The key to a sharp analysis frequently lies in the details. A strong defense of what you believe to be an author’s intent must come from the text itself, and the first step to that defense is a solid close reading. A good, active close reading of a text considers the following elements:
Word Choice – what words seem unusual? What jumps out at you?
Connotation – what is the feel of the words that the author selected?
Patterns – does anything recur during this section?
Connection to Other Sections – does this part reinforce a theme?
Placement – what comes right before this section? Right after?
Sentence structure – where does the author use variety? Longer & shorter sentences, more direct and more circuitous ones?
Omissions – what did the author leave out of this passage?
Literary devices – where are they used, and why?
Also note, an active close reading can also simply be a running record of your thoughts, to an extent. See the sample below, from the scene of Simon’s death in The Lord of the Flies.