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How to Write an Analytical AP Essay About Literary Devices

by Stacy Alleyne

Beyond basic essay-writing skills, analytical essays require a few additional but essential skills to compose. Analysis requires that you look at a piece of literature through the lens of prescribed criteria -- in this case, literary devices. Before writing an essay of this type, you need to locate a text that uses literary devices to achieve a certain effect. Whether your professor or teacher provides you with the text or you get to choose your own, the text will partially determine how in-depth your essay can become.

Literary Device Dictionaries

Before attempting to write your literary device analysis essay, it’s important to know and recognize literary devices. If your teacher has done a good job of teaching you this skill, then your notes will be a great reference for you. If not, or if you want to use a text outside the scope of what was taught in class, then a good literary device handbook is a vital resource. These handbooks have hundreds of the most commonly used literary devices and their definitions listed alphabetically. As you read the text that you are going to analyze, referring to one of these books will help you to identify the literary devices that the author used.

Narrowed Focus

Analyzing every literary device in a certain text may not be possible due to the length of the text and the limitations of time and essay word count. The best thing to do is to complete a thorough analysis for no more than two or three devices in any given essay. This will enable you to do a complete analysis of these select devices instead of just glossing over ten different literary devices and failing to properly analyze them.

Take Notes

When you read the text to be analyzed, take notes of the literary devices the author uses and track the ones used the most. Once you’ve identified the top two or three and the page numbers where you’ve located them, go back through the reading and identify the theme, tone, mood and other literary elements that the author developed. Think about each of these elements in light of the literary devices. Write out how you think that the literary devices contribute to the theme, tone and mood and how they enhance or detract from the author’s purpose.

Analysis

For most students, the most difficult part of writing this type of essay is the analysis. But use the literary device examples to help you to analyze the text. For example, in Jane Austen’s "Pride and Prejudice," the opening statement -- “It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife” -- is a bit of satire or sarcasm that sets up the author’s theme of the entire novel. It is humorous, witty and makes fun of human weakness. For every literary device that you use in your essay, engaging in this type of thinking will help you to analyze the chosen text.

About the Author

Stacy Alleyne is a certified English teacher with a BA in English and graduate work in English, education, journalism and law. She has written numerous articles and her own dining column for the "Gazette."

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