2.1 Introduction to Close Reading

Aaron Tucker and Paul Chafe

Learning Objectives

  1. Introduce the basic principles of a textual analysis.
  2. Examine an essay looking for the author’s complex argument and gather a list of evidence from the text that best reflects that author’s argument.
  3. Identify a central concept that we feel best explains the core of the author’s complex argument
  4. Focus on the specific evidence that we feel best enables us to analyze the author’s complex argument.
  5. Make an initial exploration into a potential thesis that proposes a critical examination of the author’s complex argument.
Introduction to Close Reading
Every text has an argument, you just have to look for it. Pixabay/CC0 1.0

Writing an essay at the university level means entering an ongoing scholarly conversation. Before you select an essay subject, you should know that throughout history, scholars have addressed and articulated similar concerns and ideas; many have dedicated their lives to these problems and arguments. So, rather than worrying about generating a new idea, it would be wise to aim for active and informed participation in that conversation. This is done via the process of analysis.

Key Term: Analysis

Analysis is when you read a text, find specific details from that text and use those details as evidence to examine that text’s argument and purpose.

In order to analyze and contribute meaningfully, you must first understand all parts of this scholarly conversation. Therefore, the ability to close read and understand others’ writing is vital.

Key Term: Close Reading

A close reading first gathers specific evidence from a text before analyzing those observations in order to provide a reconstruction of that author’s complex argument.

Gathering Evidence

Every close reading relies on evidence. Without evidence, a writer is simply stating their opinion. As such, writing an essay begins well before you start writing with the process of gathering evidence. In fact, very little essay writing is actually “writing.” Rather, most of the essay writing process is:

  • Gathering evidence (reading the text and taking notes)
  • Pre-planning and pre-writing (outlining and brainstorming)
  • Research (of definitions, other scholars’ concepts, statistics)
  • Drafting (early attempts at thesis paragraphs and body paragraphs that will be revised as the process continues).

This rest of the writing process will be explored in more detail in the next chapter, but for now let’s focus on how to perform a close reading on a piece of writing by focusing on gathering evidence.

We will outline how to gather evidence by modeling the task of slowing down and recording all the observations that are to be had within a text

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Putting the Pieces Together Copyright © 2020 by Aaron Tucker and Paul Chafe is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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