Interpretation: 4 tips for successful text analysis + example

Especially in school, you’ll have to write an interpretation every now and then. Whether in English, History or of course German – exams and homework often include text analysis. But even in humanities courses you often still have to interpret texts. You can find out exactly how to do this below.

You learn to interpret texts as a basic craft in school. This is often not so easy and requires some practice. We’ll explain how to build a good interpretation and what all belongs in a comprehensive text analysis.

What an interpretation is

What an interpretation is

Interpretation generally means the interpretation of something given. Already the Latin translation suggests it. Because translated the term means as much as Explanation or Interpretation. You can interpret different facts, for example the statement of an acquaintance, music, art and especially literature. On your educational path, you will probably encounter text interpretation often. So you should be able to master it well.

You can tell when text interpretation is required by keywords such as "interpret" or "analyze". Then you are expected to look closely at the text and read between the lines. Even though you may find this difficult at first, you can quickly learn how to interpret correctly and what belongs in a good interpretation. Because although much Interpretation is advantageous, there are also some formal principles, which you can use as a guide for your interpretation.

However, you should distinguish between an interpretation in your studies and an analysis as you learn it in school. While clear structures are given in school, you can use different structures in your studies – for example, in literary studies Methods of analysis refer to. In the following, we focus primarily on text interpretation for schools. However, you will also learn some things that can be beneficial for a text analysis in your studies.

How to write an analysis

How to write an analysis

An interpretation that you have to write as homework or classwork in school always follows the same scheme. In order to write a good text analysis, you should always keep this scheme in mind and work through the individual points so that you do not forget anything. It is best to write a notepad or a to-do list on which you note down which aspects you are still missing in your interpretation.

Structure of an interpretation

First of all, it is important that you structure your interpretation correctly. Because in text interpretation there is a fixed structurer, which you should always keep in mind so that your interpretation makes sense. This way you will not only make sure that you include all the important points in your analysis, but you will also have a logical structure that supports your train of thought and thus helps you to form good arguments that support your interpretation of the text. In general, you can divide your interpretation of the text into six steps divide.

1. IntroductionThe first step is, of course, to introduce your interpretation. What exactly is it about? In order to answer this question, you should of course look at the Title and Authors the text (sometimes the exact passage) that will guide your interpretation Year of publication of the text and briefly describe the Topic name. If you wish, you can also already give the text a Epoch Assign. However, make sure that your introduction not more than two sentences includes.

2. SummaryAfter the introduction, you should elaborate on the content. Do not concentrate on insignificant details, but give the Main plot in a structured way and go into the main characters a. It is often helpful if you divide the text into different sections Sections structure the text and give the content section by section. In this way, you can not only better understand the plot yourself, but also do your readers a favor. What else you have to consider for a good summary, you can find out here. How to write an English summary is explained in this article.

3. Interpretation hypothesisAfter you have reproduced the content of the text, you should formulate an interpretation hypothesis, which you will prove in the following analysis and interpretation. Describe how you interpret the text and what you are trying to prove below.

4. Formal analysisNow that you have a hypothesis, you can start analyzing the text. First go to the formal criteria of the text a. What do you notice about the structure of the text? Does the author use certain words or even slang?? If the sentence structure is conspicuous? In this step you should also linguistic stylistic devices enter. If a stylistic device is particularly frequent? Repeat certain Symbols and let it be assigned to a certain superordinate theme? If it is poetry, you should also pay attention in this part to the Metrics and the Rhyme scheme enter. With a prose text you should Narrative perspective and the Narrative time name it. What you have to keep in mind when analyzing a short story, you will learn here. Tips for a good poem analysis can be found in this article.

5. InterpretationNow you come to the actual interpretation of the text. In doing so, you address the findings of your previous analysis and interpret them in relation to your interpretive hypothesis. You should include your respective findings in your interpretation quotations occupy. Symbols and rhetorical devices can also support your arguments. Besides these formal aspects, the historical background and the Biography of the author play a decisive role in the interpretation. Characteristic Characteristics of the epoch You should also include them in your interpretation. Sometimes you can compare the text with other works by the same author or with other works from the same period and point out similarities and differences.

6. Conclusion: Finally, you summarize the most important findings of your interpretation once again. Were you able to confirm your hypothesis? And if so, why? The final part is like a conclusion and highlights the most important points once again.

In your studies you will often have to write interpretations of texts. Classic for this is especially the literary studies, in which prose and lyricism are in the foreground. There are different methods of interpretation. Well known and often used is especially the Hermeneutics. In addition to literary studies, the method is also used in theology, philosophy, law, social science, and psychology to reflect on, understand, and interpret texts. In terms of literary studies, we speak of literary hermeneutics, in which, in addition to the Author’s intention also on the History of origins and philological aspects how translations are dealt with. Within hermeneutics there are again different interpretations and approaches.

Rhetorical stylistic devices

Recognize rhetorical stylistic devices for your interpretation

Rhetorical stylistic devices play a special role in an interpretation. They help you to understand the text better and to read between the lines. With them you can support your arguments excellently. Rhetorical devices influence not only the Sound, they also ensure that certain passages of text emphasized in form or content become. Moreover, some facts can be explained with them more descriptive and be conveyed in a more comprehensible way. Linguistic images such as metaphors are particularly suitable for this purpose. Other stylistic devices, such as alliteration and anaphors, tend to influence the tone of a text, but also serve to emphasize its meaning. Rhetorical questions are intended to stimulate the reader to reflect. More rhetorical devices and their meanings can be found here.


In addition to the rhetorical devices, the characters, if any, naturally play an important role in the interpretation of the text. Especially when analyzing a novel, you should pay close attention to the characters Constellation of characters enter. When analyzing a poem or interpreting a short story, the relationship between the characters is usually only hinted at and a comprehensive characterization makes little sense. In poems, the lyrical I important and can take on different roles. Thus, there is an explicit lyrical I, which names itself, and an implicit lyrical I, which can only be further determined with the help of the interpretation.

If you are analyzing a novel or interpreting an excerpt from a well-known novel, it is important that you understand the characters as much as possible characterize. evidence in text passages what character traits the individual characters have and how they act in certain situations. How the characters interact with each other is also important information. In addition, you should also consider how the characters themselves are described.

Description of space and time

The description of time and space should also not be missing in your interpretation. In doing so, you should not only describe how the Place of action and in which time it is set, but also on the Narrative tempo enter. To determine the narrative tempo, you must interpret the narrated time in relation to the narrative time. If the narrated time is longer than the narrative time, there is a Time Lapse. Then events were summarized. If the narrative time is as long as the narrated time, one speaks of Time coverage. A Time Dilation passes, when the narrated time is shorter than the narrative time. Then short moments are described in detail, so that the description lasts longer than the described moment.

Interpretation using the example of Faust I

Interpretation of Goethe’s drama "Faust I

Goethe’s "Faust" is a well-known drama (first published in 1808), which is often used for drama analysis. Unlike the analysis of a poem or a novel, the structure of the drama and the stage directions must be taken into account in the analysis in order to be able to interpret it successfully.

To give you an idea of what an interpretation looks like, we have interpreted Goethe’s "Faust I" as an example. This is of course only one Short version. In your own interpretation you can go into much more detail. In addition, we have omitted the Introduction, Formal Analysis, and Conclusion, so that the focus is generally on the Interpretation. So that this is understandable, the interpretation hypothesis may not be missing of course. If you don’t know the work, we also have a synopsis for you.

Summary of Faust I

Doctor Faust is in a crisis and is looking for answers, but cannot find them through his research. Without further ado, he summons an earth spirit to get these answers, but it only makes fun of the desperate doctor. After this event, Faust considers killing himself, but decides against it at the last moment. The next day, Faust goes for a walk with his assistant Wagner, during which they are pursued by a black dog that Faust eventually takes back to his home. There, the dog reveals itself as Mephisto, who is Devil. The latter makes Faust an offer: the devil will try to make Doctor Faust happy if he will give him his soul in return.

Faust agrees and the two end up in a student pub where the mood is boisterous. Since Faust is not very enthusiastic about what is happening, Mephisto takes Faust to a witch who gives him a potion that is supposed to make Faust irresistible to women. There he sees the image of an attractive woman in a magic mirror. Faust and Mephisto go into the city, where they encounter Gretchen The two of them meet, who looks confusingly like the woman from the magic mirror.

Faust desperately wants to win Gretchen over, so Mephisto gets a jewelry box, which they place in Gretchen’s bedroom. Gretchen, however, brings the child to the church. Thereupon Faust gets her a new jewelry box, which Gretchen takes to her neighbor. At this moment, Mephisto arrives, certifying to the neighbor that her husband is dead. The neighbor sees Mephisto as a new partner and tries to get closer to him. Gretchen and Faust can now be alone and there is a kiss. Gretchen now also falls in love with Faust and they meet again, where the two talk about Religion talk. Faust is able to convince Gretchen to give the mother a sleeping pill so that the two of them can spend the night undisturbed. However, the remedy proves fatal.

As a result of their night together, Gretchen is pregnant, which her brother Valentin promptly finds out and confronts Faust. A fight ensues, in which Valentin dies. Mephisto travels with Faust to Walpurgis Night, where the mood is boisterous, but Faust can only think of Gretchen and eventually learns that she is to die because she killed her child. Faust wants to save Gretchen, but she does not want to go with him because she recognizes Mephisto as the devil. Faust and Mephisto flee, while Gretchen is executed and goes to heaven through God.

Possible interpretation hypothesis

The play is about Struggle between good and evil.

Possible interpretation

Possible interpretation of "Faust I

There are countless interpretations of Goethe’s drama, some of which even contradict each other. If you interpret the play in terms of the above-mentioned interpretation hypothesis, you could Name Mephisto as the evil and Gretchen as the good name. Faust is possessed by evil, but nevertheless feels attracted by goodness. Although Gretchen occasionally falls prey to evil, she decides in favor of good, especially when she recognizes evil as such. The good dies in the end, while the evil remains alive, but the good is redeemed after its death by going to heaven. So while evil seems to win first, good is superior on a much higher level.

TipYour interpretation should be supported by sufficient text passages and linguistic means so that it is coherent. Evidence in text passages why Gretchen is good and Mephisto is evil. What characteristics identify the two as good and evil? Which symbols and linguistic means strengthen this assumption?? Also consider the era in which the piece was created. Since the play took several decades to complete in 1808, it falls into the eras of both the Enlightenment, Sturm und Drang, Classicism, and Romanticism. In relation to the era, you could also address the conflict between science and religion, which is mainly carried out in the conversation between Gretchen and Faust about religion, in which the well-known Gretchen question also falls.

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