The SOAPSTone Strategy for Written Analysis is a simple method of rhetorical criticism designed to help with the process of analyzing texts, writing about written texts, and even planning for the writing of an original text. SOAPSTone is an acronym, standing for Speaker, Occasion, Audience, Purpose, Subject, and Tone. By utilizing the six parts of the SOAPSTone strategy, you can take nearly any written text (for example, a novel, journal article, speech, creative nonfiction piece, or any other written document) and develop a good sense for what the author was intending to do with the document and how audiences may (or may not) react to the text. See the graphic here, or read the description in larger text below.
Related: See the OPTIC Strategy for Visual Analysis
STEP 1: DETERMINE THE SPEAKER. Identify who is telling the story or giving the information. Is it an omniscient narrator, a character in the story, or the actual author? Why do you think the author chose that person to be the speaker? What details about this person are important to know?
STEP 2: RECOGNIZE THE OCCASION. The occasion refers to the time and place of the story or written document. When and where do the events take place? From what geographical and chronological context is the speaker thinking and acting? How does the time and place affect and inform the text? What details are given about the occasion in the text itself?
STEP 3: DESCRIBE THE AUDIENCE. Consider the primary, secondary, and even tertiary audiences of this text. Who was the text written for? Why was it written for them? What characteristics do you know about the audience and how do you know that the text was written with them in mind?
STEP 4: ESTABLISH THE PURPOSE. Why would the author write this particular text for the audience you noted above? Determine the meaning and message underlying the prose and ask yourself: what value does this give to my audience? What does the author think or hope the audience of the text will think about the text or do as a result of it? How does the author effectively (or ineffectively) make his or her purpose clear and realize the purpose’s goals?
STEP 5: INVESTIGATE THE SUBJECT. Knowing the audience and purpose of the document, in conjunction with the occasion and speaker allows you to better understand the subject or topic of the text. What is the author really getting at? What belies the story or prose, possibly providing a deeper meaning? What does the author reveal (or not reveal) when addressing the subject?
STEP 6: DISSECT THE TONE. Evaluate the word choice, organization, and rhetorical patterns in the prose. How do the textual elements make the audience feel? How does the author feel about the subject? Is the message heavy-handed, or is it subtle? What can you say about the syntactical construction and structure of the text in regards to tone?
When it comes to writing compositions in the free-response portion of AP exams, many students struggle with organization. They spend all of their time before the exam merely writing practice essays based on the prompts given to them. Because of this, they have no way of knowing how the free-response portion will go until they sit down in front of their test booklet and read the prompt. They simply begin writing because of the panic caused by time constraints. It’s incredibly important to have some sort of organizational model to base your essays off of. This way, no matter what the prompt instructs, you will be prepared to write anything.
The SOAPStone model is perhaps the most popular organizational pattern used when writing AP English and History essays. Originally, this method was used in AP English classes as a way to dissect the writings of professional authors. However, over the years, the SOAPStone model began providing a universal method to which students could organize their writing and gather their thoughts. This proved incredibly useful when writing essays for the AP English, AP World History, AP U.S. History, and AP European History exams.
This article will help you fully understand the SOAPStone model, and how you can use it to benefit both your analysis and writings skills. First, we’ll examine how to use the model to assess the writing of others as it was originally intended.
SOAPStone For Literary Analysis
SOAPStone is an acronym for a series of questions to ask yourself when reading a piece of literature. It stands for Speaker, Occasion, Audience, Purpose, Subject, and Tone. It can help you understand the meanings behind works of literature, and even get you into the mind of the author. This can prove very helpful on the AP English Language and AP English Literature exams.
So when you’re reading through a piece of literature when preparing for an AP exam, ask yourself the following questions according to the SOAPStone method:
Who is the speaker? Does the voice belong to a fictional character? Or does it belong to the authors themselves? Is there more than one speaker? What do you know about this person from historic references or from what you’ve previously read? How does this background information form his or her opinions?
The speaker and his or her characteristics play a defining part in the meaning of a work of literature. Spend some time thinking about the background of the piece. This can be helpful in identifying the speaker or source of the work.
What is the occasion? This is another way of asking about the setting of a work. When did the piece take place? Where did it occur? Is it a memory, delusion, or an actual event?
Environmental factors often affect the meaning within the text.
There are two types of occasions: larger occasions and immediate occasions. Larger occasions are factors in the environment of attitudes, ideas, and emotions that are involved in the broad issue at hand. Immediate occasions are situations or events that are more specific than larger occasions and are used to catch the reader’s attention and make them think. Most of the time, immediate occasions are designed to trigger a response from the audience.
Who is the audience? Specifically, what group of readers is this piece directed towards? What would be the ideal audience for this piece of literature? Understanding the audience of a literary work can often help decipher the meaning behind it.
What is the purpose? For what reason did the author write this piece? What does the author want to accomplish when addressing the audience with his or her work? Ultimately, why was this piece written?
This is perhaps the most important letter in the acronym to consider when analyzing text. It can singlehandedly unlock the meaning of a work.
What is the subject? What is the piece about specifically? How do you know? What was the intended task the author was trying to accomplish when writing his or her piece?
Summarizing this in a few words or sentences can help build your comprehension of the text you are studying.
What is the tone of the author? What is his or her attitude towards the actions unfolding in their work? How is the tone conveyed in the author’s syntax (construction of sentences), diction (word choice), and imagery (similes, metaphors, other types of figurative language)?
The author’s tone says a lot about his or her work, and why he or she may have written it in the first place.
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SOAPSTone For Writing Essays
The SOAPStone critical thinking strategy is not only used for analyzing works of literature. It’s also used as an outline for any essay. The best tip for acing any free response portion of any AP exam is to learn this method. It acts as a skeleton for your writing. As long as you address every question in the SOAPSTone acronym when writing your essays, your writing will be clear and well organized.
Who are YOU? It isn’t necessary to directly and specifically mention yourself in your essays. In fact, some readers will even mark off points for writing in the first person point of view. However, you can still identify yourself as the speaker without directly using the words “I” or “me.” You can do this by carefully revealing details about yourself within your writing. For instance, if your AP free response prompt tells you to construct an argument based on a passage you’ve read, show the reader what side you agree or disagree with. Include credible references to back your opinions up. This will indirectly establish you as more than just an author; you are now a student with a well-developed opinion.
This particular piece of the model can be a little more difficult to pin down. You really need to identify the larger and immediate occasions. How are they alike? How are they different? How do they work hand in hand? Together, how do they affect the subject you’re writing about? Be sure to use occasions as an opportunity to grab your reader’s attention. Here’s another helpful hint: If you can’t fully grasp the meaning of occasions, think of them as another “O” word—origin. What is the origin of the piece of work or historical event you’re writing about? What is the origin of your knowledge about the subject? How does this affect how you view the matter?
Who are you trying to address in your writing? The answer to that question may seem very simple: the AP free response scorers, right? Right. However, you should really take time to think about these readers. They’ve been exposed to every piece of content available in the AP courses you’re being tested on. They know what to expect on a high scoring essays. Think about these expectations when writing your essay. Avoid dancing around the subject and get straight to the point with accurate information and well formed arguments. This will make you look very organized and professional.
Why are you writing this essay? Well, of course to get a good score. But, how are you going to do that? By writing an essay with a well-established purpose. Think about the questions asked in the prompt. Make the answers your purpose. Also think about the way the prompt is worded. Did it ask you to construct an argument? If so, try to persuade your audience into seeing your point of view on the matter. Did the prompt ask you to explain an event? Set out to write your essay with the purpose of informing your readers about whatever happened.
This is perhaps the most straightforward of all the letters in the model. What did the prompt tell you to write about? Be sure to stay on topic, and keep the subject in mind at all times. Don’t pad your essay with unneeded references or stories. Only use what is vital to proving your point or argument.
What attitude do you want to convey towards your audience? Is it an attitude that will help you convey your purpose to your audience? Or will it harm your work? Try to stick with tones that reflect your purpose and subject. Use an appropriate amount of imagery in your essays. Pair this with good diction and syntax, and you’re on your way to a great essay.
Understanding how to organize an essay is the first step to being able to tackle any prompt. The SOAPSTone method is a great structural tool to use when practicing for your AP exams; not only for writing essays, but also for multiple-choice questions about specific passages.
When preparing for your AP exams, use the SOAPSTone method. Write down the acronym on a piece of paper and sit it beside you to use as you read through course literature. Jot down details about the text next to the corresponding letters. Before you know it, you’ll be doing the SOAPSTone method without having to think about it.
The same goes for studying for the free-response portions of your AP exams. Have a copy of the SOAPSTone acronym beside you if possible when writing practice essays. Make a checklist for every letter in the acronym and check them off as you establish each of them. It’s a simple way to keep your writing organized from the very beginning. It even helps in developing your own personal writing style.
Whether it’s analyzing text or writing it, the SOAPSTone model is a great way to prepare for your exams like AP English, AP World History, AP European History, and AP U.S. History.
How has the SOAPSTone method helped you? Let us know!
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