Tips for an Interpretive Essay + Bonus Outline

Robert features an interpretive essay.
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Have you ever been in a situation when reading a book makes your eyebrow raise, and you ask yourself “What did the author really mean?”🤔 Relax, most pieces of writing require at least minimal explanation. But what about standing in the author’s shoes by suggesting your professor and peers the true intent of the text? An interpretive essay is exactly an exercise on trying to understand and explain what is text, movie or an article about. 👌

Sounds intriguing? Then, you should definitely read this tutorial about interpretative writing. “Hook” your audience, have fun deciphering meaning and get a sample interpretive essay outline as a bonus😊

   Getting Started

Well, guys, let’s make it clear – the interpretive essay is a completely unique genre. When composing an interpretive essay, you have an important mission to explain what a text means 😅

Years of academic writing experience show that composing an interpretive essay is a challenge for most students. So, our geeks have brainstormed to draft the golden rules of interpretive writing! You’ll learn these rules pretty soon, and now let’s make it clear what an interpretive essay IS and what it IS NOT.

Explains historical, cultural etc context of the textContext is of little to no significance
Focuses on literary elementsLiterary elements are not important
Tries to find the “hidden” meaningMeaning is on the surface
Multiple interpretations are possibleOne interpretation is preferable

Now you can see that interpretive essay is an excellent opportunity to express your opinion without compromising your grade😍

Wait, I hear exclamations of impatience… It seems like some of you are willing to dive into the ocean of interpretation as soon as possible! Well, give me a couple more minutes to explain the basic rules of interpretive writing. These tips are a reliable rescue balloon for bold divers!

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   Working Tips from Friendly Geeks

Men discuss an interpretive essay outline.

Our geeks are never tired to share their knowledge with you! So, they’ve prepared golden rules of interpretive writing! Be ready to impress your professor with the breadth and depth of your thinking!

  • Suggest an unexpected interpretation of a familiar work: Of course, voicing some ideas is like stepping on the firm ground. It’s safe, and you don’t have to worry about anything, except for making your audience…😴 Time to shake those folks by stating something they wouldn’t expect! For instance, why not interpreting A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court as the first known attempt of cultural assimilation?
  • Choose WHAT to interpret: Some works are fairly small, so you can easily explain them in full. But most works to study in college are large and complex, and you’ll have troubles deciphering them.

Not long ago, our geeks discussed The Grapes of Wrath; and now we have four strategies to interpret big works:

  1. Interpretation of a specific part of the work, for instance, Tom Joad’s payroll from McAlester prison, or the Joads making their way through the crowd of migrants while traveling on Route 66.
  2. Interpretation of a specific theme. We’re used to thinking that Steinbeck’s novel is about the Great Depression, and it’s absolutely true. But what about the Dust Bowl, labor market trends, or poverty aesthetics? Dozens of themes are waiting for the out-of-box thinkers🤓
  3. Provide reasons for your interpretation: When you say that A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court illustrates the superiority of American culture over others…” it sounds pretty bold, but…unconvincing. The thing is that you can express any idea, as long as you have EVIDENCE. So, every time you start your sentence with “I think…”, “I believe,” or, “I’m convinced,” you should end it with “because…”, “since…” or “…as long as.”
  4. Provide a background for your interpretation: In interpretive writing, the historical, cultural and other background is of paramount importance. It helps us to understand why protagonists act in a particular way or say one thing instead of another.

Let’s consider Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Cafe as an example. Your audience may wonder why numerous visitors are suspicious of the relationships between Idgie and Ruth if you don’t explain that the events occur in the 1930s America, where the lesbian theme was a taboo.

1. Start each paragraph with a statement: Don’t assume that the audience can read your thoughts or follow your arguments effortlessly. A good interpreter, you are to create the roadmap for your readers. Every paragraph should include a topic idea, arguments to support it, and a takeaway message.

Our geeks have already prepared the tutorial about structuring your essay. So, don’t miss a chance to learn from those who are really cool in what they do!

2. Wind up your interpretation with a takeaway message: Do you know the difference between the excellent essay and the bad one? It’s simple: you forget what the lousy essay is about shortly after you read the last line, but the good one makes you think, and think, and think… Turn your interpretive essay into the good one by posing questions that the readers would like to think on.

Beware posing explicit questions like: “What do you think…?” “Do you agree…?” “Is it true that…?” Use your writing talent to pose implicit questions. Such questions don’t put anything directly but engage the reader in reflection: “While the author never mentions it, there is the reason to believe…”, “The idea is ambiguous, and there’s room for dispute…”, “This statement also implies that…”

   Interpretive Essay Outline

An interpretive essay on of mice and men.

The icing on the cake is the promised outline for the interpretative essay. This time, I suggest you interpret the novella Of Mice and Men because it’s very likely that you’ll learn it in your literary studies.


  • Presenting a “crash” through a brief summary and an introduction of the character to analyze:

Suggestions: During the Great Depression, millions of people were wandering from place to place to earn their living. Exhausted by constant searches, they lost their tolerance and chased “different” people like Lennie Small.

  • Thesis: Times of crisis and despair reveal the essence of human relationships, and show the true value of existence, especially for those who do not fit in the conventional framework.


Every paragraph starts with the topic sentence that explains what the whole unit will be about. For instance, “In times of the Great Depression, there was a major transformation in human relationships, since people were busy earning their bread and salt and had no desire to think on humanistic “trifles.”

  • Supporting detail #1
  • Supporting detail #2

You can support your argument in many ways, including facts, quotes, or details from the piece under analysis.


Topic sentence: Lennie Small is very different from other people on the farm, and his companion George Milton does everything possible to hide this “difference” for security reasons.

  • Supporting detail #1
  • Supporting detail #2


In a 5-paragraph essay, this paragraph is your last chance to convince the audience that your interpretation is correct. Don’t miss it, and provide the best evidence possible!

Topic sentence: George Milton realizes that people on the farm will not take into account Lennie’s mental retardation; therefore, he shoots his companion to avoid the brutal reprisal from the enraged mob.

  • Supporting detail #1
  • Supporting detail #2


If written correctly, this paragraph leaves your audience under the impression that your interpretation is absolutely correct. To achieve this effect, you should:

  • Restate your thesis statement
  • Restate the most important points made in the essay.

   Instead of an Afterword

In interpretive writing, things always go as intended if you understand what you’re writing about and why you’re writing about it. Now you have all the knowledge to write the essay that will bring the house down. But you can’t even imagine the number of students whom our geeks made proficient in the interpretative writing 🤓

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