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10 Active Reading Strategies

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Whether you’re reading Blue Pencil Career Success Monographs™, Dr. Laura Hills’ books and articles, our Blue Pencil Sharpener ™ blog – or for that matter, any documents, trade journals, newsletters, blogs, business books, e-books, or articles – chances are that you’re reading pretty regularly as part of your work and to develop your skills and knowledge.

But do you ever read what should be a useful in a text, yet fail to gain any helpful information from it? Or, do you have to re-read a text several times to get a full understanding of its content?

Below are 10 strategies to help you read more effectively. These active reading strategies will help you get the maximum benefit from your reading:

  1. Identify the purpose of your reading. If you’ve chosen to read a text to learn something new or to be entertained, you already have a general sense about what you’re trying to accomplish by reading. But why might your boss, colleague, client, instructor, or someone else ask you to read a text? Knowing the purpose of a reading assignment will help you focus your reading. You’ll also know whether you’ll need to read the entire text carefully or whether you can skim or pass over some of the sections.

  2. Formulate pre-reading questions. Before you begin to read, connect the topic to yourself and others. For example, ask: What do I already know about the topic? If the book was favorably reviewed or highly recommended, what did others say was helpful about it? If there are testimonial quotes on the book jacket, who gave those quotes and what did they say?

  3. Survey the text. When picking up a book for the first time, review the introduction and the chapter headings. The introduction should let you know who the book is intended for and what it covers. Chapter headings will give you an overall view of the structure of the subject. Skim articles and blog posts, too, to see how they’re organized. How long is the text? Are there sections divided by subheadings? Do sidebars accompany the primary text? Knowing the basic structure of the text before you read it will help you anticipate the content and provide structure to your reading experience.

  4. Connect your prior knowledge of the topic. You bring a wealth of knowledge and experience with you to the reading task. As you read, connect what you already know with the text.

  5. Read with a pen in hand. Put down your highlighter and make marginal notes or comments instead, either with a pen or electronically. Every time you feel the urge to highlight a portion of text, write instead. You can summarize the text, ask questions, give assent, or even, protest vehemently. You can also write down key words or bookmark the text to help you recall where important points are discussed. As you write, strive to enter into a dialogue with the author.

  6. Ask and answer your questions in a reading journal or on a separate piece of paper. Try changing the titles, subtitles, sections, sidebars, and paragraph headings into questions.  Then answer them. For example, if you were writing a question about this article on active reading, you might ask and answer questions such as: What is active reading? Why should I be an active reader? How time-consuming would it be for me to be an active reader?

  7. Write a summary of chapter or a portion of text in your own words. Do this in less than a page. Capture the essential ideas and perhaps one or two key points. This active reading strategy provides a great way for you to be sure that you know what the reading really says or is about.

  8. Teach what you’ve learned to someone else. Teaching is one of the most effective ways to learn. If you try to explain aloud what you’ve been reading, you’ll transfer the information from your short-term to your long-term memory. You’ll also discover quickly what you do and don’t understand.

  9. Read aloud sentences and portions of text that you are finding to be especially challenging. Speaking texts aloud will increase your reading comprehension.

  10. Look for “signposts” as you read the text. Phrases such as “most importantly,” “in contrast,” and “on the other hand” indicate the relationship of one concept to another.


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