How to Write a Literary Essay

Topics: Present tense, Quotation, Jane Austen Pages: 5 (1105 words) Published: March 9, 2013


THE TITLE should be specific. You should identify a particular problem in the literary text you’ve chosen to write about.

Acceptable: The Role of the Narrator in Henry Fielding’s Joseph Andrews; Family Politics in Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice

Unacceptable: Jane Eyre; Shakespeare’s Sonnets; William Blake’s Songs of Experience

The essay should open with a clear introduction. The introduction tells your reader what the essay is about. You should state your aims. Please don’t tell the reader what a great text you’ve chosen to write about or what a wonderful writer produced that text. The statement of aims should remain flexible until the paper is actually finished. If you discover new information in the process of writing, then you can rewrite the statement. On the other hand, if you discover that the statement includes things that you haven't actually addressed, then you need to limit that statement by cutting some of the aims.

The body of your text should be organised in clear paragraphs with each paragraph focusing on a particular aim. The concluding paragraph must draw together the ideas and arguments presented in the text and provide a closing commentary on the set topic.

This includes good use of English, accurate and appropriate vocabulary, cohesion, consistency, and coherence.

Please pay attention to the following:

Write about literature in the present tense unless logic demands that you do otherwise. Even though a story is written in the past tense, we say that the main character writes to her brother because she thinks she knows something important. Even though Shakespeare is long gone, we say that Shakespeare suggests or uses or says. And in his plays, we say that a phrase or word suggests or means or implies something (all present tense verbs).

However, when you refer to an author’s life you should use the past tense. E. g. The poet Frost moved his family to England before he died in 1963.


The titles of plays, novels, magazines, newspapers, journals (things that can stand by themselves) are underlined or italicized.

E. g. Tennessee Williams’ play The Glass Menagerie was first staged in Bulgaria in the 1960s. Toni Morrison’s novel Beloved provides many challenges for interpreters.

The titles of poems, short stories, and articles (things that do not generally stand by themselves) require quotation marks.

E. g. William Blake’s poem “To Spring” is often included in anthologies.

When quoting, quote exactly!

Quotations that constitute fewer than five lines in your paper should be set off with quotation marks [ “ ” ] and be incorporated within the normal flow of your text. For material exceeding that length, omit the quotation marks and indent the quoted language one inch from your left-hand margin. If quotation marks appear within the text of a quotation that already has the usual double-quote marks [ “ ” ] around it (a quote-within-a-quote), set off that inner quotation with single-quote marks [ ‘ ’ ]. A quote-within-a-quote within an indented quotation is marked with double-quote marks.

When quoting from a poem and using fewer than five lines, use slash marks ( / ) to indicate line breaks and incorporate the lines within the flow of your text. E. g. In the lines "My little horse must think it queer / To stop without a farmhouse near," Frost creates a tone that reminds us of nursery rhymes.

However, when using more than four lines, indent the lines, use the poet's own line breaks, and do not use quotation marks.

Quotations in the text should be organised as shown below. Your paper should include a list of alphabetically arranged bibliographical sources placed under the heading WORKS CITED. Please follow the Guidelines below.

Guidelines for MLA...
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