Keys to Writing an Analytic Paper
Finding each paragraph’s role in an hourglass-structured argument
If you’ve been assigned to write a paper—especially a “source analysis,” a “critical analysis,” or a “textual analysis,”—use this guide to help you structure your content and wow your professors. This writing guide will also help with on-the-job writing: position papers, executive summaries, status notes, competitive bids, and other workplace memos. Any time you need to present a coherent, sustained written argument, this basic structure and these writing tips will help you succeed.
No matter the content you are working with, master the structure outlined below and you are on your way to success not only in college but also in any professional scenario where you must analyze a mass of information and distill it into key takeaways and/or recommendations for action.
Before reviewing this structure, we must begin with a key guideline: The fundamental unit of thought in non-fiction writing is the paragraph, not the sentence.
Each paragraph should consist of a single main idea/statement, specific evidence from the text/data available to back up that statement, and logical explanations of how the evidence you have presented in the paragraph actually does support the statement. A good rule of thumb is this: for every piece of evidence you quote or cite in a paragraph, you must include at least two sentences explaining how that evidence supports your statement. The first explanatory sentence could be a rewording of the piece of evidence. You could start that sentence with the phrase “In other words…,” and then proceed to put the piece of evidence into your own words. Paraphrase is an important skill, because you must always be able to explain what something means in your own words. After that sentence, you must go on in a subsequent sentence (or two) to show the logical connection between the meaning of that particular detail and the main idea of your paragraph.
Just as each paragraph should convey one main idea, so also each paragraph should logically connect with the paragraphs that precede and follow it. The best way to make this connection is via a transition like the one I just wrote: construct a sentence that hooks onto a word, phrase, or idea from the…