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Writing the Analysis Essay for AP English Language

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By — McGraw-Hill Professional
Updated on Mar 4, 2011

The following paragraphs are from the opening of Truman Capote’s In Cold Blood. After carefully reading the excerpt, write a well-organized essay in which you characterize Capote’s view of Holcomb, Kansas, and analyze how Capote conveys this view. Your analysis may consider such stylistic elements as diction, imagery, syntax, structure, tone, and selection of detail.

Excerpt from the opening of In Cold Blood

Developing the Opening Paragraph

After you have marked your passage, review the prompt. Now, choose the elements you are able to identify and analyze those that support Capote's view. To demonstrate, we have chosen structure, tone, and selection of detail.

Now, it's time to write. Your opening statement is the one that catches the eye of the reader and sets the expectation and tone of your essay. Spend time on your first paragraph to maximize your score. A suggested approach is to relate a direct reference from the passage to the topic. Make certain that the topic is very clear to the reader. This re inforces the idea that you fully understand what is expected of you and what you will communicate to the reader. As always, identify both the text and its author in this first paragraph.

Now, you try it. Write your own first paragraph for this prompt. Write quickly, referring to your notes. Let's check what you've written:

  • Have you included author, title?
  • Have you addressed "Capote's view of Holcomb"?
  • Have you specifically mentioned the elements you will refer to in your essay?

Here are four sample opening paragraphs that address each of the above criteria:

A

In the opening of In Cold Blood, Truman Capote presents a picture of the town of Holcomb, Kansas. Through structure, selection of detail, and a detached tone, he makes it clear that he views Holcomb as dull and ordinary.

B

Holcomb, Kansas. Holcomb, Kansas. Even the sound of the place is boring and uninteresting. Moreover, Truman Capote seems to agree with this in his opening to In Cold Blood. I, too, would be inclined to pass by this sleepy, bland, and undistinguished hamlet. This view is developed through the author's tone, structure, and selection of detail.

C

"Like the waters of the river, like the motorists on the highway, and like the yellow trains streaking down the Sante Fe tracks, drama in the shape of exceptional happenings, had never stopped here." This is the town of Holcomb, Kansas. Using a reportorial tone, specific structure, and selection of detail, Capote introduces the reader to this unremarkable town in the opening of In Cold Blood.

D

In Cold Blood is a very appropriate title, because Capote presents a cold and unemotional view of Holcomb, Kansas. His tone, structure, and selection of detail create a distant and detached picture of this desolate farm community.

Each of these opening paragraphs is an acceptable beginning to this AP English Language and Composition exam essay. Look at what each of the paragraphs has in common:

  • Each has identified the title and author.
  • Each has stated which stylistic elements will be used.
  • Each has stated the purpose of analyzing these elements.
  • However, observe what is different about the opening paragraphs.

  • Sample A restates the question without elaborating. It is to the point and correct, but it does not really pique the reader's interest. (Use this type of opening if you feel unsure or uncomfortable with the prompt.)
  • Sample B reflects a writer who really has a voice. He or she has already determined Capote's view and indicates that he or she understands how this view is created.
  • Sample C immediately places the reader into the passage by referring specifically to it.
  • Sample D reveals a mature, confident writer who is unafraid to make his or her own voice heard.

Note: There are many other types of opening paragraphs that could also do the job. Into which of the above samples could your opening paragraph be classified?

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