Reading for university should not be a passive process of turning pages, marking a few lines, and hoping that the information will sink in. Planning to return and re-read the course material before an
exam or the writing of a paper is an admirable goal, yet you won’t always have time to do so. Thus,
it’s crucial to get the most out of your reading the ﬁrst time through. Reading actively means that
you engage mentally with the text and keep some sort of physical record of that engagement,
usually in the form of notes. Active reading requires alertness and a willingness to think as you
read. Below are some suggestions for developing a more active approach to your reading. You may
ﬁnd that you need to adjust these techniques to your own preferences or according to the subject
a. Always read with a pen in your hand or the computer ready for use. Develop a system of notetaking
that helps you distinguish between overarching ideas and an author’s logical explanations or development of those ideas. Keep a record of how a concept is built up or elaborated in a particular text.,Also, your notes should distinguish between the overarching ideas and the details, facts, data and examples that support or illustrate those ideas. Experiment with capitalization, italics or bold type, and use symbols like arrows or bullet points.
b. Keep a record of your own critical responses to the reading. How does this text connect with
other texts you’ve read for this course? What gaps in your understanding of the subject does it seem
to ﬁll? What questions remain in your mind?
c. Avoid worrying about whether your responses are appropriate or well expressed. Think of them
as just the ﬁrst stage in a process of critical thinking that will eventually yield the more developed
ideas you will use in your essay. For example, noting that you’re confused about the author’s
presentation of idea A vs. idea B may eventually lead to a perception that there is indeed some
ambiguity in the text. This ambiguity can then be further explored and may eventually form the
basis of a thesis for your paper.
d. Ask the author some questions in your mind, or argue with him/her, noting down what you’ve
“said”. The more you’ve engaged with this material in writing, the easier it will be to write on these
topics in class. Your essays will also be strengthened because you will already have been doing
much of the thinking required for effective writing.
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