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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.

Thesis Statement Examples

Step 3 :: RESEARCH

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

  • Opinions of other critics.‚Äč

  • 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.

Resources to use in your research

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 

Tips on how to avoid Plagiarism

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?


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.