Quick Guide – How to Analyse an Unfamiliar Text

Whatever the extract is, ask yourself these questions and you’ll be off to a good start.

Genre Type What type of writing is it? Is it narrative, descriptive, reflective/ personal, argumentative, expository? Does the passage belong to a conventional literary genre or form? For example, is it a sonnet, a column, a short story?
Themes What is the passage about?
Perspective Whose point of view is in the foreground? Is there a narrator? Is there a character whose point of view, thoughts and feelings we are invited to share? Is the author’s point of view explicit or implicit? Does the author seem to share the main character or narrator’s perspective or does he or she seem unsympathetic?
Purpose and Stance Why do you think the author wrote the passage? Is there an addressee or an implied audience? If so, how does the narrator/ persona want this person to react? How does the author want you to react?
Mood and Atmosphere What types of situations and feelings are presented in the passage?
Tone What feelings and attitudes towards the passage does the author want you to have? How does he or she handle the subject matter of the passage?
Style How does the author’s use of linguistic, literary and structural devices contribute to your sense of mood, atmosphere and tone? This includes the following:
Diction and register Is the language formal or informal? Is it simple or complex? Does it belong to a specific social or cultural context? Does the passage use dialect, idioms or jargon? If there is dialogue in the passage, do different characters adopt different registers?
Syntax and Punctuation Are sentence structures simple or complex? Are they short or long? Are structures repeated? Is frequent use made of dashes, semi-colons, exclamation marks or other less common punctuation marks? Is use made of unconventional structures such as inverted syntax or ommitted punctuation? How are sentences linked – what types of connectives and conjunctions are used?
Paragraphing/ Stanzas How is the passage structured at this level? Do paragraphs and stanzas expand upon or contrast with what they follow on from?
Ambiguity Does the passage include any words and phrases which can be interpreted in more than one way? Is your understanding of the passage enhanced if you allow for these multiple interpretations?
Tenses, Mode and Verb Forms Does the passage make use of conditionals and interrogatives? Are the verbs mostly active or passive? Are they transitive, intransitive or reflexive?
Pace Does the passage appear to lend itself to a fast or a slow reading? Why?
Imagery To what extent does the author make use of simile and metaphor? To what effect?
Phonic devices How does the passage make use of assonance, alliteration, rhyme, rhythm and metre?
Narrative and dramatic devices Does the author make use of devices such as irony, suspense or foreshadowing? How and why?
Convention Is the passage’s style appropriate to its subject matter? Does it use a conventional literary form in a serious manner? Does it make use of bathos or deflate or re-appropriate literary conventions?

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