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Close Reading: A Step-By-Step Guide
1. Photocopy the section of the text you will be working with, and get out something
to annotate the section with as you read (a pencil or pen, etc).
2. Begin by doing an initial reading of the lines for general understanding. Develop
an overall paraphrase of the section in terms of plot and content.
3. First impressions: Slowly read each line. Mark any words or phrases that stand
out to you, and make a brief not about why they did so. Then, move into the
following specifics.
4. Vocabulary and diction:
a. Look up any unfamiliar vocabulary or words being used in an unfamiliar
b. Which words do you notice first? Do some stand out?
c. Do any of the words have double meanings?
d. What are the connotations of the words? Note that you could use words
can have the same meaning but different connotations (e.g., father, dad,
daddy, pa, pop, sire, old man).
e. What parts of speech (nouns, pronouns, verbs, adjectives, adverbs) are
used most often?
f. Are the words: common or unusual? Simple or complex? Long or short?
Concrete or abstract? Particular or general? Context dependent (here,
now, I, you) or context independent?
g. Does the word choice create a particular kind of imagery or mood?
5. Word order and sentence structure (syntax)
a. Do any of the sentences or clauses have an unusual word order? (The
basic word order in English is subject-verb-object).
b. Does the word order make us wait for some information, or provide it
earlier than expected?
c. Does the word order call attention to one part of the sentence?
d. Does it cause an initial mistake or ambiguity which it later clears up?
e. Are certain words juxtaposed (or separated) in interesting or important
f. Does the passage use simple or compound sentences?
g. What is the sentence rhythm like? Short and choppy? Long and flowing?
6. Structure:
a. What is the trajectory of the passage? Does it proceed from one point to
another, digress, or circle back on itself?
b. Are there significant repetitions or redundancies?
c. Does one part of the passage contradict or modify another?
d. Are there significant omissions? Is anything left out, kept silent, or
e. Does the passage move quickly or slowly, briefly or at length?
f. How many different types of writing are in the passage? (For example,
narration, description, argument, dialogue, rhymed or alliterative poetry,
song, etc).
7. Poetic devices:
a. What figures of speech are used (e.g., metaphor, metonymy, synecdoche)?
b. Are certain sounds repeated (e.g., alliteration, rhyme)?
c. Do the sounds go together smoothly (consonance) or are the combinations
of sounds jarring (assonance)?
d. Do most words have long or short vowels?
e. Is there a pattern to what types of consonants are used?
f. Is there anything noticeable about the punctuation?
g. Symbolism: Do any of the objects, colors, animals, plants, images in the
passage have traditional connotations or meaning, or religious or biblical
8. Linking with the rest of the text:
a. How does this passage fit in with the overall genre of the work in which it
occurs? (E.g., is it a humorous passage in a comedy, or a moment of comic
relief in a tragedy?).
b. Do any images remind you of images elsewhere in the work?
c. Is there allusion or foreshadowing?
d. What themes emerge that connect to the rest of the work?
e. Are there references to the historical or mythological context of the work?
f. Could this passage symbolize the entire work? Could it serve as a
microcosm—a little picture—of what’s taking place in the whole work?
9. Start to put together all the things you have noticed. How do they fit together?
How do they fit with the rest of the text? What is going on in this part of the text,
and why? Why is this moment important, and what is important within it? What
is the effect of these elements on the audience’s perception of the play?
Developed by Maia Krause