Young child sitting on a couch with her legs outstretched reading a book Josh Applegate

How to read for this class

The kind of reading we will emphasize in this class, called close reading in literary studies, stresses careful, focused attention to language and detail, as well as asking analytic how and why questions about what you’re reading. While close reading is central to the study of literature, it is by no means limited to the English department, or even to written texts. The same process, attention to detail, and analytic questions you apply to a story or poem can be applied to an image, movie, or song. Close reading skills can help you become a more attentive and critical reader of everything from emails to political speeches to Twilight novels, as well as a more analytic thinker and thoughtful critic.

Because we'll be considering questions of credibility, authority and argumentation alongside an analysis of the details of each essay, we'll want to approach our readings this terms with a particular set of questions in mind. To make sure you're paying attention to those questions as you read, we'll be stressing active reading throughout the term. This means you'll need to annotate each of the essays you read, either with a pencil (for the two essay collections) or by taking notes on a digital text. Though the tool will change depending on whether we're reading in a digital or an analog environment, the annotation process and questions to consider will remain the same.

Reading process

As with the writing process, the reading process is recursive. This means you will often cycle through the different steps as you read. You may spend some time higlighting an essay's argument only to go back to an earlier section to annotate a pattern you just noticed. You may switch back and forth between reading, underlining, highlighting and annotating. Your goal is to identify the active reading process that works best for you.

What to highight

What to annotate or label

These lists are a starting-place, not the final word on what to pay attention to as you read. Once you identify your own interests and topics for your papers, you'll likely find yourself highlighting and annotating those, as well.

Annotating digital sources

You can't very well take a pencil to a web site (at the very least, you shouldn't). But just because you can't underline or highlight doesn't mean you shouldn't be reading digital texts actively and annotating them thoroughly.

There are several tools for annotating online texts which you may choose to use in the course. One of the best is, a tool for collaboratively annotating pretty much any website. If you're interested in using, you can use this Quick Start Guide for Students to get started.

You can go the less high-tech route and take notes on what you're reading. You should have a consistent place where you keep your notes--it could be a physical notebook, a section in Microsoft OneNote, or a folder on your computer, but you should have one place where you can always find your reading notes. In your notes, you should jot down lines you would have highlighted, and you should answer the questions about why you highlighted something.