How to Write a College Analysis Essay

Defining the Role

Whether you’re putting together an analysis of a main character or a minor character, it is important that your essay address the role she plays in the story. Some roles, such as the protagonist and antagonist, may be obvious. Main characters can also serve more complex roles than the simple protagonist definition. A lead character can be an underdog, an anti-hero, a tragic hero or even an unwilling hero.

Discovering the purpose of a minor character often takes closer examination. Minor characters may be flat, two-dimensional people who remain unchanged throughout the course of a story, or three-dimensional, rounded characters who experience their own metamorphosis. These characters might serve as foils for the main characters, as older and wiser advisers, as sidekicks or even as obstacles the main characters must overcome.

Finding Motivation

Everyone wants something, especially a character in a literary work. Whether a hero desperate to complete a quest, a villain determined to stop him or a minor character along for the ride, each character in a story will have identifiable wants and needs.

Quite often, though, what a character wants is in direct opposition to what he really needs. For example, a man longing for the attention of a woman out of his league might need to realize that he’ll only find true love when he sees his female sidekick in a romantic light. At the college level, character analysis essays should go beyond simply identifying the wants and needs
motivating the characters; they should also address how the characters affect one another.

Addressing the Arc

While some minor characters are unchanging, most characters will be markedly different at the end of a story than they were at the beginning. While main characters, such as the protagonist, often make the most dramatic, obvious changes, minor characters also have a story arc. They might make only subtle changes, such as a sidekick quietly letting go to allow the hero to find love or finish her mission alone. The arcs of unchanging characters should also be addressed, as they will most likely have encountered situations in which they’ve made the choice not to change.

  • Describe the physical appearance of the character and explain what the appearance reveals about the person.
  • Discuss the language that the character uses throughout the work. Does the character use the same language throughout or does his or her choice of language change from the introduction to the conclusion?
  • If provided, include details about the background of the character (some of these details may have to be inferred). Where/when was the character born and raised? What kind of education does the character have? How does the character’s past experience influence what he or she does or says?
  • Write about the personality of the character. Does the character act on emotions or reason? What values does the character exhibit through words or actions? Does the character have goals or ambitions?
  • Describe and analyze the relationships that the character has with others in the story. Does the character lead or follow others in the story? Does the character have close friends and family?
  • Explain the struggle or conflict that the character faces beyond the obvious – what are the internal struggles as well as the external conflicts.
  • Describe the important actions of the character. What do these actions tell the reader about the character and how the character faces the conflict?

Useful resources:


Character Analysis Research Paper

Complete each sentence prompt to build the elements of a complete character analysis.

You must include the following in your essay:
1. Five to ten vocabulary words from your various lists
2. Several of all types of syntax – sentence structure: simple, compound, complex and compound-complex.
3. Secondary source quotes in the introduction and conclusion.
4. Lead-ins and parenthetical documentation for every quote.

Thesis Statement

 You can’t begin a quality essay without establishing a guiding statement from which all ideas extend.
 Within the statement name the character, his beginning personality and/or behaviors, changes and ending traits in broad terms. Those
three things will be the foundation of your body paragraphs.


1. Make a general comment about the subject matter of your thesis stmt / claim.

2. Relate your general subject matter to the author and what he addresses in the novel.

3. Explain why it is essential that this character be analyzed. Psychological, emotional, physical results, etc. Be broad but specific to your chosen character.

4. Begin the detailed description of the character and a general description of the influences on that character.

5. More details about the character and a general statement about how the
character changes or develops through the entire work. What point
are you trying to make?

6. Thesis Statement / Claim

Body Paragraph – Beginning of Novel Character Analysis

1. Topic Sentence – Make a statement about what this paragraph will

2. Expand on the topic sentence with a description of the character in general terms but more specific than in the introduction.

3. Include a primary source quote to support your analysis Include a lead-in and proper parenthetical documentation.

4. Describe what your primary source quote does to support your analysis. Why is it important for the reader to understand your analysis?
Do not begin with “this quote shows…”

5. Include a quote from your secondary source – the research.
Include a lead-in and proper parenthetical documentation.

6. Why is this statement important to include in your analysis? What
further insight does it provide? How does it relate to your topic?

7. Describe / summarize the character’s personality, behaviors, etc. as you
have analyzed it from the first several chapters of the novel. Include a statement that suggests a change as a transition to next paragraph

Follow the same sentence breakdown for the next two body paragraphs.


1. Restate the thesis statement/claim. See the first sentence of the sample essay.

2. Include a secondary source quote to support your overall ideas of character development and change within the novel.
Include a lead-in and proper parenthetical documentation.

3-5. Sentences  – write one sentence that summarizes the analysis in each of your body paragraphs.

6. Describe / summarize the character’s personality, behaviors, etc. as you
have analyzed it in this essay. Describe what the result is from the character’s transition or changes. What happens to him in the end?

Greatest Invention Research Paper

The project is to allow you to show your research skills in history.  You will have the same thesis statement as everyone else; however, you will have opportunity to take the thesis statement in several directions.

You will be arguing your point of view with the following statement:  ________ is the invention, between the years of 1860 to 1905 that has had the greatest impact on America today.

General Guidelines

The objectives are to provide you the opportunity to demonstrate your acquired research skills and to provide you the opportunity to research, in detail, the inventions from the turn of the century (while showing their impact on today’s society).

The paper must be written in your own words. You will interpret the information you gather and provide your own explanation.

Plagiarism will not be tolerated.

The paper must be seven pages in its entirety and will include:

  1. Title page: 1 page
  2. Table of Contents 1 page
  3. Body 4 pages
  4. Bibliography/Works Cited 1 page

The body must be written in a three-part essay style.

1. The first paragraph will be the introduction. In the introduction you must broach the subject with background information of the era.  The focus and culmination of the paragraph will be the thesis statement.  Your introduction must include the three main points and brief descriptions for the paper.

2. The second part of the paper will be a minimum of three main points each supported by, at least, two referenced details.

3. The third part is a conclusion with final words of the autor of research paper. Here, you can also mention the sources you have used for this paper and main thoughts regarding your topic.

Research Paper Format Part II

STEP 4 – Outline

The outline is the shell of the paper that you are going to write. Many students tend to jump immediately into the writing, which results in a sloppy and unfocused paper. The outline will need to be typed or hand-written and in the following format.

  1. Introduction
  2. Paragraph 1 Topic Sentence – Explain what the first paragraph will be about.
    1. This should be the 1st fact supporting your first topic sentence.
    2. This should be the 2nd fact supporting your second topic sentence.
    3. This should be the 3rd fact supporting your second topic sentence.
  • Paragraph 2 Topic Sentence – Explain what the second paragraph will be about.
    1. This should be the 1st fact supporting your second topic sentence.
    2. This should be the 2nd fact supporting your second topic sentence.
    3. This should be the 3rd fact supporting your second topic sentence.

Then continue to follow this format until completed (minimum: introduction, 3 paragraphs, and conclusion). Be sure to show it to the teacher for the easy points. This only needs to be a basic explanation of your topic sentence and facts. You will be surprised how much easier this makes the writing of your rough draft.

STEP 5 – Rough Draft

Approach the rough draft as you would your final copy. The better your rough draft, the less you will have to correct for your final copy. Use the outline to help you write your paragraphs. If you want to add more than what you had on your original outline¸ that is acceptable! Remember, your paper must be three pages double-spaced not counting the title and work cited pages.

When completed with the draft, you must have two people besides the teacher read it, edit it to the best of their ability, and sign their name on the back page. The more seriously you and your peers take the editing, the more polished your paper will be when you turn in your final copy for grading. DO NOT THROW AWAY THE ROUGH DRAFT. YOU WILL NEED TO TURN IT IN PAPER-CLIPPED TO YOUR FINAL COPY.

STEP 6- Final Copy

The final copy will be the edited version of your rough draft. Make sure you read over your rough draft CAREFULLY. Every spelling and grammatical error that you can catch will be another point that you earn. Turn this in with your rough draft.


Paper Content                               100 pts

Title Page                                             5 pts

Works Cited Page                           15 pts

Spelling and Grammar                20 pts

Proper Formatting of Paper      10 pts

                                                             150 pts

Research Paper Format

  1. Title Page: I will provide you with a format for this page. This does not count as one of your pages.
  2. Introductory Paragraph: This is a basic summary of what is going to be explained in your research paper. You should set the tone and time period.
  3. Body: The paper will be at least three full pages, typed and double spaced.
  4. Conclusion: See above.
  5. Works Cited: This is the page with the sources you used in your research paper, properly formatted.

STEP 1 – Pick a topc

STEP 2 – Thesis

The thesis is the overall point that you are attempting to make about your topic. You are not simply regurgitating information. Whether you realize it or not, when you write, you always take a viewpoint. Your thesis will put this in words and keep you focused when writing your research paper. In future courses, you will learn more in-depth on how to properly create a thesis statement. For the sake of our class, we will keep it simple. If you do not know much about your topic, you may want or choose to conduct your research before coming up with your thesis.

EXAMPLE TOPIC: Prisoners of War in the Vietnam War

EXAMPLE THESIS: While the United Nations has laws concerning how prisoners of war are treated, evidence demonstrates that American troops captured by the Viet Cong soldiers were treated unfairly – and perhaps illegally.

As you can see, the example topic is about POWs in the Vietnam War. The thesis focuses where I will be going with my research paper: captured American troops were treated very poorly. I can even use the thesis in my introductory paragraph. My research will then need to support this thesis, perhaps by using statistics (e.g. death toll of American POWs), personal stories, or other established scholarly research.

STEP 3 – Record Sources

You will need to record your sources in the proper APA format for use in your Works Cited page. Record them as you get them, either on note cards or a single piece of paper. When you have at least five, show them to the teacher for critique and credit. Follow the examples below very carefully.

Citation Examples

  • Book
    • Lastname, Firstname. Title of Book. City of Publication: Publisher, Year of Publication. Print.
      • g.: Smith, James. The Life of Teddy Roosevelt. New York: Great Books Publications, 2003. Print.
    • Internet
      • Author (if available).  “Article/Page Title.” Name of Site. Date of creation (if available). Web. Date of access.
        • g.: Jones, Paul. “Teddy Roosevelt’s Family.” The History Channel. 24 Feb. 2008. Web. 27 Oct. 2010.

Research Paper Guidelines

You are to conduct a research paper on a specific event, era, or person in American history from 1945 to the present. The purpose of this project is to develop both your writing and research skills. Critical thinking, personal responsibility, and a strong work ethic will be key to your success on this project.

As a formal research paper, you will be examining the FACTS surrounding your topic. That means your research should support and clearly explain your topic. This is not an opinion piece. See “Mr. Burdick’s Tips for Writing a Research Paper” for further instructions on how to properly write a formal research paper.

Research Paper Specifications

  • Proper grammar and spelling (-1 point for each error, 20 point cap)
  • 3 pages of content, double-spaced
  • 1-inch margins, 12 point Times New Roman font
  • Title and Works Cited pages

Research Paper Self-Checklist

Check these goals off as you complete them (and show the teacher) to help keep you focused.

  1. Pick a topic 5 pts
  2. Record sources 5 pts
  3. Outline 15 pts
  4. Thesis 5 pts
  5. Peer-Reviewed Rough Draft 10 pts
  6. Final Paper 150 pts

This assignment is a major part of your American History experience – not only being a significant part of your grade, but also as a way of demonstrating your understanding of U.S. history and highlighting your research and writing skills. As always, be very careful that the words you are writing are you own (or properly attributed).

Any attempts to plagiarize, whether intentional or not, will result in an automatic grade of zero on this project.

Before you even begin your research paper, you should consider the following questions. It will be your goal to provide research in your paper that answers these questions.

Who? Where? Why?

Your research paper will begin with an explanation of the aforementioned questions. As stated below, specify the time of the event or person that you have selected to research. Specify where the event took place, and include important locations within the event itself. Who is this person or who was involved in your event?


What is the important question your research will answer? What happened and what were the details and important facts concerning your topic? This will be the focus of your work, be as complete as you can. What happened and what was the involvement of the person or subject of your research. Give a timeline of events as they took place in your subject outcomes.


How and why did this event happen or why is this person/event significant to the history of the United States? This answer may not always be clear at first. Use your research should support your claims.

Lessons Learned

What lessons did the United States learn from this event or person? What impact did this event or person have on the country or the world?


What conclusions have been reached? Summarize your subject and why your topic was important. This can be used as the conclusion to your paper.