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When your teachers or professors ask you to analyze a literary text, they often look for something frequently called close reading.Close reading is deep analysis of how a literary text works; it is both a reading process and something you include in a literary analysis paper, though in a refined form.
If you want even more information about approaching poems specifically, take a look at our guide: How to Read a Poem.
As our guide to reading poetry suggests, have a pencil out when you read a text.
Fiction writers and poets build texts out of many central components, including subject, form, and specific word choices.
Literary analysis involves examining these components, which allows us to find in small parts of the text clues to help us understand the whole.
Texts are always packed, by the reader’s prior knowledge and expectations, before they are unpacked.
Close Reading Assignment
(The following text incorporates language and ideas from Lindsay Reckson, Alyssa Harad, and Phillip Barrish at The University of Texas at Austin Department of Rhetoric and Writing.) Beyond superficial reading, close reading techniques help you read actively and critically.
What a text says cannot be separated from it says it.
In high school classes, students usually are trained to read for "what the author is saying," sometimes pausing to note "symbols," "foreshadowing," "metaphors and similes," and words that convey "tone." Reading on the college level requires skills to "digest" large amounts of text into manageable chunks, to extrapolate it, meditate on it, shuttle back and forth between it and larger contexts. Students are often deeply surprised by just how slowly it is possible to read and just how much they discover when they do read slowly.
Close reading is a process of finding as much information as you can in order form to as many questions as you can.
When it is time to write your paper and formalize your close reading, you will sort through your work to figure out what is most convincing and helpful to the argument you hope to make and, conversely, what seems like a stretch.