What exactly is "close reading"? How does it relate to the study of literature? Are there any instructions about how to do a close reading of a text/passage?

  • 11
    Some context would be nice.
    – muru
    Commented Mar 2, 2017 at 5:14
  • Perhaps you should do a self-answer for this question citing your "Naming of Parts" Q&A, so that we can point people at this post to tell them what close reading is rather than at one where the question doesn't even mention close reading.
    – Rand al'Thor
    Commented Jul 18, 2017 at 18:09
  • @Randal'Thor if you want to, go ahead. But any answer that I write here will probably just quote a definition of close reading, say that you need to learn by doing, and then link to my naming of parts q&a. Writing an answer here doesn't seem like a productive use of my time tbh.
    – user111
    Commented Jul 18, 2017 at 18:11

1 Answer 1


In literary criticism, close reading is the careful, sustained interpretation of a brief passage of a text. A close reading emphasizes the single and the particular over the general, effected by close attention to individual words, the syntax, and the order in which the sentences unfold ideas, as the reader scans the line of text.


Close reading expects readers to focus on the information that a text provides, without relying on a lot of information or support. This is different from other kinds of reading lessons you teach, in which you may start out by introducing teacher-set purposes, discussions of students’ life experiences, picture walks, and so on.

Close reading discourages such front-loading. The goal of close reading instruction is to foster independent readers who are able to plumb the depths of a text by considering only the text itself.

We all know that it’s not enough to just understand what a text says. Close readers not only grasp an author’s message, but they also take a look under the hood, so to speak. They try to recognize the author’s tone or perspective, the implications of the author’s word choices, and why a text is structured or organized as it is. Additionally, readers should go beyond a text, evaluating its quality or value, comparing it with other texts, or determining its implications. It’s a lot to ask of students, but with appropriate scaffolding and support, they can do it.


I think that means that when doing a close reading one examines writing by moving slowly through the text, examining very small distinctions such as the choice of a single word.

  • So, is it mostly about reading between the lines, concentrating on word choice, and stripping away the context? Commented Mar 4, 2017 at 23:24
  • @LauraCookson Hi. I think close reading is best learned through examples. I just posted an example of close reading on this site that will walk you through the process of conducting a close reading. Hope you find it helpful. literature.stackexchange.com/questions/2782/…
    – user111
    Commented Jun 22, 2017 at 3:45

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