STUDENT GUIDE: How to Write an Analytical Response For English

When going through senior english it is critical to know how to write an analytical response as they are the backbone of the subject! Whether it’s an essay, a speech, or some other type of extended response, there are a few key features that teachers and markers are looking for. Covering and nailing these areas goes a long way towards achieving success in English, particularly because these kinds of assessments are the most common way your skills in the subject are tested.

Here, we help you learn how to write an analytical response by sharing some secrets to acing the fundamentals!

How to write an analytical response

Develop your understanding of a text.

When you study a text in class, your teacher will no doubt give you some clues as to what different things might be about, or what they might mean. When it comes to putting together your response though, they don’t want to simply read their ideas regurgitated on paper. Of course, take on board what they say, but use it to develop your own understanding of what a text is trying to say.

A good place to start is with some background reading – Wikipedia (shh, don’t tell anyone!), book/film reviews, news articles, etc. If you can get a sense of the main plot of a text before you read or watch it, and learn about the author/director and the context in which it was produced, you will be better positioned to understand the significance of key scenes and messages. George Orwell’s Animal Farm is a great example to think about. Read in isolation, it is nothing more than a rather absurd tale of talking animals carrying out their work on a farm. When considered against the political backdrop in which it was written – the formation of the Soviet Union and the emergence of international socialist communism – the story of the animals becomes a part of a much bigger narrative.

As you read or watch, make a note of significant moments of the text, those that you think are crucial to the overall meaning or message; these are the main areas you will want to come back to for close analysis.

Convey your understanding of a text.

Now that you have established your understanding of a text, it is important to get this across to your marker in your response. The first and most important place you do this is in your introduction, with what is called a thesis statement. A thesis statement consists of one or two sentences containing one central idea, which relates directly to the question being asked. Thesis statements are incredibly important, because they give your marker a clue as to what to expect from the rest of the response. Even if your analysis is top-shelf, you can’t achieve the highest grades without a coherent and informed thesis statement.

The other key place to convey your reading of a text is in each topic sentence. As you introduce a new point (usually in the form of a new paragraph), your first sentence should express how this point relates to your overall opinion of the text. Again, this will help your reader understand and follow what you’re trying to say.

NB: Unless you’re writing an opinion piece, avoid using phrases like “I believe” or “I think”. Write in the third person, and with conviction. So instead of “I think Orwell uses his tale about animals to tell a bigger story about humanity”, write as if it’s fact: “Orwell uses his tale about animals to reveal the nature of humanity in the 1940s.”

Back up your claims with evidence.

This is the big one! It’s all well and good to state what you think a text means or is trying to say, but your marker wants to know how you arrived at that opinion. Obvious to say, it must come from things that happen in the text itself. (How do I know that Harry Potter is a wizard? Because the book said so!) This is where quotes and different language and visual techniques come into play.

You might have learnt about structuring your paragraphs according to ‘PEEL’ or ‘SEXY’. Essentially, they are the same thing: Point/Statement, Example, Explain, Link/You add. So, after you introduce a new point, include an example or two from the text that illustrates this point. Then you need to explain how the example supports your point. This is the part that a lot of students either struggle with, or miss altogether, so this is important as it will help set your response apart.

Let’s use an analogy. Builders build things, all sorts of things, and they use the tools of their trade to do this – nails, hammers, bricks, cement, etc. Why do they use nails? Because they serve a purpose, they help keep structures together. Authors, poets and directors build stories, but the tools of their trade aren’t bricks and nails, they’re words and images. So, they use words and images in a deliberate way to piece together the story they are building; every word of image serves a purpose. Therefore, to analyse a text effectively, you need to be able to identify different language and visual techniques, and understand their function. (I know that similes are used to compare two things, but why is the author comparing those two things? What is their purpose? What are they trying to say?). Ultimately, what effect do the words or images have on you as you read or watch?

Consider form and context.

The last thing to bring into your analysis is a consideration of the form and the context. Form refers to the particular text type (novel, poem, film, short story, etc.). When analysing your text, bear in mind what the conventions of its form are, and what kinds of expression they allow, or don’t allow. For example, poems are conventionally personal and rhythmical, but don’t give us the same breadth or depth of plot as a novel. Context refers to the time and place in which the text was produced. Specifically, you want to consider what social or political values may have influenced its production or meaning, and what (if any) values it might be trying to challenge or reinforce.

So that’s it! If you can cover these key areas, it will go a long way towards nailing your extended analytical response.

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