Part 11: How do techniques develop meaning?

Textual analysis is an important skill in High School English. But are you struggling to find meaning in techniques? Don't fear. This article will explain everything.

You know what literary and filmic techniques are, but do you wonder techniques convey meaning? In this article, we show you how techniques develop meaning and give you a step-by-step process for understanding that meaning.


Table of content


What are techniques?

Techniques are devices that composers use to convey meaning that is not literal. In other terms, abstract meaning.

This includes specific word choices, phrases, images, structural choices and many more!

You may have heard of symbolism, metaphor, allusion and repetition. These are all examples of techniques!


In your schooling career, you will come across many different types of techniques.

Let’s see what the different type of techniques are:


In our Essential Guide to English Techniques, we have extensive lists of different LITERARY, VISUAL and FILM techniques.

It is a good idea for you to start familiarising themselves with these techniques now.

This way, you can continue to build your textual analysis skills and easily identify and analyse a wide range of techniques throughout your schooling career.



Why do composers use techniques in their works?

Read these 2 lines:

Lisa’s cheeks turned red. Everyone was laughing at her.”


Lisa’s cheeks turned as red as a tomato. Everyone kept laughing and laughing and laughing.”


Which line conveyed the message better?

Well, the second line paints a more vivid visual image of the events.

Here, we can visualise just how red Lisa’s cheeks are. We also feel unsettled because the laughs seem to go on and on forever.


As you can see, techniques have many different functions. Let’s see what they are:




Vivid description

As we saw from the example above, techniques help paint vivid images of what is happening.

These descriptions draw us into the story world.

We can see, hear, smell, feel and even taste whatever the character experiences!

Not only that, these descriptions help us visualise places and things too!

In summary, techniques help us feel like we are a part of the story world.


Evoke emotions

Goosebumps crawled up his arm and wrapped itself around him. He couldn’t see anything. He couldn’t think properly. He was alone.

Does this line unsettle you? Do you feel a tinge of fear?

Techniques also have the ability to evoke emotions through their clear descriptions.


Persuade audiences

As we saw from above, techniques evoke emotions. However, that is not all.

Techniques also force us to think about certain things.

Because techniques can evoke emotions AND stimulate intellectual thoughts…

Composers use techniques to challenge, convince and reassure us.

If used effectively, techniques can persuade us to think a certain way.


Poetic and aesthetic

Have you ever read a poem that just is simply beautiful? Or maybe you came across a painting that just takes your breath away?

Well, texts don’t magically become poetic or aesthetic.

Composers use and manipulate techniques to make it this way.


And most importantly, conveys abstract meaning!

Techniques convey meaning by creating a certain mood, atmosphere or tone.

They are effective because they aren’t literal. You aren’t told exactly what to think.

Instead, you need to combine all the hints and figure it out yourself.

Sometimes, your brain automatically does this and you don’t even notice!

However, with practice, you will be able to identify the technique and know its meaning and purpose.




How do techniques develop meaning?

Techniques develop meaning through all of their functions.

As we explored above, techniques give vivid descriptions, evoke emotions and stimulate intellectual thoughts.

Think of it like a jigsaw puzzle.

Each feeling or thought is another puzzle piece.

It is up to you to glue them together to see the bigger picture.

(Now that was a technique! We just used a metaphor.)

Ultimately, every puzzle piece shapes your perspective and understanding. This is how meaning is created.

This will make more sense once we go through how to figure out the meaning of techniques with a worked example.




Why do I need to know the meaning?

Knowing how to identify techniques and figure out their meaning is a useful skill for High School English.

Your child’s assessment tasks and exams require them to analyse texts and compose texts.

So, it is important that your child can quickly identify techniques, figure out the abstract meaning and know how to use techniques in their own writing.


Textual analysis

Textual analysis is the unpacking of a text to look for meaning.

Does this sound familiar?

It should!

Techniques convey meaning.


This means that we need to examine techniques to analyse a text!

In High School, your child will be asked to analyse a variety of texts and write about them!

For example, novels, short stories, films, images, poems and non-fiction texts.

This is why it is crucial that your child knows how to find meaning in techniques early on!


However, don’t fear if their textual analysis skills are rusty!

We go through everything you need to know about textual analysis in our Part 4: Year 7 & 8 Textual Analysis of this guide.


Writing and composing

The importance of techniques doesn’t just end at analysis…

Your child will also need to compose texts, like speeches, essays, informative writings, persuasive pieces and creatives!

So, they need to know how techniques create meaning to effectively  use techniques in their writing!

This will make their compositions much stronger and convincing.

They can create vivid images, evoke emotions, persuade audiences and make their work more poetic or aesthetic.


Remember, teachers are always looking to see if their students understand what they learn.

So, by being able to use techniques in their writing, your child demonstrates that they understand the function of techniques.




How do I figure out the meaning of techniques?

Now that we know how techniques create meaning, let’s see how we can figure out the meaning!


Step 1: How does the technique make you feel?

When you come across a technique, pay attention to your emotions.

Remember, techniques work in an implicit way.

So, the first hint at the figuring out the technique’s meaning is identifying your emotions.


Let’s take a look at these lines from Robert Frost’s The Road Not Taken.

Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both

What do you feel?

  • Loneliness
  • Regret




Step 2: Identify techniques

Read or watch over your text carefully and identify any techniques.

You should familiarise yourself with a variety of different techniques to make this step easier.

Over time, identifying techniques will occur naturally.

In our Essential Guide to English Techniques, we provide you with an extended list of literary, visual and film techniques. Read over them and know what each technique is.


Let’s see if we can identify any techniques in Frost’s poem:

Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both

  • Symbolism of two roads diverging
  • Symbolism of yellow woods




Step 3: Know the general effect of the techniques

It’s important that you know the general effect of each technique.

For example, red is usually symbolic of anger, love, passion or danger.

Repetition is used to create a sense of urgency or represent an ongoing cycle.

A storm usually indicates that something bad is going to happen.


As you can see, certain techniques have general meanings.

If you are struggling to figure it out the general meaning, you should:

  1. Visualise what the technique is literally saying
  2. Identify things that relate to it (This can be people, objects, situations, historical events etc!)
  3. Figure out the general meaning of the related things


So, let’s figure out the general meaning of the 2 diverged roads in Frost’s poem:

Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both

Literally, “two roads diverged” is a single road that is split into 2 paths.

From this, we know that it can represent:

  • The persona’s need to make a decision


Now, let’s look at the “yellow woods“.

Here, the general meaning is not so clear.

So, let’s try to figure out the meaning using the method above.

  1. Yellow woods means that the trees in the woods have yellow leaves.
  2. So, we can conclude that the woods indicate Autumn.
  3. Autumn usually indicates a time of change




Step 3: Apply the meaning in context of your text

You already figured out the emotions related to your technique and it’s general meaning.

Now, it’s time to think about the technique in context of your text.

You can’t just apply any general meaning of your technique. It needs to make sense.

So, to do this you need to:

  • Know what your text is about
  • Know what is happening in the part where your technique is used

Then, combine all your above findings.

You need to adapt the general meaning to your text.

If you get stuck, think about your emotions and find a way to relate it to the meaning.

Remember, the composer wants to shape your experience of the text.

So, they use specific techniques to evoke certain emotions from you.


For example, let’s look at the first stanza of Frost’s poem.

“Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth;”

If we literally interpret this, we can see that the persona has reached a fork in the roads and he needs to decide which path to travel on.

Now, we apply this knowledge to our techniques.


1. Symbolism of “two roads diverged”

We can safely assume that the general meaning for this technique is correct; the persona needs to make a decision between 2 choices.

However, we can dig deeper.

The road is symbolic of the persona’s life. Therefore, the 2 roads represent how the persona has reached a point in their life where they need to make a decision between 2 choices.


2. Symbolism of “Yellow woods”

Autumn is symbolic of a time of change.

This representation is sufficient in this context.




© Matrix Education and, 2023. Unauthorised use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this site’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Matrix Education and with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Related courses