This is a list of questions that can be asked to enable you to observe the text carefully, to make note of what the text actually says. Each of these questions should be used before any attempt is made to interpret or apply the text.
The who question
Who are the main characters?
Observe the pronouns, including 'I, me, my, us, our, you, your, he, she, it, them, their, who'
Who do the pronouns refer to?
The what question
What events are taking place?
What is the order of these events?
What do we learn about the main characters?
What emotions are seen?
The when question
Look for words that identify time sequences such as, 'before, after, until, during, then, when'
Observe verb tenses, past, present or future
The where question
Look for places, including nations, towns, cities, villages, rivers, lakes or mountains mentioned.
Try and find geographical locations on a map
Simple contrasts are often identified by the conjunction 'but'.
Other contrast words include, 'although, nevertheless, otherwise, yet'
Look for contrasting ideas, characters, events, concepts or attitudes.
Comparisons (similar things)
Comparisons are often introduced with words such as 'also, as, just as, like, likewise, too'
Look for comparisons of ideas, characters, events or attitudes.
Look for repetition of words, phrases, ideas or themes. These are often repeated to give emphasis. Sometimes a word or phrase is repeated in a short passage in a book.
Key words are words which are particularly important in the understanding of a particular passage.
Figures of speech and figurative language
For a list of these see the Figures of speech page.
Reasons, results or conclusions
These are indicated by words such as 'because, for, however, in order that, so that, therefore'
These are often short statements which summarise and conclude the author's argument. They are indicated by words such as 'finally, last of all, therefore', and often found at the end of a paragraph, or in a short paragraph on their own.
These are instructions to the reader, telling them to take some action.
Warnings, predictions and promises
There are often conditions attached to these. Sometimes these conditions are implicit, and not stated in this particular passage.
These are often, but not always, introduced by 'if'
Look for questions, particularly rhetorical questions which are designed to make the reader think.
Observe any lists. Note if there is any order in these lists. Is there a definite progression?
Observe the author's logic in his argument. This is particularly important in Paul's letters, where each section of the book often builds on and develops the argument in the previous section.
Quotations of Scripture
Look for places in the New Testament where the Old Testament is quoted. The reference can be found on the list of quotations from the OT page.
These can from elsewhere in the Bible, but are often from the everyday lives of the original readers.
These include phrases such as, 'Truly truly I say to you, behold, I Paul'.
Does the author move to a climax of ideas or emotion?
Does he move from the general to the specific, from a question to an answer, from a statement to an
illustration, from a teaching to an application, or from a need to the remedy?
Compare the beginning and ending of the book or passage