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How to Write an Interpretive Essay: Controlling Your Thoughts

The interpretive, or analytical, essay is one of the more difficult but also rewarding essay varieties. It is your thoughts and opinion on a piece of literature, prose or poetry. While this leaves a lot of room to work freely, it also opens up the danger of making overly simplified statements, “I like this poem” for instance. This brief guide will show you how to avoid these dangers and most effectively express your thoughts.


The Basics

Keep in mind that the interpretive essay is at its heart an argument. Your goal is to make a claim, also known as a thesis, and defend it with details from the text. Start off by thinking of a specific topic. This will not only make it easier to think about but it will keep your essay more cohesive. Is there a scene or character you find particularly intriguing? What questions do you have or what odd threads do you see in the text? The most important aspect of you claim is whether or not it is arguable. The statement “I like this poem” is not arguable because someone else cannot claim that you don’t. A better claim would be “this poem uses the ant to convey determination.” Now you have a claim that will need evidence to support it, which is what your essay is.


Stay Organized

There are two main pitfalls to interpretive writing, becoming too vague and losing the logical structure of your argument. Both are a result of a failure to keep your thoughts together. Here is a basic structure that will help you keep things in line:


  • Introduction: This is a place to present the topic to your audience and make your claim. It is also the place to put in a map to your essay; briefly name the pieces of evidence you will use to support your claim.
  • Body: Here is where you get down to business. While higher level papers may require more, it is a good idea to use a separate paragraph for each piece of evidence. You should also use this space to tie each point back to the claim. Show the reader how it proves your point.
  • Conclusion: Often students use the last paragraph or so to simply recap the paper. It can do so much more. Use the conclusion to tell the reader why they should care about what you have written. Hopefully you have proved your point, but what is the significance of that? Why should others think about the point you have made? Answer those questions with the conclusion.

This structure is not supposed to be ridged. It is meant to provide a starting point for writers who are not sure where to go and to keep writers with their goal in mind focused and on task.