Close Reading Assignments
A Close Reading (or Explication de texte) operates on the premise that any artistic creation will be more fully understood and appreciated to the extent that the nature and interrelations of its parts are perceived, and that that understanding will take the form of insight into the theme of the work in question. This kind of work must be done before you can begin to appropriate any theoretical or specific approach."1
To explicate comes from the Latin explicare, to unfold, to fold out, or to make clear the meaning of. When you close read, you observe facts and details about the text. Your aim is to notice all striking features of the text, including rhetorical features, structural elements, cultural references or allusions. A close reading should be more than a list of devices, though. The essay should move from observation of particular facts and details to a conclusion, or interpretation, based on those observations. What do these data add up to mean?2
This assignment has three primary objectives.
- The assignment encourages you to be a better and more careful reader.
- It asks you to employ the tools you heard used in lecture and probably have employed yourself in conference: analysis of speaker, diction, figurative language, sound, and genre to name a few.
- It engages you in the act of synthesis. Even as you divide the passage or object poem into its composite elements, you will want to discuss how those elements come together to form a whole. As writer Diane Hacker points out, division--like classification--should be made "according to some principle": she notes, "to divide a tree into roots, trunk, branches, and leaves makes sense; to list its components as branches, wood, water, and sap does not, for the categories overlap" (and seem random and disconnected).3 Your essay should reveal how the parts of the passage or object, like the parts of a tree, relate and form a totality.
Requirements: What does a Close Reading Essay Usually Have?
A thesis that is an assertion about the meaning and function of the text. It must be something you can argue for and prove in your essay.
Evidence from the text. What specific words or phrases led you to have the ideas you express? Quote them.
Analysis of that evidence. If the work were self-evident you could just turn in the book or image as your proof. Literally thousands of people have had thousands of different ideas about the words or details you mention. Explain how you arrived at your ideas.
Need More Help?
See the following pages:
1The Literary Link. Ed. Janice E. Patten. June 2, 1998. San Jose State University Web Site. 17 Sept. 2003. .
2Patricia Kain, "How to Do a Close Reading," 1998. Harvard University Writing Center Web Site. 17 Sept. 2003.
3Diane Hacker. The Bedford Handbook for Writers, 3rd. ed. Boson: Bedford Books of St. Martin's Press, 1991. 91.