What Is Close Reading and How To Do It Better?

What Is Close Reading

Reading is a great way of improving your skills and developing your brain and how your mind works. As if reading in itself wasn’t stimulating enough, there are several techniques guaranteed to give you a mental boost. 

Close reading, speed reading, and critical reading are some of the most popular ones. 

But what is close reading exactly, what does the process of close reading help a reader do and how to close read? Let’s find out together.

What is close reading?

Close reading is referred to as sustained and careful interpretation of a text. It is mainly a literary criticism tool and it involves dissecting every sentence, paragraph of a text, understanding the meaning of every word and format structure, every idea standing behind each sentence. 

In many ways, close reading is the opposite of a book summary. While summarizing means extracting the main ideas and key points from a text and presenting them in a concise way, close reading involves a critical analysis and a more in-depth look at every aspect of a piece of writing. 

Close reading, also known as practical criticism, is a technique mostly used in school and is a way of assessing the students’ abilities of understanding the deeper meaning behind a certain text. While for many of us the adventure of close reading ends the second the ring bells for the last time in our literature class in college, many still use it long after that, and for good reason. 

To better understand the close reading meaning, we need to have a look at the process of close reading, some close reading strategies, and the goals of a successful practical criticism session.

How to close read and why 

A list of particular close reading techniques is rather hard to make given the complexity of the task. Close reading is a process more than anything and the best way to approach it is to divide it into a couple of steps. Here’s the best way to do it.

Step 1. Reading and taking notes

The first step in the process of close reading is to analyze a text from a certain point of view (either as instructed by whoever issued the close reading task or through your own perspective). This may include analyzing all characteristics of a text that make it stand out, be it structural elements, cultural references, active or passive voice proportions, particular metaphors, rhetorical features or even historical references. 

Pay attention to how the language is used, what particularities stand out, what the meaning of each word is, what the author’s tone is and whether it changes throughout the paragraph. Determine what themes appear in the text, whether certain patterns or words are repeated and what the meaning behind these repetitions could be. 

Taking notes at this stage is essential because it helps you remember the important aspects of the text and will make it a lot easier for you to answer any questions about the passage you’re analyzing. While using a pen and paper is obviously acceptable, the best way to take notes is using a reading tracking app on your smartphone or tablet.

Basmo for example offers its users the option to take digital notes while a reading session is ongoing within the app.

So, after analyzing a text, you can write your notes directly in the app.

Several formatting options are also available, meaning that you can separate your notes into different subjects, you can underline or highlight your conclusion so that it is easier for you to keep track of your thoughts later on.

  1. You log in to Basmo and tap the + sign to search for the book you’re currently reading. 
  2. To start your reading session, tap the Start Session button. 
  3. Anytime you want to take notes, you’ll find a special section dedicated to writing your thoughts.

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Step Two. Analysis

Once you’ve noticed the particular elements you’re looking for, the second step is interpreting them through inductive reasoning. This means the process moves from an observational stage to a personal interpretation or conclusion based on the previously made observations. 

Think about all the aspects of the text you’re analyzing. Do you know all the words? How are words being used to induce a certain emotional state in the reader? What does the author focus on? Try to put yourself in the author’s position and try to understand how the writer came to that particular phrasing and why.

Again, using Basmo has a lot of benefits. The notes you make during this stage can also be saved in the app and you can easily get access to them later on in just a couple of taps.

Step Three. Descriptive thesis

Once you’ve read and analyzed the text, use your notes to start writing your view about the passage you’re close reading. In this step, you should be attempting to make a summary of your observations from Step one. Jot down your thoughts about how language is being used in the given passage. 

This should be an analytical section, focused on the HOW. Explain the particularities of the text, the techniques used and their role. 

Step Four. Your argument

This is where your own judgement comes into play. This step is focused on the WHY. Take your previous observations and analyze them further, beyond the technicalities and try to explain why you think the author expressed the ideas, thoughts and feelings the way he did.

Try to understand how the language connects to the themes that appear in the passage, why the author is using certain writing techniques, the particular tone and construct your own argument about the passage you’ve been close reading. 

Describe the words used (are they intellectual, plain, vulgar?), the sentence length and why you think the author chose it, who is actually “speaking” in the passage, does the text allow you to visualize what you’re reading, how emotional or detached the tone is and the effect it has on the reader’s experience.

Step Five. Conclusion

As the title suggests, this is where you should draw your conclusions about the text you’ve analyzed and described. Try to emphasise your own opinion about the passage, how YOU interpreted it, what YOU felt while reading it.

Focus on the quality of the writing, give your honest opinion about the writing techniques used and the value they bring to the text and their effectiveness in getting the desired message across. You may even mention if there is anything you would have done differently if you were the author.

Concrete examples are essential in this stage, so don’t hesitate to use quotes whenever you feel they would help emphasise your ideas.

Basmo can be of great help with this as well.

Users can save quotes from the text they’re reading and analyzing by using the page scanning feature, which can extract the text directly from a book using your device’s camera. All you have to do is scan the page, select the text you’re interested in and save it as a note or as an image for later use.

By following all these steps and choosing to use Basmo every step of the way, you will get a very detailed overview of your close reading session. Basmo will be your trusted companion throughout the whole process and you will always have access to the notes you take or quotes you save. 

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Benefits of close reading

While many consider close reading to be a simple assignment in school, others consider it an essential life skill. And for good reason. 

Close reading develops critical thinking in readers of all ages. It helps develop the ability to understand what a text says, how the text is constructed and what the meaning behind it is. 

Even as adults, we close read on a daily basis, many times without even realising it. We analyze work emails, text messages, IMs to make sure we understand both the message and the sender’s expectations from us. We analyze product descriptions online before buying a product, we pay attention to advertisements and try to decide whether what they are trying to sell is what we actually need. 

This “detective work” behind understanding every aspect of a text is clearly an essential life skill and one that we use more than we can imagine. Proper training is done in school, but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try to improve ourselves even later in life. 

Needless to say, this is a complex process and one that activates many parts of our brain. You read, analyze, write down your thoughts, interpret the meaning behind the text and you construct your own interpretation. Close reading is like a whole-body workout for your brain and regular sessions will keep your brain in top shape.

What is the goal of close reading?

The expected goals of a successful close reading session are:

  1. To be able to understand the general information contained in a text even despite your inability to understand each particular word or concept in it. 
  2. To be able to successfully identify writing techniques authors use to transmit the message, idea or feeling on to the reader and to be able to explain how each technique works and why it is used in that particular text.
  3. To be able to judge the effectiveness of said writing techniques and to compare them with others and assess how well the author has managed to get the message across using these techniques.

Whether it’s a task assigned by a teacher, book club leader or even yourself, close reading aims to be a criticism technique that puts your understanding, general knowledge and ability to interpret a literary message to the test. 

It is a powerful learning tool for improving one’s ability to think critically and express their interpretations and opinions, and the main goal is to develop how well and how fast our brain can understand a text and its meaning.

What are some examples of close reading questions?

Finding close reading examples could help you get a better idea on how to organize and construct your argument, but that isn’t nearly as important as the close reading questions. 

A key aspect of successful close reading is knowing what questions to ask yourself while analyzing the text and what questions might be asked of you while developing your argument. 

Here are a couple of the most important things you need to pay attention to.

Diction questioning:

  • What words does the author use and why?
  • Are words being repeated? 
  • How are descriptions built? What adjectives describe which nouns and how do they influence your understanding of the message?
  • What word connections do you notice?

Narrative Voice questioning:

  • Who is narrating in the text?
  • What is the narrative perspective used and why?

Tone questioning:

  • Is the author being open and straightforward?
  • Is he or she trying to send the message in a less direct way?
  • How emotional or detached is the tone?
  • Do you feel any irony in the tone used? Where and why do you think irony is used?

Rhetorical and Literary device questioning:

  • Is figurative language present? Do any metaphors stand out?
  • Does the text “paint a picture”? Can you “see” what the author is describing?
  • Does the text rhyme? Are the words used in a way that makes their sound important?
  • What effect do these techniques have on the reading experience? Do they help get the message across, do they try to hide the real meaning behind the text?

Being able to answer these questions, whether it’s in the first stages of the close reading when you’re mentally analyzing the text and formulating your argument or by the end of the session is extremely important. Knowing what to look for always makes the search easier.

Conclusion

Close reading is a complex and important process in our education and mental development. Regardless of our age, the improvements on our critical thinking it brings are priceless. 

Always use Basmo for your close reading sessions and enjoy the benefits it offers: 

  • Easier note taking
  • Facile quotes saving 
  • Better reading scheduling
  • Reading goals
  • Reading statistics and much more

Ready to take your reading game to the next level?
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