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Strategies for Close Reading and Critical Reflection: Revision

See also: How to read literary form: sample comments on student work

Close reading is a literary studies practice applicable to all kinds of cultural texts (e.g. films, novels, photographs, plays, etc.). Performing a close reading means making an interpretive argument about a text or texts, through detailed attention to and critical reflection on textual form and detail.

Four steps for close reading
General categories for analyzing texts
Specific tips for reading expository prose: essays, articles, and arguments
Tips for becoming more critically reflective in close reading

Four steps for close reading
1. Read and write at the same time: annotate the text
* Write on the text: what strikes you as surprising or significant, or that raises questions
* Look at not just what is written, but how it is written
* Note odd or unknown words, references, striking images, points of view, connotations, and/or associations
* Assume that everything in a given excerpt is potentially significant

2. Look for patterns, narrow the scope
* Review your notes and highlighted words or phrases
* What are possible patterns and/or connections among things you have marked?
* Note details that compare to or contrast other parts of the whole work--or to other texts (intertexts)
* Note overarching issues or themes

3. Explore, analyze, reflect
* Follow up on your notes and questions from steps 1 and 2
* Why these words, images, examples, stylistic choices, and not others? What does the text not say?
* Explore details, patterns, associations, or themes that you think are particularly interesting
* In critical works: look for problems or leaps of logic
* Relate noted details to explicit themes (i.e. those clearly evident or stated in text) and implicit themes (i.e. those abstractly evoked, or even suppressed)

4. Draw conclusions: make an argument that textual evidence and your reading can support
* Take a position on the text that the evidence you have noted can support
* Try to be as clear and specific as possible in your close reading
* Develop an insight or interpretation that is not obvious or self-evident (e.g. not a plot summary, or a lecture recap)--awaken your reader's curiosity

Steps 3 and 4 involve critical reflection:
* use evidence to question the causes or premises of an object under study
* engage with ambiguities about culture, systems, self, authority, meaning
* ask "How did this occur?", "Why?", and/or "How do I know this?"
* integrate academic learning: critically examine terms, theories, concepts, and discussions
from this and/or other courses or knowledge repertoires

General categories for analyzing texts
Subject: what is the text about? (What is its apparent "content"?)
Structure: What is the organizing principle of the text's overall form? What determines the selection and arrangement of its subject matter or narrative?
Development: how does the text develop? How do elements like setting, character, point of view, and plot establish the text's structure and advance its subject or story?
Style: What distinctive diction, images, figures, patterns, and symbols are used?
Tone: what is the text’s attitude to its subject, and/or to its audience?
Theme: what is a major theme in the text? How do the categories above develop this theme?

Specific tips for reading expository prose: essays, articles, and arguments
* identify the main argument (the thesis)
* itemize the argument's main supporting points
* trace how the argument is organized
* tease out the argument's premises and assumptions
* interrogate the argument’s organization and premises: in framing an argument a certain way, and in basing it on certain assumptions, what other frameworks and assumptions does the article conceal or neglect?

Tips for becoming more critically reflective in close reading
* compare and contrast to similar or dissimilar texts
* seek the text's framework, theoretical basis, or supporting rationale
* consider various perspectives and alternative theories on the text
* identify contexts (e.g. historical, political, economic)
* think about causes and effects

Clark, Don. "Critical Reflection."
Kain, Patricia. "How to do a close reading."
Lynch, Jack. "Getting an A on an English Paper."

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