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Aids to Literary Study

I keep six honest serving-men
(They taught me all I knew);
Their names are What and Why and When
And How and Where and Who.
I send them over land and sea,
I send them east and west;
But after they have worked for me,
I give them all a rest.

- Rudyard Kipling

The interrogative pronouns what, why, when, how, where and who form a handle that may help you to be a journalist or a writer that covers basics. When you come up with proficient answers to all of these pronouns (and may some added questions, as "Who benefits?" and "Where does the money/prestige/influence go?"), you might have covered a lot of what that topic is about.

Just memorise the pronouns above. It is also possible to make acronyms from the first letters of a series of pointers, like AIR-BOC. Once you see what the letters stand for, you may see how you are helped by it: it jogs the memory and helps us to cover relevant aspects of analysis work. A few more acronyms are given further down.

Acronyms work like handles - fixed memory pegs - that can be used over and over for different issues to cover asked-for sides to a poem, a novel, a movie, textual matter or real-life happenings and persons. Acronyms help the sorting of the material too. Different acronyms reflect varying approaches to literature analysis in general.

Acronyms (words made of letters from other words) condense information in a handy manner and make it quite easy to get to it over and over again. Relevant acronyms, if well remembered, give surveying help, serve the memory. They may also help you make sure you are not totally in the dark about a subject. As for the acronym AIR-BOC, it relates to well established features of criticism. By it, understanding, discussing, and analysing poetry and prose may be eased.

The AIR-BOC item should perhaps be learnt first of the listed memory handles (acronyms) on top of the page.

Mastering things well can be a source of joy. In some waters (terrains) what you need first and foremost, is to remember good points. If so, be allied with solid knowledge of how memory works.

A sideways look: O TAKQ-SPIRR

O TAKQ-SPIRR is an acronym that represents a general way of study textbooks and the like. It is useful to many [PQRST and others]

Get to the bare bones of subjects and try to bring them into your Long-Term Memory (LTM), one by one, if needs be. Learning is had down memory lane in the first place. You may be surprised at how easy it can be at times.

Literary study made really easy

When we comment, analyse, expose or interpret a text, sane moderation could be wanted. But after all, there could be more than just one appropriate way of doing things. Bear that in mind.

The points that follow are rooted in a well-written, slender primer by Leon Dickinson (1959), It is aimed at university students and others too. Acronyms are made to suit main points in it.



AIR-BOC can be used when approaching a text or film at first, and tentatively. According to this, you may approach and study a text somewhat tentatively in relation to such as:

A  Author - Or maker: It's the source of some form of intellectual or creative work.

I  Identity - Study and express things about the work with a view to its own inherent identity, ie the work as an entity in itself, in its own right.

R  Readers - Who were/are they? How did/do they respond? Another angle: "Popular literature no longer springs from the people; it is handed to them." [EB]. But significant readers evolve ideas on top of thoughtful reading. You may study them.

B  Background - Judge it as it is. And reflect if it pleases, that a work's background may reflect or show both stances and good themes in itself.

O  Other literature - You may check that up. Things to consider: language, national origin, historical period, genre, and subject matter with similar works, perhaps, or other outputs by the same maker.

C  Criticism, critics - Past and present. Seminal idea: "The English critics ... largely confined themselves to acknowledged masterpieces and general ideas." [Britannica Online]

To be of service, the letters of the acronym AIR-BOC are to be read, understood and next remembered. Or look them up! In any case, good acronym 'pegs' can and should make learning and express writing easier. We may draw on them to check that we have covered basics of an issue. It can be great help.


ATRI-DAID for Competent Criticism

TO DELIVER criticism or critique, pay attention to and appraise (estimate the value or quality of) things like:

A  Artistic whole - Think of what makes the text an artistic whole if you can. Vent some opinions if you care.

T  Theme - Think up the theme or themes that are used. Themes can be subjects or topics of discourse or of artistic representation, and concerns. Ask: "What is it about"? Sum it up and you may arrive at themes.

R  Restricted criticism - Book criticism, text criticism: It may be very good for the inexperienced writer or critic to restrict (limit) his or her criticism to the work at hand, the work itself.

I  Intention of author - An authors expressed intentions may be interesting, but above that is how the text or work actually works on readers. That may be different, (a) as author intentions may not be realised in full or halfway or less; and (b) one may expect different outlooks from different readers. We should allow for that.

D  Describe - Describe well so as to infer or go into meanings that are thought much of. You could do well to focus on the whole product and the main, central and salient parts, if any.

A  Analyse the story - When you analyse things, first think How well is it narrated? How is the content handled? Well enough? Those questions may open up things for you. Try to tell significant things from the content and elucidate well - fine passages too. Techniques of narration belong to things you should look into. Also, you could find what is called broad criticism helpful, or you may restrict your stuff to the text itself.

I  Illuminate somewhat - - if you can or dare. There may be roles, structures, and meanings you may want to search. Illuminate through the use of good concepts and samples. A text may be more broadly illuminated through inferred meanings on top of that again.

D  Dear, oh dear - "Dear" - what is in the work of costly value, perhaps. We would not look too much into bygones, but others prefer it differently. Try to sort out what's not cheap, but nice and sweet-looking instead. To give vent to plausible surprises, annoyance etc may be well too.

Welcome or even dear criticism links up the parts of criticism to the whole somehow, and attains a fine organic wholeness on its own, in its own right. Some may also gain an artistic presentation in so doing. It depends on what is welcome and called for, among other things. You should play safe unless explorations and deviations are very welcome - that's in the real world.

To criticise or bring critique can be done on many levels and through a lot of angles. Before you form a judgement (evaluation), analyse and assess to avoid blunders and scapegoating. This implies you are to handle important facets of the content and perhaps language too - it depends. There are settings where an impressionistic criticism may be called for. That means you take your impressions as a base. There are others where the author's intentions are in focus, and so on. Bear in mind:

"What the author actually did counts, maybe not what he tried to do."

You could try to get to a point of view that helps you to illuminate the form (how the text is written), the setting and important themes. You may vent some opinions after you have built such a platform. Vent some opinions as to the artistic wholeness, for example.

There are many other sides to a good presentation than what these pointers tell. Bear that in mind.


STERN OSCAR: Sort out predominant character elements

There are other elements to go into than the ones below, but we have sought to make a fair key selection, all in all. And remember that the listing may be expanded. You or a fictional character may be characterised. In fiction it may be through elements like these:

S  Statements - Author statements that appear particular and outstanding.

T  Towering traits and thoughts - Search for towering character traits involved in (eg. beautiful) appearance, practical successes, skills, and damages. Also: predominant mental positions or thoughts, the arguments and claims held.

E  Externals - Externals may include one's possessions and the like.

R  Revelation

This refers to direct revelation. It's an author's devise where he informs us "how it is" straight away.

N  Nipple (added) - A nipple sticks out or has that potentiality; it may be covered for a while, waiting for intimate deals etc. One should try to go into "things of nipples" figuratively.


O  Others - The reactions of others as they are expressed, is a useful devise. Questioning could ease your thought in the matter; ask: "How, where, when, why, when and who react? And how far?"

S  Speech - The exceptional may be looked at first. Speech is a way of characterising that employs things like dialect, defects and shortcomings. Author's misuse of speech may be looked on as mean or low if it raids worth, and maybe too cheap to be of real life value. After all, Jesus spoke a dialect, Aramaic, they say.

C  Confidant? - Is there a confidant or confidante through which one is characterised?

A  Action - Actions or functioning speak louder than words. There is good and bad functioning. It's often like that.

R  Riding activities and routines - A riding activity includes routines; they often take place in the humdrum. Many don't aspire higher, many don't express over and above it - over works and drills done routinely.

To use STERN OSCAR, one has better be well-informed about individual works too. And for reliable character descriptions in real life, being well-informed is also needed. Psychology may focus on other facets too.

We find that characters may be marked by voluntary actions or assembled routines which they may find themselves fixed in. Such hallmarks may be more valid than airy or good-looking statements brought about.



Texts may be novels, short stories, dramas, poems and blends among them. Keys for text study are summed up by SKIP LIR, VIS MEA. A glance into Irish myth could serve to remember SKIP LIR, VIS MEA, and maybe not. If not, just ignore the myth and focus on the acronym.

The sea god of ancient Celts was called Lir. Celtic myths and Irish legends say little of Lir. His attributes were for most part conferred on his son. Mananan. (Ib.) Thus, skip Lir, we may say too . . . (Monaghan 2004)

Vis is Latin for "power"; mea, is "my, mine", said by a woman.

S  Structural grasp - The structural grasp of a poem is very important, but such a grasp is behind prose texts as well and makes for the artistic whole - the whole can be judged by its structure of parts. Structure shows how various parts or items are put together, organised. It may reveal the author plans and maybe procedures as well.

K  Character, Karaktär - - There are "flat and round" characters of fiction. Flat characters are two-dimensional in that they are relatively uncomplicated and do not change throughout the course of a work. Or perhaps they are stereotypes. By contrast, round characters are complex and undergo development, sometimes sufficiently to surprise the reader. You're also referred to the mnemonic STERN OSCAR above.

I  Imprecated, irresistible sounds - In poetic texts, sounds and sound-flow are important. Alliteration is just one example of use of sounds in regular, established ways. They play a role in prose too. In the opening paragraph of the second chapter of the novel Hard Times by Charles Dickens, there is a Thomas Gradgrind (gradually grind, or graduate grinder etc). The name is associated with mechanical, repetitive drudgery. One more: "Mr. Gradgrind . . . gradually grinds childish fancy, curiosity . . ." (Jane Vogel) [Link]

P  Plot - The structure of interrelated, selected and arranged actions by the author. A plot organises events in a course or 'movement'. Plot can also be understood, in some contexts, as an outline of the carrying events. There is a variety of interpretations of plots, what they are, and what is highlighted.


LI  Lief (dear) language - It is both figurative and rhetorical language with various relevant components (for your topic) - Figurative language is the flower of written communication - where the statement means something else (also over and above) what is literally expressed. Figures of speech are formed by extending the vocabulary of something already familiar and better known to something less well known. One may keep a tentative outlook for such as allegories, personifications, similes, mixed metaphors, figures of speech, synechdotes, and implicit metaphors. These are means to express well. Figurative language became one of the parts of a text that the New Criticism looked sharply at. For rhetorical language items: Links: [A  B]

R  Rhythm - Rhythm is essential to poetry; prose may exhibit rhythm but in a much less highly organised sense. Rhythm may be hard to define, but involves peculiarities of movement and repetition, and there is pattern and the overarching structure. Rhythm can be patterned recurrence of specific language features marked by some sort of regularity. Metre can be one way of of organising a poem's rhythm, but metre is not needed for poetry. There are metrical schemes to take into consideration too. And did you know that some authorities recognize a further source of poetic rhythm in the highly organized patterning of imagery?


V  View-points - A point of view (shooting angle in motion picture) reflects a standing or stance.

I  Ideas and imagery - We refer to ideas suggested, connotations, and imagery made use of first and foremost.

S  Setting - The place and time frame of the action of a narrative.


M  Meaning-making - Meaning in fiction can be debated. Figures of speech, connotations, obscure artistry, allusions and other means confer meaning-making on the art critics at times.

E  Esthetic relevance (US spelling) - This one is added here. - Let there be room for elegant use of aesthetic intuition (Cf. Thomas Huxley). It may work well to end a summary of a text by pointing to its artistic merits and hence artistic relevance.

A  Accommodating hivernantes (winter tourists) - (Also added:) You could make pregnant, poignant, and very well organised memo-summaries to last for "the winter" and further. [See mind maps, for example]

What is given above, shows elements commonly found in poetry and seeks to "knit" them to (a) keywords and (b) the first letters of the keywords in the form of acronyms. Further, there are many angles (orientations, -isms). Also, genres may blend.

  • Structural items;
  • Figurative elements;
  • Suggested connotations (almost the same in some cases);
  • Aesthetic (artistic) relevance.

The points above are really much compressed. To get more out of any of them, there are textbooks. A few are listed below.


Literary study, beginners' help, Literary criticism and the study help acronyms AIR-BOC, ATRI-DAID, STERN OSCAR AND SKIP LIR, VIS MEA, Literature  

Abrams, Meyer Howard, and Geoffrey Galt Harpham. 2012. A Glossary of Literary Terms. 10th ed. International ed. Andover, Hampshire: Cengage Learning/Wadsworth. (11th ed. 2014)

Atkinson, Richard et al. 1987. Introduction to Psychology. 9th ed. San Diego, CA: Harcourt, Brace, Jovanovich.

Baldick, Chris. 2001. The Concise Oxford Dictionary of Literary Terms. 2nd ed. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Bennett, Andrew, and Nicholas Royle. An Introduction to Literature: Criticism and Theory. 3rd ed. Harlow, UK: Pearson Education.

Dickinson, Leon. 1959. A Guide to Literary Study. New York: Holt, Rinehart and Wilson.

Eagleton, Terry. 1996. Literary Theory: An Introduction. 2nd ed. Minneapolis, MI: The University of Minnesota Press.

Monaghan, Patricia. 2004. The Encyclopedia of Celtic Mythology and Folklore. New York: Facts on File.

Nolen-Hoeksema, Susan, et al. 2015. Atkinson and Hilgard's Introduction to Psychology. 16th ed. New Delhi, India: Cengage India.

Pirie, David B. 2002. How to Write Critical Essays: A Guide for Students of Literature. London: Taylor and Francis.

Wolfreys, Julian, Ruth Robbins, Kenneth Womack. 2006. Key Concepts in Literary Theory. 2nd ed. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press.

Harvesting the hay

Symbols, brackets, signs and text icons explained: (1) Text markers(2) Digesting.

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