Reading & Writing Across Curriculum

Reading Strategies

It is often difficult for students to understand and remember the content of their reading assignments. The following strategies are useful for helping you understand, analyze, and remember any text:

Strategies for before you read:

Strategies for while you read:

Strategies for after you read:


Before You Read

    Identifying the Context

    Context means "surrounding ideas." Many important aspects of a text can be determined by clues that are not contained within the body of the text itself. Before reading, find out as much information about where, when, and by whom the text was created. The following areas are particularly helpful:
    1. the author: Who is it? Can you tell if it is a man or a woman? Does the text give any other information about the author, for example in a brief biography?
    2. the title: What information can you tell just from the title? Does it give any hints about the subject of the text?
    3. the type of text: Is the text fiction or nonfiction? Is it an essay, a play, a novel, a poem? Learn about different type of texts.
    4. the publication: If your text is an essay, article, short story or poem, it was probably published in a larger publication such as a magazine, journal, or anthology. Can you find out what the publication was? What information would you guess about the text based on the publication? (For example, we would expect an article from The Wall Street Journal to be about finance).
    5. time period: When was the text written? How might that contribute to the author's perspective?

    Scanning the Text

    It is always easier to understand a reading assignment if you know what to expect. Before you start reading, look quickly over the text and try to answer the following questions:

    1. Is the text divided into chapters or sections? Looking at the titles, what do you think each chapter or section will be about? Which ones might be particularly important or interesting?
    2. If the text is short, look at the opening sentence of each paragraph (also called topic sentences). What do the topic sentences tell you about the main ideas of the text?
    3. Does the text seem to be making an argument? If so, what do you think the argument will be? Can you find a thesis statement?

    Identifying Key Terms

    Often texts contain key terms that name important concepts. Try to find key terms, see if the terms are defined in the text, and if not, look in a dictionary to see if you can discover their meaning.

    Questions about key terms in textbooks:

    1. Are the terms marked in boldface writing?
    2. Does the textbook define the terms?
    3. Does the chapter include a list of key terms?
    4. Does the textbook have a glossary (list of terms and definitions) at the back?

    Questions about key terms in other types of readings:

    1. Are any words repeated heavily in the text?
    2. If so, are you familiar with the repeated word? If not, look it up in a dictionary or online.

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While You Read


    • Annotation means writing notes in your text as you read. Readers usually annotate by writing in the margins (outside edges) of a text. They might also underline or highlight important passages.
    • Professors in college expect that students are annotating their texts. In fact, they often forget to tell students to annotate because they assume students are doing it already!
    • Annotation is an important part of the reading process. When you annotate, you are actively working with the text, helping your comprehension and retention. In other words, annotating will help you understand the text, because you are interacting with it. It will also help you remember the ideas from the text when you discuss it in class or write a paper about it.
    • Here is an example of a step-by-step process for annotating:
      1. Preread: Note title & heading. Predict. Skim.
      2. Read a few paragraphs or a short section carefully and reflectively. Speed is not important at this point.
      3. After reading the short section or a few paragraphs, stop and think about the key ideas.
      4. State the key ideas out loud in your own words.
      5. Note those key ideas in the margins.
      6. Ask yourself whether the key ideas make sense to you.
    • Here are some other ways of annotating a text:
      1. Brief summaries of the text in your own words.
      2. EX. Examples or concepts.
      3. Graphs, Charts, Rough Drawings which illustrate the concepts.
      4. Possible Test Questions.
      5. ? = confusing or puzzling ideas.
      6. Selectively underlining interesting words or phrases

    Adapted from Simpson and Nist, "Textbook Annotation: An Effective and Efficient Study Strategy for College Students," Journal of Reading . Also thanks to SFSU.

    Annotation information provided by Elena Cole.

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After You Read


    Summarizing means writing a brief description of a text's key points. Summarizing is an excellent way to make sure you understand the main ideas of a text and to remember the text later on.

    More explanation of how to write a summary.

    Writing a journal

    • Give the title of the reading, the author's name, and the pages you're responding to at the top of your response.
    • Briefly summarize the reading: this summary should contain the title, the author's full name, and the main point and/or event of the reading as you understand it. It will not contain your opinion.
    • Choose an approach to your response:
      • Freewrite
      • Dialectical journal
      • Question paper

    Journal information provided by Elena Cole.

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This page was created by Meghan Swanson and Karin Spirn.


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Meghan Swanson
RAW Coordinator


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Originally created by
Karin Spirn and
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Page last modified: April 25, 2017