How to Read Well: Four General Steps

Skillful reading is an important part of becoming a skillful writer. Following are four steps that will make you a better reader both of the selections here and in your reading at large.

Concentrate as You Read

To improve your concentration, follow these tips. First, read in a place where you can be quiet and alone. Don't choose a spot where a TV or a video game is on or where friends or family are talking nearby. Next, sit in an upright position when you read. If your body is in a completely relaxed position, sprawled across a bed or nestled in an easy chair, your mind is also going to be completely relaxed. The light muscular tension that comes from sitting upright in a chair promotes concentration and keeps your mind ready to work. Finally, consider using your index finger (or a pen) as a pacer while your read. Lightly underline each line of print with your index finger as you read down a page. Hold your hand slightly above the page and move you finger at a speed that is a little too fast for comfort, This pacing with your index finger like sitting upright in a chair, creates a slight physical tension that will keep your body and mind focused an alert.

Skim Material before You Read It

In skimming you spend about two minutes rapidly surveying a selection, looking for important points and skipping secondary material. Follow this sequence when skimming:
  • Begin by reading the overview that precedes the selection.
  • Then study the title of the selection for a few moments. A good title is the shortest possible summary of a selection; it often tells you in just a few words what a selection is about.
  • Next, form a basic question (or questions) out of the title. Forming questions out of the title is often a key to locating a writer's main idea your next concern in skimming.
  • Read the first two or three paragraphs and the last two or three paragraphs in the selection. Very often a writer's main idea, if it is directly stated, will appear in one of these paragraphs and will relate to the title.
  • Finally, look quickly at the rest of the selection for other clues to important points. Are there any subheads you can relate in some way to the title? Are there any words the author has decided to emphasize by setting them off i italic or boldface type? Are there any major lists of items signaled by words such as first, second, also, another, and so on?

Read the Selection Straight Through with a Pen Nearby

Don't slow down or turn back; just aim to understand as much as you can the first time through. Place a check or star beside answers to basic questions you formed from the title, and beside other ideas that seem important. Number lists of important points 1,2,3,.... Circle words you don't understand. Put question marks in the margin next to passages that are unclear and that you will want to reread.

Work with the Material

Go back and reread passages that were not clear the first time through. Look up words that block your understanding of ideas, and write their meanings in the margin. Also, reread carefully the areas you identified as most important; doing so will enlarge your understanding of the material. Now that you have a sense of the whole, prepare a short outline of the selection by answering the following questions on a sheet of paper:
  • What is the main idea?
  • Wat key points support the main idea?
  • What seem to be other important points in the selection?
By working with the material in this way, you will significantly increase your understanding of a selection. Effective reading, just like effective writing, does not happen all at once. Rather, it is a process. Often you begin with a general impression of what something means, and then, by working at it, you move to a deeper level of understanding of the material.

Source English Skills with Readings (9th Edition) - John Langan - ZoĆ© L. Albright - McGraw-Hill Education (International)

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