Analytical Reading Strategies for Writing

When you are looking for a way to begin writing about a text, consider these analytical tools from the book Writing Analytically, by David Rosenwasser and Jill Stephen.

Notice and Focus

  1. Notice. Repeatedly ask yourself, “What do you notice?” about the text. What stands out? What’s interesting? What seems strange? By answering this question, you can generate a list of interesting details from the text.
  2. Focus. Rank the details you noticed in order of importance. Ask yourself, “What three specific details are the most interesting, or revealing, or strange?”
  3. Ask “Why?” Ask yourself the question, “Why do those three details strike me as being the most interesting?” By answering this question, you begin to move from observing details to interpreting them.

Look for Patterns

  1. Find repetitions of the same or similar words, images, or other details.
  2. Identify a line of repetition; give it a name. The name you give it may help you identify the common denominator that links the repeated details.
  3. Look for contrasting opposites: new versus old, large versus small, light versus dark, and so on. Select from these the most important contrasts which function as basic organizing principles for the work as a whole.
  4. Rank the repetitions or contrasts in order of importance, then explain why you rank them that way. Which are most useful for understanding the text?
  5. Search for anomalies, data that do not fit the dominant patterns. Does it fit another line of repetitions? Does it represent another way of interpreting the text?

Paraphrase × 3

  1. Select one sentence from the text you’re reading that you think is interesting, puzzling, or especially useful for understanding the text.
  2. Paraphrase the sentence; that is, rewrite the sentence in your own words, replacing all the key terms with synonyms. Rewrite the same sentence three times, using different words each time.
  3. Reflect on the original sentence. What have you come to realize about it by paraphrasing it three times?


Write without stopping for ten minutes about the text or a portion of the text. Then, look at what you just wrote; see if something of interest stands out, and then write for five more minutes without stopping about that one interesting thing you discovered.