Close Reading

The Close Reading is a one-page, single-spaced mini-essay about any of the assigned PRIMARY sources we’ve read in this course up to the point of the due date.

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There will be two close reading assignments in this class for 10% of the grade each (a total of 20% of the grade for both). The close readings are one-page, single-spaced mini-essays.

One of the two that you write, ideally, will be developed into the full length (5 pages, double-spaced) Final Essay due at the end of the class, so that by the time you have to write that essay, you’ll already have done half the work and had a couple of relatively low-impact attempts to write literary criticism, which will help you do a much better job on the final essay. So first, don’t get too worked up about these–don’t let them worry you; even if you turn in half a page of confusing mumblings, you’ll still get at least a D, or a 60 out of 100 – and you could still theoretically make an A in the class. And by making two attempts at a mini-essay, you’ll improve each time, until, by the end of the class, the 5-page essay isn’t going to seem so intimidating.

You can develop the mini-essays from your discussion posts if you want. Each discussion board prompt should be regarded as a possible essay prompt for writing a close reading. You should definitely write about something that interests you, and you should feel free to use an old discussion post to get started. I’m attaching, below, a few documents and links that should help you.

First, here is an example of a close reading that a Troy University student wrote. I’m putting it here as an attachment. If you have trouble looking at this or printing it out, please send me an email and I can send them directly to you as .pdf files, (Please make sure you indicate clearly which documents you need; my email address is

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Student Close Reading.docxPreview the document

Make yours look like this.

Okay, so what is close reading? Googling the term “close reading” could help, but be aware that what you’ll find isn’t the same as my assignment but rather explanations of a term used in literary criticism.

Basically, close reading is a focused argument about some very particular feature of a text – a single character, a single setting, a single plot element, a single recurring theme, etc. – in support of a specific, arguable, literary thesis about that particular feature of the text; this thesis usually appears at the end of the first paragraph.

Assume that your reader has read the work you’re discussing, but you’ll still need to give them guideposts to the exact episode or feature of the work you’re discussing; assume they’ve read the book but don’t have it open in front of them and, more importantly, haven’t spent as much time reading it carefully as you have.

Here are a couple of links that may be helpful. First, here’s a list of General Questions (from Ann Charters’s anthology “The Story”). You can print this out and use the questions listed on the two pages to help you come up with ideas about the work you want to write about. (Sorry about the poor quality of the scan. Before this term is over, I intend to type out these documents so that I’ll have a better digital copy to share with you.)

General Questions for the Study of LiteraturePreview the document

Here’s a link to a website that basically tells you EVERYTHING YOU NEED TO KNOW TO QUOTE CORRECTLY. Please, please, take the time to read this! (Links to an external site.)

Here’s a link to a discussion of quotes, paraphrases, and summaries. (Be careful to make an argument and not simply to summarize what happens in the book or chapter or episode you’re talking about–the more specific your focus, the more you’ll have to say!) (Links to an external site.)

Our first close reading is going to be due in the fourth week of class. I’ll post due dates for the other close readings in the coming weeks. I hope I’ve covered everything, but if I haven’t, please ask questions on the “Ask the Teacher” discussion board or by sending me an email. Good luck! And, seriously, don’t let this stress you out…


As for helping you with ideas, here is what you do:

Pick your favorite primary text we’ve read so far. If you’re still unclear about what a primary text is, Google it!

Ask yourself, “Why is this my favorite text?” and jot down your answers – be specific. For example, “I liked the part in Equiano’s narrative when he described the slave ship because ….” The “because” part is an important part of the answer. Make a list of notes. Look over the list and compare your notes about the text you’ve chosen with the question areas from the “General Questions” handout (i.e. did you seem most to focus on the plot, the characters, the setting, or what?).

Looking at the “General Questions” handout, ask yourself the questions under whichever heading you’ve chosen in regard to the particular work (preferably the particular character, episode, or feature of the particular work) you’ve chosen. Start writing down your answers to these questions, ideally in complete sentences, using brief, targeted quotes from the text to support your answers. Turn your answer(s) to one or more of these “General Questions” into an essay in which you TEACH a FELLOW READER (that is, someone who has also read the work in question, someone who DOES NOT NEED YOU TO SUMMARIZE) about the meaning of the text.

Be sure you have a clear thesis statement, if possible (and Googling “literary thesis statement” will help you get a grip on this, but partly, the assignment is a way to help you figure out what a thesis is), and be sure you support that thesis. Be sure you have some organization for your essay, which, at a minimum, means paragraphs! Ideally, you will be building an argument that has at least a couple of propositions that need some support, and each of these propositions is likely to require writing at least one paragraph. Be sure you use at least a few concise quotes from the text that support your argument. (Again, Googling “quoting literary sources” will help you with this if you’re unsure about how that ought to work).


Rewrite/revise, edit, and proofread the essay a couple of times, making it as seamless, coherent, and concise as you possibly can. Make it look (in terms of format) like the sample I gave you. Make it one page ONLY! A VERY good idea (basically, a requirement) would be to CLEARLY IDENTIFY the text in the title and in the first sentence of your essay. In other words, a title like “Monstrosity in Katherine Dunn’s Geek Love,” and the first sentence like this: “The character of Arturo the Aqua Boy in Katherine Dunn’s 1989 novel Geek Love is….” My point is that in only one page, there’s simply no time to beat around the bush. Start on the topic from the beginning.

You may find that the Rhetorical PrecìsPreview the document preview the document format helps inspire you to identify what you think is most important and valuable about a text.

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