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An analysis essay is a written composition intended to give an in-depth inquiry and exposition of a given topic, usually another written work. A high school or college student will often need to write many analytical essays during his time in school, and many literary critics publish compilations of such essays. It is particularly common for an analysis essay to be written on a piece of literature, examining how the various literary techniques employed by the writer contribute to the themes of the work. Such essays are often technical and quite complex, as they are based not on broad generalities and sweeping themes, but on highly specific elements of the author's work such as diction, organization, detail use, and other specialized literary principles.
There are many important features that characterize an analysis essay, but it is important to remember that, with reason and within reason, most of these rules are not exceedingly strict. Almost all analysis essays are organized around an argument that is stated in a thesis paragraph near the beginning of the essay. The argument is then structured based on the particular technical elements within the text that support the argument. In many cases, each paragraph or group of paragraphs will address only one such point so that the arguments do not get entangled and confuse the reader. A writer may format an analysis essay in many different ways, but this is typically the most common and standard organizational format.
One highly important part of an analysis essay is that it is based entirely on the text. Broad claims that cannot be connected to specific passages from the text being analyzed are seldom useful in an analysis essay. It is generally useful to cite specific passages from the text in support of the argument — doing so also helps people who are less familiar with the work being analyzed to follow the argument. By including specific quotes and citations, the essay writer can directly show the reader relevant passages that support his argument.
Taken out of the classroom and into higher tiers of academia, analysis essays are often used to express ideas in literary criticism. Such essays are sometimes grouped into books that address a group of similar literary works or works written by a single author. There are many different schools of thought in the area of literary criticism that may inform the writing, direction, and style of an analysis essay. Academics sometimes enter into heated debates over the "right" and "wrong" ways to approach literary criticism and over the proper approach to analysis essays.