, writing, revising the manuscript, and approving it.

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See Table  4

The process of synthesizing the data presented in Table  4 involved identifying the relevant studies through a search process of databases (ERIC, Scopus, Web of Knowledge, Dimensions.ai, and lens.org) using specific keywords "ChatGPT" and "education". Following this, inclusion/exclusion criteria were applied, and data extraction was performed using Creswell's [ 15 ] coding techniques to capture key information and identify common themes across the included studies.

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Albadarin, Y., Saqr, M., Pope, N. et al. A systematic literature review of empirical research on ChatGPT in education. Discov Educ 3 , 60 (2024). https://doi.org/10.1007/s44217-024-00138-2

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