Reading Strategies

The Reading Process

Just like writing, reading is a process. And just like writing, everyone's process is different. This handout provides general suggestions for effective reading, but each individual will make use of different strategies.


Good readers skim the text before they read.

Skim the table of contents of books or section titles of chapters before you read. If an abstract is available, read the abstract before you read the article. Consider the "rhetorical situation" before you begin reading (the purpose and audience).

Good readers think of the strategies they'll need for the genre they're reading.

A dense scientific article will normally require more rereading and annotating than an article in a popular magazine. Reading a textbook chapter to understand terms for an exam will require a different strategy than reading a poem to understand the nuances of the word choices.

Good readers make quick mental "predictions" about what they expect the author to discuss next.

Reading is like driving: if you can get a feel for where the road ahead will take you, it's easier to drive. For example, if a paragraph begins with a general argument, you might "predict" more specific examples coming up to support that argument.

Good readers don't wait until the last minute to read.

It's difficult to read under pressure, just as it's difficult to write under pressure. As part of your "prereading" strategy, plan on giving yourself enough time to read so that you're not rushed.


Good readers are active, not passive.

Take notes as you read, either by annotating the text, using a highlighter, or keeping a reading journal. Underline key phrases or sentences. Consider making outlines or summaries. Keep in mind that your annotation strategy will depend on the purpose for reading. If you're reading a textbook chapter for a short-answer exam, you might focus on underlining keywords and definitions. If you're reading a novel and writing essay responses, you might jot down your responses to key passages in the text or in a journal.

Good readers focus on the meaning of blocks of texts, not individual words.

Sometimes beginning readers get bogged down in the meanings of individual words, rather than looking for a larger context. By focusing on the tone, main ideas, and arguments, rather than trying to understand each word, good readers can get at the meanings of words in context.

Good readers think about structure as they read.

Most writing falls within a specific genre with specific structures. For example, textbooks will often present the main idea of a paragraph in a "topic sentence," with the rest of the paragraph offering supporting details for the topic sentence. Novels will focus more on showing meaning through the actions of the characters, and poems require a close reading of individual words and phrases. The more aware you are of the structure of what you're reading, the easier it is to recognize key passages or sentences.


Good readers are not "speed readers."

Faster reading is not always better reading. Good readers, like good writers, revise. For shorter readings, don't be afraid to read the text more than once. For longer readings, don't be afraid to reread passages that you're having difficulty understanding. The readings you encounter in college are usually challenging and require rereading.

Good readers collaborate.

Part of rereading could mean sharing your response to a text with others--peers, instructors, friends--to help you understand difficult passages. Get feedback to help improve your reading just as you would get feedback to help improve your writing.