The basis for most literary analysis and critical study, “close reading” refers to any analytical procedure that works up from the details of language use in a text rather than working down from a general idea.
The first step of close reading is making observations, and the second step is finding meaning in your observations. In other words, close reading means discovering your ideas as you think about the peculiarities and characteristics of a given text, rather than using a text to support or illustrate general ideas. It involves inductive, rather than deductive, reasoning—moving from observations to theories rather than the other way around. Close reading is exploratory, unpredictable, and exciting – for both writers and readers. To “do” close readings in an essay is to teach your readers how to understand the text the way you understand it, so that they can experience the insights you have experienced.
Using close reading to formulate claims, please present an investigation about an excerpt from episode 1, 2, or 3 of Serial. Use the prework steps below to conduct your investigation, and then present that investigation in thesis-claim-evidence-analysis format. As we’ll discuss in class, the thesis paragraph should summarize your investigation, in all its parts, and the body of the paper should break down all of those parts into their individual claims. The final essay should probably be 3-4 pages long.
Goals for Paper 1
— To close read by collecting evidence from your excerpt (and possibly other parts of the podcast, if relevant)
— To collect a variety of evidence (content, conversations, production, sounds/voices, language, etc.)
— To analyze evidence in order to reach debatable claims that would not be obvious to any person who listened to the podcast
— To think hard about how to relate and organize those claims in a logical order that adds up to a big picture (as opposed to 5-paragraph essay form, wherein ideas are presented in some random order)
— To work from those claims toward presenting a cogent thesis paragraph
1. Pick an exchange from episode 1, 2, or 3 of Serial. Define the excerpt by specific parameters of where it begins and ends (no right/wrong ways to do so; just consider what you do and don’t want to address). The transcripts should help you out here.
2. Start by writing an overview of the focus of the whole episode and character descriptions of the voices in the exchange. What gets covered in this episode? What’s happening surrounding your excerpt? Who are the speakers in this specific exchange: what are the like? What do we know about them so far?
3. Now look closely at the lines of each speaker in the exchange. Explain what each speakers says, sentence by sentence. Take it further—how would you describe their sentences (long, short, complex, simple, confusing, straightforward, etc.)? How would you describe the words and language they use? What about how they sound? What inflections/verbal cues/speech details are noteworthy? If your excerpt has a scene switch or music, how would you describe that? These observations and descriptions are called evidence, and close reading always starts with evidence.
4. Now that you’ve described your observations of the excerpt, write down some questions that have occurred to you as you’ve been delving into the passage. A genuine question is problematic in the sense that its answer is not obvious. It poses something that doesn’t quite make sense to you yet and opens up further investigation into the passage. A genuine question for this paper has to be explorable with only the text itself (i.e. no other research—only close reading), and it also can’t lead to opinions—instead it should lead to arguments. We’ll be discussing the difference between opinions and arguments in class.
5. Now analyze your evidence, which means write down your interpretations of what the observations (step #3) mean. Based on some of your evidence from #3, what’s the tone of each speaker in each of his/her lines? How do they sound (confident, confused, intimated, emotional, matter-of-fact, joking, etc.)? Based on some of your evidence from #3, what is the motivation of each speaker in this excerpt? What are their goals here? What are the psychological grounds for what they say? Are they being truthful?
Identifying the meaning of your evidence allows you to come up with analysis. Come up with as many analytical statements that you can.
In this step, it’s essential that you know precisely what pieces of evidence (from #3) led you to each of these statements of analysis, so keep track. How do you know? What makes do you theorize that this analysis is likely? Sometimes a “T-chart” is useful. A statement that combines evidence and analysis, providing an argument for a single body paragraph, will make a claim (e.g. “Based on __, it is likely/evident/probable that __”).
6. Choose one of your genuine questions, and match it with analytical statements that relate. Think about conclusions you might ultimately draw in response to the question. That is, use your evidence and analysis to draw inferences about how the passage illuminates the concerns, themes, and issues of the entire episode it is a part of. That’s how you use your evidence and analysis to make claims
Also at this point, be thinking about what you ultimately want to teach your reader about—a specific line, a specific character/speaker, a specific aspect of the case, etc..? When you figure that out, you’re on track to figure out what your paper’s subject really is.
What you’re doing through these Prework steps is conducting an investigation. The thesis of your paper outlines the investigation from its logical beginning to its logical end. Then the body of the paper will break down each logical step one by one and explain the evidence and analysis. That means that these steps must be arranged in the most logical way possible. Notice that the thesis subject might not be clear until step 6, and yet it’s the first step of the thesis that your reader needs to see. What’s your reader specifically going to learn about in this paper? That’s where the thesis starts. It then details the investigation, from what issue you explored to what evidence you found useful to what conclusions you reached.
The draft should not be the first thing you type. Rather, it should be your best possible effort at getting your ideas on paper and shaping those ideas into a coherent and readable whole. The better your draft, the more useful will be the feedback you get on it.
As you revise this draft, test your claims against more close reading, i.e. more evidence gathering and analysis. In terms of structure, start to shape the body of your paper, which should be a series of claims (one at the beginning of each paragraph—and only one per paragraph), supported by evidence and analysis from your close reading. Those claims follow the same informational order as the thesis. Our goal working with this draft is to focus on the claim-evidence-analysis model in body paragraphs and the process of syncing the thesis with the paper’s body.
Due: Fri 2/10
Do your best with the final of Paper 1! The due date comes fast; focus your energy on claims, evidence, and analysis, and then attempt to mold a matching thesis paragraph. Try to dig deep and make interesting, important, insightful conclusions based on your close reading. Don’t worry about formatting or citation for this paper.
Due: Sun 2/19
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