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Literary Criticism: Steps to Literary Criticism

Step 1 :: READ

As you read the work, ask yourself questions, such as:

  • Why did the author write this?

  • What is the theme or themes?

  • How is the style relevant to the content?

  • How are the characters developed?

  • What do the characters learn?

  • How are the characters connected to the themes?

  • What does the format and style suggest about the story?

Step 2 :: THESIS

The thesis is a road map for the paper—it tells the reader what to expect. A good thesis is specific, limited in scope, and offers a perspective or interpretation on a subject. 

  • Focus on specific attribute(s) of the text(s).

  • Make a specific, arguable point (thesis) about these attributes.

  • Defend this point with reasons and evidence drawn from the text and secondary sources.

  • As you do research and your paper evolves, don't hesitate to revamp your original thesis statement.


Step 3 :: RESEARCH

Find evidence that supports your thesis. This evidence may include:

  • Opinions of other critics.​

  • Discussion of the text's historical and social context.

  • Discussions in books or articles about your text.

  • Discussions in books and articles about theories related to your argument.


Step 4 :: SUPPORT

In addition to support for your thesis in sources you have located in your research, you will use support directly from the text, such as:

  • Direct quotations

  • Summaries of scenes

  • Paraphrases

Reminder: Do not summarize the plot. You are writing an analysis; not a review or summary.

For more information about paraphrasing:

OWL Purdue 

Writer's Handbook - University of Wisconsin

Step 5 :: EDIT

The final step is to edit and polish the paper:

  • Check for spelling and grammar mistakes.

  • Ask a friend to review it for you. Since you have read it so many times, you may overlook obvious mistakes.

  • Make sure you follow all formatting guidelines.

Some questions to consider as you review your paper:

  • Do you get the reader's attention in the introductory paragraph?

  • Do you vary the sentence structure?

  • Do your paragraphs transition well?

  • Do your quotes and research clearly support your thesis?

  • Does your conclusion tie up all the loose ends?

Young Adult Literature :: Depending on the work about which you choose to write, finding criticism about YA literature can be challenging. Rather than relying on articles to do your analysis for you, you may have better success finding scholarly sources that discuss literary theory or themes that you can apply to the work you are reading. Remember, you want to do a literary analysis of your work. Do not rely on sociology or psychology resources when writing your papers.

Created by HACC, Central Pennsylvania's Community College

Literary Terms


  • Imagery: Used to describe an author’s use of vivid descriptions. 
  • Style: Used to describe the way an author uses language to convey his/her ideas and purpose in writing. 
  • Symbol(ism): An object or element used to represent another concept or concern. 
  • Theme: A main idea or an underlying meaning of a literary work that may be stated directly or indirectly.  
  • Tone: A way of communicating information that conveys an attitude. 
  • Antagonist: A character(s) in a text with whom the protagonist opposes. 
  • Protagonist: The primary character in a text, often positioned as “good” or the character with whom readers are expected to identify. 
  • Climax: The height of conflict and intrigue in a narrative. 
  • Denouement: The “falling action” of a narrative, when the climax and central conflicts are resolved and a resolution is found.