12 Close Reading


A close reading is a study of the detail in a short section of a text and an explanation of how that detail and that section are related to the entire text. In thinking about literature, you should always refer back to the detail of a text as well as to its grander effects. The project requires critical thinking and concise writing.

Prewriting Process

1. Re-read or re-watch one of the readings and/or films we have studied so far this semester, taking notes while reading or viewing. Look for patterns, tensions, or questions that emerged in what you noticed.
2. Choose a short passage that you can focus on. (Write out the transcript if using a video.) The passage should be a key section of the work, and should contain concrete imagery. Consider whether this passage reinforces, adds a new dimension, or subverts the themes as worked out in other parts of the work? How? Why? How does this section help you to understand the entire piece?
3. Consider how the concrete imagery in the section is working. Does the image work as a symbol in some way? Does it affect your emotions or intellect or understanding of the story?
4. Carefully comb through all the words, using the margins to record your thoughts. Note the figures of speech. Look at word choice. Pay attention to the details.
5. Decide on a thesis, create a structure for your paper that will support that thesis, and then use evidence from the text to support your main points. (This becomes your outline.)

Writing Process

1. Quote the passage (or transcript) directly, set off at the top of the page like an epigraph.
2. Create a title that captures the heart of your thesis.
3. Briefly summarize the passage.
4. Place this section within the context of the whole text. Why is it significant to the plot, character development, or other concerns? If it is comic relief, say so. Does it recapitulate, perhaps, in a “miniature,” the major plot? Or does it perhaps indicate a counter-movement, an uneasiness, even contradicting major themes?
5. In separate paragraphs, discuss your most interesting discoveries in the areas of themes, details, vocabulary, language/style, structure, progress/
movement, and metaphors. Outline the interesting ideas you have discovered, quoting the significant relevant lines—even quoting lines outside your passage if you need to make connections. You should always be moving toward revealing why that particular “evidence” points toward a specific judgment about the text as a whole. Continually ask: Is my passage reinforcing, adding a new dimension to, or subverting what I know in general (from lecture and class discussion) about the text?
6. Conclusion? A “close reading” usually ends with a paragraph that opens up and points towards even grander potential meanings for the passage. (In other words, don’t just repeat everything you said.)


600-800 words
MLA style
no outside sources (Works Cited page still needed for the work you are analyzing)


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Introduction to Literature Copyright © by William Stewart is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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