Classic English Literature Essay: An Absolute Guide to a Profound Paper

Writing guide
Posted on January 4, 2019

You might be a literature lover and can tell apart Proust’s writing style from Woolf’s just by reading a single sentence. Or perhaps you’re not into reading and have no idea who are the people mentioned above. Sooner or later, you will be faced with a literature essay assignment and, then, you will definitely regret not bookmarking our ultimate guide on writing a classic English literature essay. So, don’t waste this opportunity – save our article as we’re going to tell you loads of interesting tips.

But, first, let’s find out what the classic English literature essay is, and why you have to write it in the first place. This is an academic assignment where you must explore a certain literary work (or its part) through analyzing and presenting the results in a writing form. The purpose of this essay is to make you get to the bottom of a certain literary topic as by reflecting and expressing your thoughts on paper, you understand the subject-matter better and discover points you would never come across by only reading. And for a professor/supervisor it’s a great way to check your critical thinking skills as well as figure out whether you got the literary work right.

8 Elements of a Stellar English Literature Essay

As you’ve already understood, this is a very important academic assignment both for you and for your advisor. That’s why it is essential to know how a good literature essay should look like, or, to be more precise, which significant elements it must contain. Thus, before starting all the preparations, you’ll have a clear idea of which direction you should follow.
So, the main components of a stellar literary essay are:

  1. Excellent English: demonstrate your best command of language and spend as much time as you need to polish your work before submission – your level of English is the first thing your professor will assess.
  2. Relevance: who would like to read the description of main characters when your topic clearly states that you need to examine author’s writing techniques?
  3. Arguments supported by proofs: if you want to state a point, don’t forget to back it up with a quote or scene from the work you’re analyzing. Without clear evidence, your essay will be just some filler text without any value for the reader.
  4. Precise illustration: don’t get carried away with quotes or abstracts from the original text – your evaluator will appreciate curt but bright illustrations of the stated points without too much ranting.
  5. Appropriate background material: if you mention specific researches or use specialized terms, be sure that they are relevant to your essay. Don’t talk about Pavlov’s dog when your task requires you to analyze “The Hound of the Baskervilles”.
  6. Independent speculation: in your essay you should express your own thoughts, not the interpretations or assumptions of some literary critics – make sure you fill your writing with your original views with adequate conclusions.
  7. Concise expression: it is important to stay within the minimum as well as maximum word limit because you need to learn to convey complete thoughts using a considerate number of words.
  8. Precise citation: cite the sources when you use someone’s words, research findings or numbers in your essay; otherwise, your work will be considered plagiarized and not credited in a best case scenario (you don’t want to know what can happen in the worst one).

All these elements are mentioned before giving any specific writing tips because it’s important for you to know what level of essay writing you have to reach. Now, if you keep these criteria in mind while doing the task, there will be less editions and remarks from your professors.

Different Types of Topics You Need to Consider

It’s not that difficult to find a literary work that you would like to write about because each of us has a favorite novel, short story or poem. The difficulty comes when you need to formulate the topic as it has to be broad enough to be covered in an essay, and, at the same time narrow enough to uncover the subject-matter within the given word limit. That’s why instead of providing you with topic samples, we’ve prepared a list of points instead – you can focus on one of them using any story or verse, and that makes them universal helpers when you need to craft a title for your academic assignment.

What to Analyze in Prose

So, when it comes to prose, you might want to concentrate on:

  • Theme: this is the main idea of a literary work that you come across through the whole text. E.g. friendship, injustice in the world, poverty in the developing countries, war, etc.
  • Characters: the personalities made up by the writer’s imagination can also make a good topic for an essay, especially if you consider them in terms of antagonists, protagonists, dynamic/static characters, etc.
  • Plot: how does the author organize the story? Does he keep the reader in suspense? Does he provide you with any suggestions of what happens next? Analyze how the writer delivers the account of events in your paper.
  • Setting: you can always dwell upon the location where the story takes place, and we mean not only its description, but also the symbolic meaning and how it influences the plot.
  • Points of view: you might be interested to cover the angle of who tells the story and how it impacts the line of narration. Is it a separate narrator? Is it the participant of the action? Or maybe it’s an omnipresent teller?
  • Language: the choice of words is a very interesting topic to research, especially in your favorite book. Consider whether there is a specific style of a writer and how it can be described.

What to Analyze in Poetry

Of course, you may use all these points to examine poetry as well, but there are additional angles you might want to pay your attention to:

  • Stylistic literary devices: find and identify which figures of speech the author uses to intensify the effect of his poetry.
  • Rhythm & meter: these are different ways of how a poem or verse can be organized – how the accents and stresses are placed, how stressed syllables alter the unstressed ones, etc.
  • Rhyme: There are many types of rhymes you may identify: end, internal, rich, partial or identical ones. Analyze them in your essay to better understand the structure.
  • Symbolism: do the words used in the poetry really imply what their meanings are in the dictionary? Symbolism is very developed in poems and verses, so use the opportunity to research it well.

This is quite a range to choose from, so whenever you feel stuck while coming up with a good topic for a literature essay, have a look at our list, and you will have the right idea for your writing.

Pre-Writing Stage: Clustering, Freewriting or Listing?


After you make up your mind regarding the topic, you need a kind of plan to make your writing smoother and quicker. Without planning and outlining, you might get off the beaten track and write about things not concerning your subject matter, and as you remember, relevance is of one of the elements of a stellar English literature essay.
So, in order to get the idea what exactly you will put inside your paper, you need to brainstorm, and there are 3 decent ways to conduct this interesting activity.

1. Clustering

This is a great technique for visual thinkers – take a piece of paper, draw a circle in the center and write there your topic. Then, draw a round of circles near the main subject and note your first associations and thoughts when you reflect over it. Each of the point that you will write down will also have offsets. This way you will include all the ideas on one sheet of paper and, then, will have a chance to filter them.

2. Freewriting

This method unleashes all your speculation, and that’s super cool, especially when you need to consider the topic from different angles. Just imagine that you are going to write about Holden Caulfield (Catcher in the Rye) and spill everything in a flow of text. Don’t worry about spelling or punctuation. The main point here is in revealing everything you have on this topic.

3. Listing

This is the easiest way to get down all your ideas on paper because you don’t need to draw anything or form whole sentences. Just list all those phrases or words that come to your mind when you think about the topic, and sort them out after that to leave only the most valuable concepts.

Choose the most suitable brainstorming method for yourself and gather your ideas for the upcoming writing. And, in the meanwhile, we will tell you a few things about a perfect English literature essay structure.

How to Create a Functionally Structured Literature Essay

As any academic paper, a literature essay must have introduction, main body and conclusion. But to understand the internal difference, we’ll need look into each part separately and in detail.


Here you might want to grab your reader’s attention, and, although your professors are not regular readers (and even if they are not hooked from the very beginning) they will still finish your essay because that’s their job. But with a great attention grabber you have all the chances to create a positive impression and eventually get a good mark. So, writing an essay on literary work, you may start with:

  • Big idea everybody can agree/disagree with;
  • Intriguing quote from the book;
  • Unexpected statement (e.g. in the end everybody dies);
  • Question;
  • Addressing your professor personally.

These triggers will make the reader follow the thread, and after having their attention you need to specify the author and his/her work as well as you main focus of study in a well-crafted thesis statement.

Main Body

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Each paragraph in an English literature essay should have a certain structure that consist of 3 main elements:

  1. Point – you provide a statement that you want to prove (here it plays the role of a topic sentence).
  2. Evidence – you include a reference or quote from the text that proves or supports your statement.
  3. Explanation – you comment on how the example from the work proves you right: you concentrate on the importance of separate words, propose another interpretation or try to connect your point with the whole text.

This scheme is often called the PEE structure and is widely used in academic literature writing. It helps to provide the reader with supported and valuable statements as well as generate a valuable essay.


In the last part of your literature essay you should first restate your thesis from the introduction. You can paraphrase it and add some details, but the essence should stay the same. After that, you need to sum up all your points briefly. In the end it is significant to emphasize why these points are essential and what value they bear.

10 Questions to Answer after You Finish Your Essay

When you are at the final stage of completing your writing assignment, you need to make sure that your paper has achieved its purpose and really complied with the task you set for yourself. In order to check it, try to answer these questions:

  1. Have I determined the main terms I need to consider in my introduction?
  2. Have I presented the most important points in my main body?
  3. Are my arguments developed logically?
  4. Have I provided enough evidence to prove my points?
  5. Have I listed all the sources I used in my essay?
  6. Is my conclusion connected with the thesis statement and my topic?
  7. Is my essay easy to read?
  8. Are there any vague statements that may confuse the reader?
  9. Are there any grammar or spelling errors?
  10. Have I complied with the word limit?

It is obvious that to answer these questions you will need to spend some more time editing and proofreading, but they will put you in the right direction. Take your time to polish your English literature essay writing and present your work to your professor in the best light. Good luck!

Extra Tips from Our Service: 7 Interesting Essay Topics about English Literature

  1. Dwell on character’s transformation and decide whether the change is symbolic or realistic.
  2. Make a list about the most outstanding writers in the 20th century. Why did you choose them?
  3. Analyze the effect of the new technologies onto the writing habits.
  4. Choose a novel and discuss a symbol that suggests a wide range of associations that are well beyond the symbol itself.
  5. Choose two novels and discuss a similar issue raised in them (for example, the role of children’s courage in Little Women and Treasure Island.
  6. Analyze the literature of the 20th century and show how it both draws upon and departs from the traditional writing.
  7. Consider the significance of books for the development of a personality.
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