Close Reading: Strategies & Techniques

Instructor: Patricia Vineski

Patricia has an MFA in Writing, an MS in Teaching and English Language Arts, and a BA in English.

In this lesson you will learn what it is to read closely. You will explore strategies and techniques for close reading a text, including highlighting anything that is surprising to you and asking and answering questions about the text.

What is Close Reading?

We've all had experiences in which we've read a text and then had no idea what we just read. We may have read the words, the phrases, understood the structure of complete sentences, paragraphs and pages. But, what we didn't understand was what the author meant to say to us, why it was important, and how it added anything at all to what we knew, what we believed, and what we thought. That is because we were reading passively; simply letting the words wash over us without actually thinking about what the author intended.

While this way of passively reading is useful in reading that new murder mystery, it is not useful if we want to understand an author's ideas. For that, we need close reading. Close reading is re-reading a text carefully, and with purpose. It is becoming actively engaged in what we read by paying close attention to the words, the ideas, the structure, the flow, and the purpose of the text, in order to really think about what the author said, and compare it with what we know, what we believe, and what we think.


But how do you become a close reader? To begin your close reading:

Read the text

Focus simply on understanding what the words mean and what the work means as a whole. Pay attention to your own responses. If you find yourself getting angry or bored, ask yourself why. Are there too many details? Not enough? Is the writer a bigot? Liberal? Conservative? Jerk? It's possible, too, that you'll find yourself 'wowed' by a text. Or that some particular detail seems to reveal the solution to a problem that you've been thinking about for a long time. Again, pay attention to your responses.

Read any difficult parts several times. Read them out loud, slowly, deliberately. Difficult parts will be easier the second or third time through.

Pay close attention to any repeated images or words.

Annotate the text

Read through the work again, this time taking notes.

annotating a text

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