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Close Reading

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Close Reading

Scientists use magnifying glasses to look at things up close. The magnifying glass allows them to note small details that they might have overlooked if they did not look so closely. Similarly, close reading enables readers to see the critical details of a text that they might have missed if they did not read small passages with careful, sustained attention. Close reading helps readers comprehend texts, develop literary analysis skills, and build vocabulary.

Close Reading, Magnifying Glass, StudySmarterClosely reading a text is like using a magnifying glass to observe all its key details. Flaticon.

Close Reading Definition

Close reading is a reading strategy in which readers focus on specific details and elements such as sentence structure and word choice rather than just general ideas. The process requires strong concentration and is the opposite of skimming a text. It is typically done on short passages of text.

Close reading is the focused reading of a short passage of text with careful attention to detail.

Importance of Close Reading

Close reading is important because it helps readers understand a text in-depth. The strategy helps readers comprehend how an author purposefully used certain words and literary techniques to elucidate overarching ideas. Understanding the text on such a detailed level informs critical analysis.

For example, imagine students have to write an essay analyzing William Wordsworth’s use of imagery in his poem "I Wandered Lonely as a Cloud" (1807). The students could skim the poem and note important images, but they would not understand how Wordsworth created those images and what meaning they convey. If the students closely read certain stanzas in the poem, they will begin to see how the poet used particular words, word order, and sentence structures to create impactful imagery.

Steps in Close Reading

There are three main steps in the close reading process.

Step 1: Read the Text for the First Time

The first time readers review the text that they will close read, they should read to understand the most important ideas and elements of the text. For instance, they should ask themselves the following questions:

  • What is the main topic or idea of this passage?

  • Are there characters or people in this passage? If so, who are they and how do they relate to each other?

  • What is happening in this passage? Do characters exchange dialogue? Is there internal dialogue? Is there action?

  • How does this passage relate to the rest of the text? (If the reader has read the passage's full text).

Readers should annotate the passage while they read. Annotating a text includes highlighting main ideas, noting questions, and looking up unfamiliar words.

Step 2: Note Patterns and Techniques

After reading the text for the first time, the reader should reflect on what patterns and techniques they observe. For instance, they can ask themselves the following questions:

  • How is this text structured?

  • Are any main ideas, words, or phrases repeated? If so, why might the author have done this?

  • Is there any contradictory information in this text? What is the effect of that contrast?

  • Does the author use any literary devices such as hyperbole or metaphor? If so, what images do these evoke and what meaning do they create?

Close reading can also help readers develop their vocabulary. While doing a close read of a text, readers should note unfamiliar words and look them up. Researching the words helps the reader understand the text and teaches them new words.

Step 3: Reread the Passage

The initial reading of the text familiarizes the reader with what it is about. Once the reader has noted patterns and techniques, they should read the entire passage a second time with a more intentional focus on organizational patterns. For instance, if the reader notes that a certain word is repeated several times in the passage, they should pay close attention to that repetition during the second read and reflect on how it shapes the meaning of the text.

When reading a text closely, readers should read it at least twice. However, it often takes three or four read-throughs to really pick out all the key elements!

Close Reading Methods

There are several methods that readers can use while conducting a close read. All of them help readers attentively interact with the text to gain as much meaning as possible from it.

Readers should read the passage with a pencil or pen in hand. Annotating while reading promotes interaction with the text and allows readers to note key details. While reading, readers can underline, circle, or highlight what they find important, as well as jot down questions or predictions. For instance, they should make note of the following:

  • Details they think are important in relation to the main idea of the text

  • Information that surprises them

  • Details that connect to other parts of the text or other text

  • Words or phrases they do not understand

  • The author’s use of literary devices

    Close Reading, Annotating, StudySmarterHaving a pencil in hand is useful for doing a close read. Pixabay.

Close reading is similar to a strategy called active reading. Active reading is the act of engaging with a text while reading it with a specific purpose. It involves using various strategies while reading a text, such as highlighting important phrases, asking questions, and making predictions. Readers can actively read all types of texts of any length. They can apply active reading strategies when performing a close read of a brief passage to stay attentive to critical details.

Close Reading Examples

The following example demonstrates how a reader might do a close read of the last passage of Chapter 1 in F. Scott Fitzgerald's The Great Gatsby (1925).

Example of Reading the Text for the First Time

During the first reading, the reader annotates the text and notes the main elements and ideas. For instance, they note that the only characters present are the narrator and Mr. Gatsby. They also note important context, such as what time of year it is and where the characters are. The reader also highlights literary devices that stuck out. Even if the reader does not understand exactly what those devices mean or how they contribute to the meaning of the text, phrases like “pools of light” contribute to the ambiance of the scene and the relaxed tone of the passage. This tells the reader that they are important elements of the writing style.

Close Reading, Step 1 Example, StudySmarterThis is an example of step 1 of close reading. StudySmarter Originals.

Example of Noting Patterns and Techniques

After reading and annotating the text for the first time, the reader reflects on important elements and patterns. In this example, the reader notes the passage features a character whose name is in the title of the work. Even if the reader has not read the book, the fact that the text is named after the character in this passage suggests that he is important. This realization prompts the reader to reflect on how the author introduces the character in the passage.

They note that the passage starts with a depiction of the natural world and that the literary devices make it seem alive and almost magical. This leads to the introduction of the mysterious important character, whose presence is connected with meaningful words like “heavens.” This seems to suggest that there is a connection between the mysterious, powerful elements of nature and this man.

Example of Re-Reading the Text

Now that the reader has reflected on important elements in the text, they can go back and read the text with a focus on those details.

Close Reading, Step 3 Example, StudySmarterThis is an example of step 3 of close reading. StudySmarter Originals.

The reader goes back and underlines information connected to the patterns observed in the previous step. Here they note parts of the passage that seem to mythologize the speaker. In doing so, they realize that they were correct in their reflection and that the author is introducing the character in a way that makes him seem larger than life.

Close Reading - Key takeaways

  • Close reading is the focused reading of a short passage of text, with attention to distinct elements.
  • Close reading is important because it helps readers understand a text, strengthened literary analysis skills, and builds vocabulary.
  • To conduct a close reading, readers should first read and annotate the text with a focus on the main ideas and elements.
  • After reading the text for the first time, readers should reflect on patterns like repetition and structure and reread and annotate again with a focus on technical details.
  • While close reading, readers should note the use of literary devices and techniques, organizational patterns, unfamiliar words, and important details.

Frequently Asked Questions about Close Reading

Close reading is the focused reading of a short passage of text with attention to distinct elements.

Step 1 is reading and annotating the text with a focus on the main elements and important details. Step 2 is reflecting on organizational patterns and literary techniques in the text. Step 3 is reading the text again with a focus on the elements from step 2. 

Close reading is important because it helps readers understand a text, develop their literary analysis skills, and build their vocabulary. 

While close reading readers should ask themselves questions like how is this text structured? Does the writer use literary techniques like repetition?  

To end a close reading essay the writer should restate the main point of their analysis of the passage. 

Final Close Reading Quiz

Question

What is close reading?

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Answer

Close reading is the focused reading of a short passage of text, with careful attention to detail.

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Question

Which of the following is a strategy for close reading?

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Answer

Underlining literary devices

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Question

What is the minimum number of times a reader should read a passage during a close reading?

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Answer

Two

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Question

What is the first step in close reading?


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Answer

Read and annotate the text

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Question

Why is close reading important? 


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Answer

All of the above

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Question

True or False. Readers should not annotate when close reading because it reduces focus 

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Answer

False. Annotating helps readers stay focused. 

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Question

True or False. Active reading is the same exact thing as close reading 

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Answer

False. Although similar, active reading is done on long texts and short texts. 

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Question

What is active reading?

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Answer

Active reading is the act of engaging with a text while reading it with a specific purpose.

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Question

Which of the following should readers note in a close read?

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Answer

All of the above

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Question

True or False. Readers should not bother looking up unfamiliar words during a close read, as this can get them off task. 

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Answer

 False. Researching unfamiliar words while close reading enhances a reader’s understanding of the text. 

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