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Close Reading

Close Reading

A close reading (or explication de texte, as it is sometimes called) is an essential part of literary study and is also often used in other disciplines. To plough through the required amount of reading in a literature or humanities course, you often must read swiftly with an eye on the larger picture. In a close reading, you do the opposite, slowing down and scrutinizing an essential paragraph or section of text, noting such things as word choice, literary devices, tone, theme, and so forth. To explicate is to be obsessed, looking up unfamiliar words and allusions, poring over the author’s diction, uncovering symbols and metaphors, and relating the microcosm of the small passage to the macrocosm of the work as a whole. An explication forces you to think like a literary detective, sifting through sentences for signs of larger meanings and themes in the work as you examine the author’s method. The Close Reading Essay is designed to help you respond in a nuanced and sophisticated way to difficult material. The essay focuses on using quotations from the primary text to develop a thesis or claim about the text.


Choose your passage— Kubla Khan: Or, A
Vision In A Dream

Thesis: Think about your initial conclusion about what the passage as a whole is about, how the author conveys this meaning, and how the passage fits into the work as a whole. Now write this up as a thesis, condensing your findings into one or two sentences. The main idea of the passage is also the main idea or thesis of your close reading (thus, your close reading will attempt to prove that your thesis is correct). End by linking the passage to the book as a whole and / or larger themes or other texts we have read in class.
A thesis statement expresses your conclusions about the passage and acts as the controlling idea of your paper. It is a one sentence (sometimes two or three) summary of your findings and usually has two parts: main idea of the passage and a brief summary of the specific ways in which the author conveys this idea. In this case, it will probably contain three “prongs,” or main ways that the author conveys his/her meaning, as evidenced by three key quotations. The thesis should appear in your first paragraph and act as a roadmap to your explication. Every paragraph of your paper must illuminate this thesis by providing supporting detail or explanation. The thesis is a general overview of what’s to come; the body of the paper will develop this thesis with specific examples and details. Sometimes a thesis statement can be implicit and not obviously stated, but you paper still needs a main idea and organizing principle. A thesis statement is a very specific statement—it should cover only what you want to discuss in your essay and be supported by specific evidence. You can think of your thesis as a map or a guide both for yourself and your reader.

PART TWO: COMPOSING YOUR PAPER: Now write up your paper proper (about seven paragraphs). Should be structured as follows:
1) Opening paragraph with a quotation or key moment in the text. This paragraph should contain your thesis statement.
2) Summary of text
3) Return to quotation and add analysis
4) 2nd main quotation and analysis
5) 3rd main quotation with analysis
6) Additional paragraph with examples
7) Conclusion


Key Moment: The Close Reading essay begins with a key moment from the text – one that acts as a pretext, encapsulating the reader’s interest in the story. The moment might be a striking image, a paradox, a statement of the theme within the text, or something the reader does not understand in the text.

Summary is the ability to succinctly convey the essence of an argument, story, or perspective in one paragraph. The summary of a literary text must include:
1. Type of text (poem, novella, short story, etc.)
2. Essential plot events (what happens, to whom, etc.)
3. Major themes
4. A comment on the rhetorical qualities of the text in question (style, mood, tone, structure, etc.)

Framing Quotations: Quotations must be introduced, incorporated into the syntax of a sentence or the paragraph in order to make clear to what the quotation is referring.

Interpreting Literature: Literature presents the reader with human experience as imagined by the author. Literature shows us this experience but does not tell us what to think about it. There is not one meaning to a work of literature. It is up to the reader to make judgments about the work based on the evidence from the text that supports and helps to explain his or her interpretation of the text.

Conclusion: The conclusion is the final impression you leave on the reader. It should not be a summary of the points you made in the paper. The conclusion can show how the ideas in the essay are meaningful and useful by answering the question “So what?” Your conclusion can give your readers something to think about by applying these ideas to their lives or to the “real” world. If you have gained a new perspective in the process of writing the paper, the conclusion can reflect your new understanding of the topic.

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