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Literary Techniques Part 1: Techniques for Analysing a Written Text

This is our glossary of literary techniques. Click on the links in this detailed guide to be taken to detailed explanations.

Literary Techniques

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 underlined 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).
Textual Integrity The organic unit of a text. It’s use of universal themes.
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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