The term ‘close reading’ may sound terrifying to students who are given this task for the first time in their life. If you are one of those individuals who have no idea what close reading is and how to complete this assignment, keep reading the article! Below, you’ll find the answers to all the questions you might have. 

What is close reading essay?

In simple words, close reading is careful re-reading of a complex text that doesn’t offer an obvious meaning. You probably understand that just a single read can’t help you to understand a rich literary piece. And it doesn’t matter how skilled or motivated you are, it’s impossible to analyze several different aspects of the larger text simultaneously, so you need some time to work on it.

Most essays begin with close reading. Essentially, close reading is aimed at uncovering hidden layers of content interpretation, leading to deeper comprehension. This process consists of different stages listed below. 

To make the most out of close reading, you need to determine the central plotlines of a text and analyze theme development. It’s also important to summarize key details that support main concepts offered by an author. Then you can interpret how and why characters and events connect throughout the whole text. After that, it’s time to determine the connotative, technical, and figurative meanings of some words and phrases. In your literary analysis, you should describe how a certain word choice shape the tone of the text.

College students are also expected to analyze the structure of content, including how certain sentences, paragraphs, sections, chapters or scenes relate to each other. And last but not least, you should assess how the author’s point of view affects the content and style. 

What are the goals of close reading?

The goal of any close reading is to develop the ability to grasp the general meaning even when you don’t get every word or concept in it. By doing this activity, you can also learn how to spot techniques an author uses to deliver ideas and evoke certain feelings in readers. What’s more, you must be able to judge whether those techniques helped to reach the main aim of the text or they failed. After closely analyzing the material, you also need to explain why some of its details are more or less significant. 

Here’s how to write a close reading essay

Students often get confused when they are asked to submit a close reading essay. However, it’s not actually a difficult task if you are doing things step-by-step. Below you can find a detailed guide that will help you create an excellent essay.

📌 Pick a text passage

If you weren’t given a specific passage or a poem, you must select it yourself. It would be better to choose a maximum of a few paragraphs to deal with. This will be more than enough because literature is sometimes very dense, and you might be surprised at how much you can extract from a small content section. If you pick a passage that is too long, you can be overwhelmed by the amount of work to do. 

When choosing a passage, focus on those with rich imagery or language. Also, pay attention to paragraphs that relate to main characters or key issues. Besides, look for unusual or repetitive themes. 

📌 Read it carefully

You should not just quickly scan a chosen piece of text. It’s important to be very attentive and take notes while reading. Anything that seems interesting and outstanding to you must be marked. Ask yourself how the author uses the language and whether it changes throughout your passage. At this stage, you can look for repeated phrases, patterns, or themes. But don’t make too many notes, focus on a few key things instead. 

📌 Make an analysis

Before you create a close reading essay outline, analyze different aspects of your passage, such as diction, narrative voice, and tone. To do this, you should answer the following questions:

  • What words are used, and are any of them repeated in the text? 
  • What adjectives are used, and how do they alter the understanding of the nouns described?
  • What narrative perspective is used in the passage, and what does the narrative voice tell you about?
  • Does the voice evoke any emotions or feelings? 
  • Is there irony or sarcasm in the text? If so, where?
  • Are there any means of figurative language or special writing techniques?
  • Does the author sound straightforward and open?
  • Are there any rhetorical or literary devices used?

If any words in the text are unfamiliar to you, you should look them up in a dictionary. Also, when analyzing an old literary work, note that words could have different meanings at different points in history. So check any terms that may be used unusually. Always ask yourself if any phrases are referring to something more than what is simply stated? You can look up words in the Oxford English Dictionary as it provides definitions and detailed explanations of word use throughout history. 

📌 Create a descriptive thesis 

Your observations of the language used by the author can help you develop a descriptive thesis. It’s probably one of the easiest things you need to do in the close reading essay introduction. In your thesis, you can point out if a passage consists of short or long, simple or complex sentences. You can also mention whether a writer is using irony or figurative language. In other words, you have to summarize how the language is used in a chosen passage. However, note that a descriptive thesis is not your final statement. 

📌 Formulate an argument

Now it’s time to connect the way language is used in the passage to the larger theme of the text. In simple words, your goal is to explain why exactly the author used certain words in a certain way. So you shouldn’t just write about your observations. You have to construct an argument based on them. 

To transform your descriptive thesis into an argument, you can ask yourself the following questions:

  • What kinds of words are used in the text and why? They may be intellectual, plain, or even vulgar. 
  • What does the sentence structure is trying to convey, and why?
  • Who is the narrator, and what images do they present?
  • What is the tone of the text, and why was it employed?
  • What effect is the writer trying to create?

📌 Develop an outline

If you look at good close reading essay examples, you will notice that they have a clear outline. You must carefully organize your close reading essay outline to contain some examples and analysis supporting your argument. Any statement you are providing must be backed up by evidence from the passage. When choosing the evidence, consider the text’s tone and the specific terms and phrases used to describe a particular character or scene. Also, don’t forget to write a close reading essay conclusion that summarizes all the most important points mentioned in your paper. 

Some more examples of close reading questions

The steps described above are enough to deal with the task and write a decent close reading assignment. However, consider answering the next questions if you want to make the close reading process easier and more effective.

  • How do the main keywords relate to one another?
  • Do any terms seem oddly used to you? If so, why? Maybe they belong to archaic language or are the result of deliberate weirdness.
  • Do any phrases have double or triple meanings? What are all the possible ways to interpret them?
  • How does a certain pattern fit into the pattern of the passage or text as a whole?
  • What could the writer have done differently?
  • Сould a certain passage serve as a little picture of the whole narrative or poem?
  • What is avoided or ignored by the author, what are the consequences of such actions?
  • Are there any paradoxes in the author’s thought?
  • What is the sentence rhythm like, and how does it relate to the content?

Final thoughts

To answer the question ‘What is a close reading essay and how to write it?’, you must first understand what close reading basically is. ‘Reading closely’ means observing facts and details about the text and developing a deep understanding of it. Depending on the task, your aim may be to spot all striking features of the text or only particular features. However, this is only the first step of close reading. Most importantly, you need to interpret your observations. 

Summing up, your close reading assignment must consist of an introduction or introductory sentence, a clearly stated argument, specific examples highlighted from the text, and a conclusion. Hopefully, this article provided you with some valuable insights into making interpretations and writing an excellent close reading essay.

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