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Writing the Prose Response Essay

Page history last edited by gretchen 11 years, 10 months ago

The Ten Commandments of the Prose Response


I.Read the Prompt Closely and Carefully

Make sure to look for the specific requirements of the prompt. Circle or underline them before you read the actual passage. If a prompt demands specific analysis of a particular device, you must do it. If it suggests a particular device, I recommend writing about that device if you can, because the scoring guides often reference those suggested devices.


II.Frame Your Argument Correctly. The Author's Actions Are Key.

When writing (especially thesis statements and topic sentences), make sure that you frame the argument around what the author does in the passage, not the plot or characters. That will help avoid plot/character summary. Consider the following thesis statements:

  1. The characters in Elizabeth Gaskell's Mary Barton are rich and complex. (character driven)
  2. The characters in Mary Barton are depicted as rich and complex by Elizabeth Gaskell. (passive voice--avoid)
  3. In her work Mary Barton, Elizabeth Gaskell depicts rich and complex characters. (active, author-driven, good)


III.Writing About Tone is Delightful

  1. Remember, tone is the author's point of view towards his/her subject. Characters can also have tone towards one another in their dialogue, but you need to be precise in your analysis.
  2. Tone is often one of the easiest things to write about.
  3. When writing about tone, don't forget the WILDS Model. (Word choice, imagery, language, detail, syntax)


IV.Writing About Point of View

  • Point of view is an objective evaluation of the author's position relative to the text. It's not some vague or amorphous thing, Make sure to identify what it specifically is.Check the Point of View handout to review the different forms it can take.
  • When writing about point of view, keep it short and focus on the impact on the reader.
  • You can further explore point of view in terms of the narrator's position, i.e. whether or not he/she is detached/close/interested, etc. This is secondary to the objective detail.


V.Broad Social Themes/Modern Issues Are Not For You

Unless the prompt specifically demands it, do not make the essay a persuasive exposition about social issues or current events. Stay focused on literary analysis.


VI.Details, Details, Details

Use specific details to show the reader how smart you are, or to give the illusion of your intelligence. :) General, surface essays do not score as well. Details are the proof for your claims, and you can't leave them out.


VII.Don't Get Fixated on One Detail, Though

  • As good as detail analysis is, don't get carried away on any one particular detail. It's easy to slip into spending a whole paragraph on one detail--but that will not prove that you understand the whole passage.
  • A 2-3 sentence limit on any one particular detail is a good guideline.


VIII.Combining Details Is Helpful

  • You can combine details to give your analysis more depth. If two examples have similar function, including both, though you only have time to analyze one, will give your analysis more power.
  • You might write a sentence like this: Whether it is Moreen's soiled gloves or her fine leather boots, James demonstrates...


IX.Try Not to Use 'Use' All the Time

  • Uses is a fine word with many uses; I just wish you would use it less.
  • Utilize is even worse. It's one of those signals of sloppy, thesarus-driven writing.


X.Introduction, What's Your Function?

Introductions are critical for first impressions. If you have time, please review the introduction for spelling, grammar, sentence errors and parallelism.


Organizational Strategies

The most important part of writing the essay is to determine the natural divisions that occur in the piece. Finding these divisions will make it easier to write about the sections of the poem as arguments. Typically, a poem or prose piece on the AP exam is divided in one of the following ways:

  1. narrative shifts--changes in the story
  2. tonal shifts
  3. point of view shifts.


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