Basic Tips for Writing a Literary Analysis -AP Exam or General Essay PPT

Basic Tips for Writing a Literary Analysis -AP Exam or General Essay PPT
Basic Tips for Writing a Literary Analysis -AP Exam or General Essay PPT
Basic Tips for Writing a Literary Analysis -AP Exam or General Essay PPT
Basic Tips for Writing a Literary Analysis -AP Exam or General Essay PPT
Basic Tips for Writing a Literary Analysis -AP Exam or General Essay PPT
Basic Tips for Writing a Literary Analysis -AP Exam or General Essay PPT
Basic Tips for Writing a Literary Analysis -AP Exam or General Essay PPT
Basic Tips for Writing a Literary Analysis -AP Exam or General Essay PPT
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Check out this PPT for writing a Literary Analysis

Basic Tips for Writing a Literary Analysis

Strategies for the AP Exam

To Start

Identify the author(s) and title(s) of the work(s) you are studying in the opening paragraph.

Write in the present tense.

EXAMPLE: In Faulkner's "A Rose for Emily," the townspeople visit Emily Grierson's house because it smells bad.

NOT: In Faulkner's "A Rose for Emily," the townspeople visited Emily Grierson's house because it smelled bad.

Write about literature in the present tense, and do not shift unnecessarily.

Remember that literature is not "dead," but comes alive each time we read, discuss, and think about it. If you switch to past tense, do so because you're making a historical or biographical allusion (where you should definitely use past tense) or because you're bringing in an area you had previously discussed in your paper.

Normally, keep yourself out of your analysis.

In other words, use the third person (no I or you).

Some instructors may require or allow the first or second person in an informal analysis if the usage is consistent; consequently, check with your instructor.

The essay is not about you and your feelings.

Remember that you are writing about the work and not about yourself; the essay is not about how the story or other work made you feel; it is an analysis of the literary work and its techniques.

Stay in third person.

Under no circumstances should you preach your personal biases or misrepresent the work by straying beyond its boundaries.  In this paper you are a scholar and a critic--not a preacher or politician. Also, don't use 'you' in these academic papers, as it can sound preachy or vague or even accusatory, and it may assume what the reader is not willing to grant. 

Point of View

FIRST PERSON: I believe that the narrator in "Sonny's Blues" is a dynamic character because I read many details about the changes in his attitude toward and relationship with Sonny.

THIRD PERSON: The narrator in "Sonny's Blues" is a dynamic character who changes his attitude toward and relationship with Sonny as the story progresses.

SECOND PERSON: At the end of "Everyday Use," Mama realizes that Maggie is like her but has not received the attention you should give your daughter to help her attain self-esteem.

THIRD PERSON: At the end of "Everyday Use," Mama realizes that Maggie is like her but has not received enough attention to build self-esteem.

Analyze, not summarize

Avoid summarizing the plot (i.e., retelling the story literally). Instead analyze (form a thesis about and explain) the story in literary terms.

Your Audience

Assume that your reader has read the primary text(s) about which you are writing. Plot summaries are therefore unnecessary.


In Edgar Allan Poe's "The Tell-Tale Heart," the mad narrator explains in detail how he kills the old man, who screams as he dies. After being alerted by a neighbor, the police arrive, and the madman gives them a tour through the house, finally halting in the old man's bedroom, where he has buried the man beneath the floor planks under the bed. As he is talking, the narrator hears what he thinks is the old man's heart beating loudly, and he is driven to confess the murder.


Though the narrator claims he is not mad, the reader realizes that the narrator in "The Telltale Heart" is unreliable and lies about his sanity. For example, the mad narrator says he can hear "all things in the heaven and in the earth." Sane people cannot. He also lies to the police when he tells them that the shriek they hear occurs in his dream. Though sane people do lie, most do not meticulously plan murders, lie to the police, and then confess without prompting. Finally, the madman is so plagued with guilt that he hears his own conscience in the form of the old man's heart beating loudly. Dead hearts do not beat, nor do sane people confuse their consciences with the sounds of external objects.

Rhetorical Analysis

To analyze the rhetoric of a text is to figure out how it persuades its readers--not what it is attempting to persuade them of, but how it goes about accomplishing that task.

Who is the intended audience for this text?

Does the text demonstrate a respect for its audience?

What stance does it adopt toward that audience--one of teacher, colleague, supplicant?

Is the text superior to the audience? Is it the equal of its audience? Is it afraid of or hostile towards its audience?

Does it welcome the audience into the discussion, or exclude them from it?

By what means does the text seek to persuade its readers of the thesis?

By appealing to their emotions, their fears? By citing authorities? By recounting personal experience, observation, or research?

By building the author's own credibility as an authority on the subject or as a generally knowledgeable person?

By adducing empirical data--statistics, tables, graphs, and the like?


How does the text establish that this evidence actually supports the argument--or does it assume that you, the reader, automatically agree that this evidence is valid and sufficient?

Simple or Complex

To what extent does the text acknowledge the complexity of the issue--or does it try to make it seem that the issue is a simple one, with only one "right" answer? Does the text give you options for the conclusions you reach, or does it portray all who disagree with it as ill-informed or even villainous?

What does the text leave out?

To what extent does the text consider counterevidence--alternative points of view? Are these given serious consideration, or are they "shot down" without a trial?

Consider word choices and the arrangement of ideas

More generally, though, word choices substantially influence how an argument is developed. Words like progress, for example, marshal readers to the writer's cause. Who doesn't approve of progress? When you hear or read the word, you may respond positively, without thinking about the connotations of progress

How is the text organized?

For example, does it include numbered lists of evidence? (Such lists are interesting to interpret. On one hand, they may help the reader keep track of complex information. But in some texts, numbered lists seem to function not to prevent the reader's cognitive overload but to make it seem that there are no options other than those in the numbered lists.)

Include a clear thesis statement which addresses something meaningful about the literature, often about the theme.

A good thesis has three main characteristics. 

First, it must be non-trivial, something that must be proven--a thesis, not a topic. 

Second, it must be clearly expressed, so that the reader knows what it is. 

Third, it must be fairly specific.

Use literary terms to discuss your points.





point of view,




figurative language,


and so forth.


NONLITERARY TERMS: To show that women are important, Adrienne Rich writes about Aunt Jennifer and the tigers that she creates in her needlework.

LITERARY TERMS: The poem "Aunt Jennifer's Tigers" contains vivid images and symbols which reveal a feminist perspective.

Support your points.

Support your points with many quotations and paraphrases, but write the majority of your paper in your own words with your own ideas.

In the body of your paper, do not give (only) general impressions but be specific.

For example, don't only write "Edwards scares his audience," but tell your reader what means he uses to scare them.

For example: "Edwards scares his audience through a variety of plastic images. One of these is the image of God holding people over the fiery pit of hell the way one might hold a spider over a flame."

Avoid very short paragraphs.

Paragraphs of one or two sentences are frequent in journalistic writing but not in literary criticism.

Avoid sentence fragments.

Avoid colloquialisms.

Vary your sentence structure, e.g. don't start every sentence with "She writes ...," or "He observes ...," or "She notices ..."

Use the passive voice rarely, if at all. Statements in the active voice are much clearer and stylistically more elegant

Quote from the text.

In the short Critical Analysis papers, you must quote at least three times from the work you are analyzing.

Proofread your essay.

A paper that contains numerous grammar and spelling errors just doesn't make a good impression.

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