i'm just a literary tease, my reputation's on its knees.

Close Reading Linkage

January 29, 2005

I decided to get together some links about "close reading" as a benefit to all my fellow English majors out there, especially those new to the field and scared as heck. The concept of close reading is initially kind of confusing, but after a whole semester last semester of close reading, it's become a little easier for me. Some links to pages explaining the concept:

Close reading can be seen as four separate levels of attention which we can bring to the text. Most normal people read without being aware of them, and employ all four simultaneously. The four levels or types of reading become progressively more complex.

Linguistic - You pay especially close attention to the surface linguistic elements of the text - that is, to aspects of vocabulary, grammar, and syntax. You might also note such things as figures of speech or any other features which contribute to the writer's individual style.

Semantic - You take account at a deeper level of what the words mean - that is, what information they yield up, what meanings they denote and connote.

Structural - You note the possible relationships between words within the text - and this might include items from either the linguistic or semantic types of reading.

Cultural - You note the relationship of any elements of the text to things outside it. These might be other pieces of writing by the same author, or other writings of the same type by different writers. They might be items of social or cultural history, or even other academic disciplines which might seem relevant, such as philosophy or psychology.

What Is Close Reading?

- This is a site I consulted last semester and it really came in handy.


Read with a pencil in hand, and annotate the text.

"Annotating" means underlining or highlighting key words and phrases--anything that strikes you as surprising or significant, or that raises questions--as well as making notes in the margins. When we respond to a text in this way, we not only force ourselves to pay close attention, but we also begin to think with the author about the evidence--the first step in moving from reader to writer.

How To Do A Close Reading


Diction, with its emphasis on words, provides the crux of the explication. Mark all verbs in the passage, mark or list all nouns, all adjectives, all adverbs etc. At this point it is advisable that you type out the passage on a separate sheet to differentiate each grammatical type. Examine each grouping.

Look up as many words as you can in a good dictionary, even if you think that you know the meaning of the word. The dictionary will illuminate new connotations and new denotations of a word. Look at all the meanings of the key words.

Look up the etymology of the words. How have they changed? The words will begin to take on multistable meanings. Be careful to always check back to the text, keeping meaning contextually sound.

This page on Close Reading illuminates the 12 steps to literary awareness.


This Close Reading of a Literary Passage includes a walk-thru of a sample close reading if you are still feeling overwhelmed.


And, finally, Getting An A on an English Paper may boost your confidence. Check out the section on Writing A Thesis Statement.


And speaking of thesis statements, last semester was the first semester I ever had to write one. And so I had NO IDEA what the heck a thesis statement was supposed to be. A professor gave our class this handy little thesis maker which I now share with you:

"While an initial reading of the text [ insert title here] may lead one to suspect _______________, a closer reader reveals that ________________."

I found it quite useful and still use it. Good luck!

Moira at 09:40 PM :: Comments (4) :: ::

I <3 you, Moira.

Posted by: Valerie Masciarelli at January 29, 2005 11:05 PM

Aww.. thanks, Valerie. I <3 you too ;c)

Posted by: moira at January 30, 2005 08:44 AM

Hey, that "thesis maker" sounds like a good idea. I do worry a little bit that students will spend too much time talking about what the story is not, so getting the confusion cleared up in the first sentence is a good idea.

Posted by: Dennis G. Jerz at January 30, 2005 09:21 AM

That's from Dr. Patterson's American Lit pre 1915 class last semester. I found it very helpful so I figured I'd share. :c)

Posted by: moira at January 30, 2005 10:37 AM
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