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2.3 Close Reading Strategies: A Process Approach

To review, New Criticism provides us with concrete strategies to use when we read and interpret works of literature. Such reading and interpreting, however, never happens after just a first reading; in fact, all critics—New Critics and the others we examine later in this text—reread works multiple times before venturing an interpretation. You can see, then, the connection between reading and writing: as Chapter 1 "Introduction: What Is Literary Theory and Why Should I Care?" indicates, writers create multiple drafts before settling for a finished product (writing is never adequately “finished”); the writing process, in turn, is dependent on the multiple rereadings the writer has performed to gather evidence for the paper. It’s important that you integrate the reading and writing process together. As a model, use the following ten-step plan as you write using New Critical theory:

  1. Carefully read the work you will analyze.
  2. Formulate a general question after your initial reading that identifies a problem—a tension—that is fruitful for discussion.
  3. Reread the work, paying particular attention to the question you posed. Take notes, which should be focused on your central question. Write an exploratory journal entry or blog post that allows you to play with ideas.
  4. Construct a working thesis that makes a claim about the work and accounts for the following:

    1. What does the work mean?
    2. How does the work artistically demonstrate the theme you’ve identified?
    3. “So what” is significant about the work? That is, why is it important for you to write about this work? What will readers learn from reading your interpretation?
  5. Reread the text to gather textual evidence for support. What literary devices are used to achieve theme?
  6. Construct an informal outline that demonstrates how you will support your interpretation.
  7. Write a first draft.
  8. Receive feedback from peers and your instructor via peer review and conferencing with your instructor (if possible).
  9. Revise the paper, which will include revising your original thesis statement and restructuring your paper to best support the thesis. Note: You probably will revise many times, so it is important to receive feedback at every draft stage if possible.
  10. Edit and proofread for correctness, clarity, and style.

We recommend that you follow this process for every paper that you write from this textbook. Of course, these steps can be modified to fit your writing process, but the plan does ensure that you will engage in a thorough reading of the text as you work through the writing process, which demands that you allow plenty of time for reading, reflecting, writing, reviewing, and revising.

Peer Reviewing

A central stage in the writing process is the feedback stage, in which you receive revision suggestions from classmates and your instructor. By receiving feedback on your paper, you will be able to make more intelligent revision decisions. Furthermore, by reading and responding to your peers’ papers, you become a more astute reader, which will help when you revise your own papers. In Chapter 10 "Appendix A: Peer Review Sheets", you will find peer-review sheets for each chapter.

Your Process

  1. Have you partaken in peer review before? Describe this experience.
  2. Do you regularly get feedback from others on your writing (no matter for which class)? Why or why not?