Literary Techniques are the techniques that composers use in their written texts to help convey or heighten meaning. Rather than writing in plain language, composers give more emphasis to their ideas by utilising literary techniques to make them stand out.
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Below is a list of the most common literary techniques used in texts (the techniques highlighted in red are clickable links that take you to expanded definitions and step-by-step tutorials on analysis):
|Allegory||Story with a double meaning: one primary (on the surface) and one secondary.|
|Allusion||A subtle or indirect reference to another thing, text, historical period, or religious belief.|
|Alliteration||Repetition of consonants at the start of words or in a sentence or phrase.|
|Cliché||An over-used, common expression.|
|Consonance||Repetition of consonants throughout a sentence or phrase.|
|Contrast||Paradox, antithesis, oxymoron, juxtaposition, contrast in description etc.|
|Didactic||Any text that instructs the reader or is obviously delivering a moral message.|
|Disjunction||A conjunction (e.g. ‘but’ or ‘yet’) that dramatically interrupts the rhythm of the sentence.|
|Ellipsis||A dramatic pause (…) creates tension or suggests words can’t be spoken.|
|Emotive language||Words that stir the readers’ emotions.|
|Enjambment||A poetic technique, when a sentence or phrase runs over more than one line (or stanza). This assists the flow of a poem.|
|Euphemism||Mild expression used to replace a harsh one.|
|Exclamation||Exclamatory sentence ending in “!” to convey high emotion.|
|Form||Purpose and features of a text influence its construction and will suggest its structure.|
|Figurative language & sound devices||metaphor, metonymy, hyperbole, simile, personification, assonance, alliteration, consonance, onomatopoeia, etc. These devices have a powerful impact as they work on our senses to strengthen the subject matter of the text.|
|Fractured/truncated sentences||Incomplete sentences used to increase tension or urgency, or reflect the way people speak to each other.|
|Gaps & silences||What is not said; whose voice isn’t heard and whose voice dominates?|
|Humour||Incongruity, parody, satire, exaggeration, irony, puns etc. used to lighten the overall tone.|
|Icons||A single person, object or image that represents complex ideas and feelings.|
|Imagery||Vivid pictures created by words. Reader visualises character/setting clearly.|
|Imperative Voice||Forceful use of the verb at the start of sentence or phrase.|
|Intertextuality||A text makes a reference to other texts, may be explicit, implied or inferred.|
|Irony||Gap between what is said and what is meant.|
|Juxtaposition||Layering images/scenes to have a dramatic impact.|
|Level of usage of language||Slang, colloquial, informal or formal.|
|Linear||Sequential – in chronological order.|
|Metaphor||Comparison of 2 objects where one becomes another – adds further layers of meaning about object being compared.|
|Modality||The force the words are delivered at. High modality = forceful. Low modality = gentle.|
|Non-linear||Non-sequential narrative, events do not occur in chronological order|
|Onomatopoeia||A word that echoes the sound it represents. Reader hears what is happening.|
|Parody||Conscious imitation for a satiric purpose.|
|Person||First, second or third person.First person refers to the speaker himself or a group that includes the speaker (i.e., I, me, we and us).Second person refers to the speaker’s audience (i.e., you).Third person refers to everybody else (e.g., he, him, she, her, it, they, them), including all other nouns (e.g. James, Swedish, fish, mice).|
|Personification||Human characteristic given to a non-human object. Inanimate objects take on a life.|
|perspective||A particular way of looking at individuals, issues, events, texts, facts etc.|
|Plosive consonants||Harsh sounds in a sentence or phrase.|
|Repetition||Of words or syntax (order of words) for emphasis or persuasion.|
|Representation||How a composer conveys meaning through textual features.|
|Satire||Composition which ridicules in a scornful & humorous way.|
|Setting||Location of a story – internal and external.|
|Sibilance||Repetition of ‘s’ – can sounds melodious and sweet or cold and icy.|
|Simile||Comparison of 2 objects using ‘like’ or ‘as’.|
|Symbolism||When an object represents one or more (often complex) ideas.|
|Syntax – sentence structure||Short, simple sentences or truncated sentences create tension, haste or urgency; compound or complex sentences are slower, often feature in formal texts.|
|Tense||Present, past, future (events are predicted).|
|Theme||Message or moral of a story – makes us ponder bigger issues in life.|
|Tone||The way composer or character feels – conveyed by word choice.|
|Word choice or Diction||Emotive, forceful, factual, descriptive, blunt, graphic, disturbing, informative etc. E.g. use of forceful verbs ‘insist’ & ‘demand’ can be very persuasive.|
If you want to take your analysis further and expand your awareness of literary techniques, read the article: Literary Techniques Part 2: How to Analyse Poetry and Prose to learn how to analyse literary techniques in poetry and prose with reference to all the major techniques.
When you write an essay identifying the techniques used by a composer, you need to explain how that technique is creating meaning in the text. This process is called literary analysis, and is an important skill that Matrix English students are taught in the Matrix English courses. Great marks in essays are earned through detailed analysis of your texts and not merely listing examples and techniques.
Want to take your textual analysis to the next level?
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Textual Analysis Essay
Length: 1500 words
Format:double-spacing, 1-inch margins, 12-point font
This paper assignment requires you to examine the arguments and presentation by one of the three authors from this unit (Peter Canby, Van Jones, and David Owen). Your assignment is not to agree or disagree with the author of the article you choose; your task is to evaluate the arguments, evidence, style, and authority presented.
Therefore, your thesis statement, or the main idea of your paper, will focus on the author's success in communicating his ideas: is he persuasive? A successful analysis will demonstrate a thorough understanding of the article. You are permitted to do additional research (always citing other sources), but only in the service of evaluating this piece, not in arguing over NAFTA, urban greening and criminal justice, or the role of technology.
Follow these basic steps for planning your text analysis:
- Print out, read and re-read the article, making comments and questions in the margins and on a separate page as you go. Look up any vocabulary you don't understand.
- Summarize the article briefly in your own words, including the author's main point or thesis. What questions is he trying to answer? This is helpful information in your essay's introduction.
- Examine the different types of evidence used by your chosen author: first-hand experience? interviews? studies and facts that can be verified? anecdotes or stories? visual aids? emotional appeals? reasoning based on what is known? Take note of especially effective or ineffective examples. As you develop your draft, address whether the article's arguments are sound, and whether the assertions and assumptions drawn from them are logical and clear.
- Your analysis should also evaluate the author's writing style and presentation. How is the article organized? Is the content presented in an order that makes sense to you as a reader? Is the writing objective and well-crafted? Quote any sentences that stand out or are representative stylistically. You can address the article's style as you evaluate its arguments, or you can discuss it separately.
- Check out the links in Unit 2 to read more about writing textual analyses: one from the Utah Valley State College Writing Center, and the other linked to the Social Science Computing Co-op at UW-Madison.
- Use the Rubric below to understand how you will be evaluated on the content and presentation of your analysis.
Text Analysis Grading Rubric
Title & Introduction
|Engaging, descriptive title. Introduction clearly addresses the main ideas of the article and whether it succeeded in conveying them.||Functional title. Introduction includes a description of the article that may be vague or under-developed later.||Title is unoriginal or not obviously relevant. Introduction contains no overarching sense of the article or a misunderstanding.||Title is cliché or irrelevant. Introduction is vague, unclear, or under-developed.||Title is absent. Introduction does not reveal the writer read or understood the article. Paper is not turned in, or is turned in late.|
Paragraphs all support the main idea, flow in a logical order, and are linked by topic sentences or other transitions. Multiple paragraphs per page guide readers from one example to the next.
|Most paragraphs appear to support the main idea although they may not always be linked with clear transitions. Paragraphs may merge together several examples or ideas that should be developed separately.||Some paragraphs lack any connection to the intro. and may not flow in any logical order. Transitions are spotty. Entire paper may be stuffed into a 5-paragraph format.||Introduction and/or conclusion missing; paragraphs ordered illogically, may be irrelevant. Few or no transitions.||Introduction and/or conclusion missing; paragraphs ordered illogically, irrelevant or repetitive. Transitions not apparent.|
|Every body paragraph refers to at least one example from the article. Any other sources are cited.||Most paragraphs include a relevant example or descriptive details from the article. Any additional sources are poorly cited.||A few examples from the article are raised in the paper; some may not be clearly relevant. Outside quotes are brought in but not cited and possibly not relevant.||Examples from the article are not clearly relevant or sufficient. Examples from outside the article are dubious or irrelevant.||Few or no relevant examples or details are furnished from the article or any other source.|
Grammar & Punctuation
|A few typos (1-3 per page).||Some errors are present, but do not distract from the essay.||A pattern of errors may appear, or scattered errors are apparent in most paragraphs.||More than one pattern of errors is present; mistakes are pervasive and cloud some parts of the essay.||Errors are pervasive and the entire essay is difficult to understand.|
|Conclusion reviews main messages or questions in the article and highlights your evaluation of its arguments and style.||Conclusion may sum up the point of the article but not evaluate it, or vice-versa.||Conclusion fails to provide clarity on the article or how its message was communicated.||Conclusion ends abruptly or introduces a new angle or topic not already raised.||Conclusion is nonexistent.|
Length & overall development
|Thesis fully developed. 1500+ (relevant, non-repetitive) words.||Thesis supported in most body paragraphs. 1350-1500 (relevant, non-repetitive) words.||Support for thesis not clear in most body paragraphs. 1200-1350 words.||Thesis missing or 1050-1200 words.||Under 1050 words.|