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Close Reading

Page history last edited by Jayson Yeagley 13 years, 4 months ago


A Guide to Close Reading: At the AP and college level


At the heart of the AP Literature course is the ability to read a text carefully and apply formalistic criticism

to it. In order to analyze a text at the college level, you must master effective close reading skills. For our

purposes, close reading:


- is the most important skill you need for any form of literary studies. It means paying especially

close attention to what is printed on the page. It is a much more subtle and complex process than

the term might suggest.


- means not only reading and understanding the meanings of the individual printed words; it also

involves making yourself sensitive to all the nuances and connotations of language as it is used by

skilled writers.


-This can mean anything from a work’s particular vocabulary, sentence construction, and imagery,

to the themes that are being dealt with, the way in which the story is being told, and the view of the

world that it offers. It involves almost everything from the smallest linguistic items to the largest

issues of literary understanding and judgment.

Close reading can be seen as four separate levels of attention which we can bring to the text.


The four levels or types of reading become progressively more complex:


1. 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.

At this level, reading is largely descriptive. We are noting what is in the text and

naming its parts for possible use in the next stage of reading.


2. Semantic: You review specific words in a passage at a deeper level in order to

discern what information they yield up, what meanings they denote and


At this level, reading is cognitive. That is, we need to understand what

the words are telling us – both at a surface and maybe at an implicit



3. Structural: You note the possible relationships between words within the text –this

might include items from either the linguistic or semantic types of


At this level, reading is analytic. We must assess, examine, sift, and judge a large

number of items from within the text in their relationships to each other.


4. 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.

At this level, reading is interpretive. We offer judgments on the work in its

general relationship to a large body of cultural material outside it.

(Turn Over)


A Quick Close Reading Checklist:

1. Grammar: The relationships of the words in sentences

2. Vocabulary: The author’s choice of individual words

3. Figures of speech: The rhetorical devices used to give embellishment and imaginative expression to

literature, such as simile or metaphor

4. Literary devices: The devices commonly used in literature to give added depth to the work, such as imagery

or symbolism

5. Tone: The author’s attitude to the subject as revealed in the manner of the writing

6. Style: The author’s particular choice and combination of all these features of writing which creates a

recognizable and distinctive manner of writing.

7. Purpose: Evaluate the author’s purpose in the written piece.

8. Theme: Examine the themes within the text.


In most forms of literary response, you should:

-Use the active voice. (Steinbeck elucidates NOT Steinbeck elucidated)

-Refer to “the narrator,” “the author,” “the character,” or “the speaker,” instead of using pronouns (e.g., he,

she, I).

-Identify the author by last name (e.g. Orwell) after first using his/her full name (e.g., George Orwell)

-Avoid beginning sentences with “I think,” “I believe,” or “I feel.” Such verbs undermine the effect of your

argument; after all, we know already this is what you think, how you feel—otherwise, you wouldn’t be writing


-Avoid speculation about scenarios or motivations; anchor your analysis in what the text says, what really

happens, or what you know.

-Discuss literature using the present-tense verbs (e.g., “Cisneros uses Spanish words throughout her novel

to add voice and style to her writing.”).

-Focus on the text you are trying to understand and preparing to discuss; do not write about the author’s life

unless asked to do so.

-Avoid praise and the other forms of compliment. Tell your reader what the text means and why certain

details are important, not how great you think the author is. Consider the difference between these two brief


-Seamus Heaney is a wonderful author who uses language in so many great ways to describe his


-Heaney uses precise terms familiar to any farmer to describe his father’s expertise in the fields.

-Use appropriate verbs when writing a critical analysis of an author or a work of literature. Examples of these

terms include:

Emphasizes Observes Develops

Elucidates Identifies Provides

Compares Organizes Connotes

Suggests Reinforces Focuses

Creates Defines Balances

Illustrates Clarifies Relates

Exemplifies Contrasts Expresses

Parallels Argues Insinuates

Juxtaposes Mirrors Demonstrates

Implies Shows Alludes to



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