Rail yard background, from the Library of Congress

Connections

A Hypertext Resource for Literature

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Close Reading

In the words of Jack Lynch, "An English teacher's heart will go pitter-pat whenever he or she sees close engagement with the language of the text." How right he is. Close reading is the basis of every kind of literary criticism, regardless of its field, topic, or theoretical approach. One could even argue that the close reading of texts, broadly defined, lies at the heart of virtually every specialized field, from medicine (reading bodily signs and test data) to corporate finance (reading balance sheets, research data, and so forth). In every case, the effective specialist gains new and important insights by focusing on the details of a specific case to separate one balance sheet, heart condition, or lyric poem from another. You want a doctor who understands back pain in general, of course, but you also want the doctor to look at the details of your particular back pain. Likewise, readers want to see papers that understand the general outlines of the sonnet tradition, for instance, but nobody wants to read a paper that addresses only the gist of a sonnet without grappling with the meaty details of the text.

I put this page on close reading in the "argument" section because I want to emphasize that strong arguments do not develop without proper feeding, and their best food comes from close reading. Use specific textual details to help your reader through the logic of your paper, and you will keep that reader interested in understanding the larger points that you make with those details.

For techniques to use for close reading, see the aformentioned Jack Lynch's page on the subject. Then use your "Back" button to return here.

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