1.1 Reading and Writing in College
Writing for Success
[Author removed at request of original publisher]
1. Understand the expectations for reading and writing assignments in college courses.
2. Understand and apply general strategies to complete college-level reading assignments efficiently and
3. Recognize specific types of writing assignments frequently included in college courses.
4. Understand and apply general strategies for managing college-level writing assignments.
5. Determine specific reading and writing strategies that work best for you individually.
As you begin this chapter, you may be wondering why you need an introduction. After all, you have been writing
and reading since elementary school. You completed numerous assessments of your reading and writing skills in
high school and as part of your application process for college. You may write on the job, too. Why is a college
writing course even necessary?
When you are eager to get started on the coursework in your major that will prepare you for your career, getting
excited about an introductory college writing course can be difficult. However, regardless of your field of study,
honing your writing skills—and your reading and critical-thinking skills—gives you a more solid academic
In college, academic expectations change from what you may have experienced in high school. The quantity of
work you are expected to do is increased. When instructors expect you to read pages upon pages or study hours and
hours for one particular course, managing your work load can be challenging. This chapter includes strategies for
studying efficiently and managing your time.
The quality of the work you do also changes. It is not enough to understand course material and summarize it on an
exam. You will also be expected to seriously engage with new ideas by reflecting on them, analyzing them,
critiquing them, making connections, drawing conclusions, or finding new ways of thinking about a given subject.
Educationally, you are moving into deeper waters. A good introductory writing course will help you swim.
Table 1.1 “High School versus College Assignments” summarizes some of the other major differences between
high school and college assignments.
Table 1.1 High School versus College Assignments
High School College
Reading assignments are moderately long. Teachers may
set aside some class time for reading and reviewing the
material in depth.
Some reading assignments may be very long. You
will be expected to come to class with a basic
understanding of the material.
Teachers often provide study guides and other aids to
help you prepare for exams.
Reviewing for exams is primarily your
Your grade is determined by your performance on a wide
variety of assessments, including minor and major
assignments. Not all assessments are writing based.
Your grade may depend on just a few major
assessments. Most assessments are writing based.
Writing assignments include personal writing and
creative writing in addition to expository writing.
Outside of creative writing courses, most writing
assignments are expository.
The structure and format of writing assignments is
generally stable over a four-year period.
Depending on the course, you may be asked to
master new forms of writing and follow standards
within a particular professional field.
Teachers often go out of their way to identify and try to
help students who are performing poorly on exams,
missing classes, not turning in assignments, or just
struggling with the course. Often teachers will give
students many “second chances.”
Although teachers want their students to succeed,
they may not always realize when students are
struggling. They also expect you to be proactive
and take steps to help yourself. “Second chances”
are less common.
This chapter covers the types of reading and writing assignments you will encounter as a college student. You will
also learn a variety of strategies for mastering these new challenges—and becoming a more confident student and
Throughout this chapter, you will follow a first-year student named Crystal. After several years of working as a
saleswoman in a department store, Crystal has decided to pursue a degree in elementary education and become a
teacher. She is continuing to work part-time, and occasionally she finds it challenging to balance the demands of
work, school, and caring for her four-year-old son. As you read about Crystal, think about how you can use her
experience to get the most out of your own college experience.
Review Table 1.1 “High School versus College Assignments” and think about how you have found your college
experience to be different from high school so far. Respond to the following questions:
1. In what ways do you think college will be more rewarding for you as a learner?
2. What aspects of college do you expect to find most challenging?
3. What changes do you think you might have to make in your life to ensure your success in college?
Your college courses will sharpen both your reading and your writing skills. Most of your writing
assignments—from brief response papers to in-depth research projects—will depend on your
understanding of course reading assignments or related readings you do on your own. And it is difficult, if
not impossible, to write effectively about a text that you have not understood. Even when you do
understand the reading, it can be hard to write about it if you do not feel personally engaged with the
This section discusses strategies you can use to get the most out of your college reading assignments.
These strategies fall into three broad categories:
1. Planning strategies. To help you manage your reading assignments.
2. Comprehension strategies. To help you understand the material.
3. Active reading strategies. To take your understanding to a higher and deeper level.
Planning Your Reading
Have you ever stayed up all night cramming just before an exam? Or found yourself skimming a detailed
memo from your boss five minutes before a crucial meeting? The first step in handling college reading
successfully is planning. This involves both managing your time and setting a clear purpose for your
Managing Your Reading Time
You will learn more detailed strategies for time management in Section 1.2 “Developing Study Skills”,
but for now, focus on setting aside enough time for reading and breaking your assignments into
manageable chunks. If you are assigned a seventy-page chapter to read for next week’s class, try not to
wait until the night before to get started. Give yourself at least a few days and tackle one section at a time.
Your method for breaking up the assignment will depend on the type of reading. If the text is very dense
and packed with unfamiliar terms and concepts, you may need to read no more than five or ten pages in
one sitting so that you can truly understand and process the information. With more user-friendly texts,
you will be able to handle longer sections—twenty to forty pages, for instance. And if you have a highly
engaging reading assignment, such as a novel you cannot put down, you may be able to read lengthy
passages in one sitting.
As the semester progresses, you will develop a better sense of how much time you need to allow for the
reading assignments in different subjects. It also makes sense to preview each assignment well in advance
to assess its difficulty level and to determine how much reading time to set aside.
College instructors often set aside reserve readings for a particular course. These consist of articles,
book chapters, or other texts that are not part of the primary course textbook. Copies of reserve
readings are available through the university library; in print; or, more often, online. When you are
assigned a reserve reading, download it ahead of time (and let your instructor know if you have trouble
accessing it). Skim through it to get a rough idea of how much time you will need to read the
assignment in full.
Setting a Purpose
The other key component of planning is setting a purpose. Knowing what you want to get out of a reading
assignment helps you determine how to approach it and how much time to spend on it. It also helps you
stay focused during those occasional moments when it is late, you are tired, and relaxing in front of the
television sounds far more appealing than curling up with a stack of journal articles.
Sometimes your purpose is simple. You might just need to understand the reading material well enough to
discuss it intelligently in class the next day. However, your purpose will often go beyond that. For
instance, you might also read to compare two texts, to formulate a personal response to a text, or to gather
ideas for future research. Here are some questions to ask to help determine your purpose:
• How did my instructor frame the assignment? Often your instructors will tell you what they
expect you to get out of the reading:
o Read Chapter 2 and come to class prepared to discuss current teaching practices in
o Read these two articles and compare Smith’s and Jones’s perspectives on the 2010 health
care reform bill.
o Read Chapter 5 and think about how you could apply these guidelines to running your
• How deeply do I need to understand the reading? If you are majoring in computer science and
you are assigned to read Chapter 1, “Introduction to Computer Science,” it is safe to assume the
chapter presents fundamental concepts that you will be expected to master. However, for some
reading assignments, you may be expected to form a general understanding but not necessarily
master the content. Again, pay attention to how your instructor presents the assignment.
• How does this assignment relate to other course readings or to concepts discussed in class?
Your instructor may make some of these connections explicitly, but if not, try to draw
connections on your own. (Needless to say, it helps to take detailed notes both when in class and
when you read.)
• How might I use this text again in the future? If you are assigned to read about a topic that has
always interested you, your reading assignment might help you develop ideas for a future
research paper. Some reading assignments provide valuable tips or summaries worth
bookmarking for future reference. Think about what you can take from the reading that will stay
Improving Your Comprehension
You have blocked out time for your reading assignments and set a purpose for reading. Now comes the
challenge: making sure you actually understand all the information you are expected to process. Some of
your reading assignments will be fairly straightforward. Others, however, will be longer or more complex,
so you will need a plan for how to handle them.
For any expository writing—that is, nonfiction, informational writing—your first comprehension goal is
to identify the main points and relate any details to those main points. Because college-level texts can be
challenging, you will also need to monitor your reading comprehension. That is, you will need to stop
periodically and assess how well you understand what you are reading. Finally, you can improve
comprehension by taking time to determine which strategies work best for you and putting those
strategies into practice.
Identifying the Main Points
In college, you will read a wide variety of materials, including the following:
• Textbooks. These usually include summaries, glossaries, comprehension questions, and other
• Nonfiction trade books. These are less likely to include the study features found in textbooks.
• Popular magazine, newspaper, or web articles. These are usually written for a general
• Scholarly books and journal articles. These are written for an audience of specialists in a given
Regardless of what type of expository text you are assigned to read, your primary comprehension goal is
to identify the main point: the most important idea that the writer wants to communicate and often states
early on. Finding the main point gives you a framework to organize the details presented in the reading
and relate the reading to concepts you learned in class or through other reading assignments. After
identifying the main point, you will find the supporting points, the details, facts, and explanations that
develop and clarify the main point.
Some texts make that task relatively easy. Textbooks, for instance, include the aforementioned features as
well as headings and subheadings intended to make it easier for students to identify core concepts.
Graphic features, such as sidebars, diagrams, and charts, help students understand complex information
and distinguish between essential and inessential points. When you are assigned to read from a textbook, be
sure to use available comprehension aids to help you identify the main points.
Trade books and popular articles may not be written specifically for an educational purpose; nevertheless,
they also include features that can help you identify the main ideas. These features include the following:
• Trade books. Many trade books include an introduction that presents the writer ’s main ideas and
purpose for writing. Reading chapter titles (and any subtitles within the chapter) will help you get
a broad sense of what is covered. It also helps to read the beginning and ending paragraphs of a
chapter closely. These paragraphs often sum up the main ideas presented.
• Popular articles. Reading the headings and introductory paragraphs carefully is crucial. In
magazine articles, these features (along with the closing paragraphs) present the main concepts.
Hard news articles in newspapers present the gist of the news story in the lead paragraph, while
subsequent paragraphs present increasingly general details.
At the far end of the reading difficulty scale are scholarly books and journal articles. Because these texts
are written for a specialized, highly educated audience, the authors presume their readers are already
familiar with the topic. The language and writing style is sophisticated and sometimes dense.
When you read scholarly books and journal articles, try to apply the same strategies discussed earlier. The
introduction usually presents the writer’s thesis, the idea or hypothesis the writer is trying to prove.
Headings and subheadings can help you understand how the writer has organized support for his or her
thesis. Additionally, academic journal articles often include a summary at the beginning, called an
abstract, and electronic databases include summaries of articles, too.
For more information about reading different types of texts, see Chapter 12 “Writing a Research Paper”.
Monitoring Your Comprehension
Finding the main idea and paying attention to text features as you read helps you figure out what you
should know. Just as important, however, is being able to figure out what you do not know and
developing a strategy to deal with it.
Textbooks often include comprehension questions in the margins or at the end of a section or chapter. As
you read, stop occasionally to answer these questions on paper or in your head. Use them to identify
sections you may need to reread, read more carefully, or ask your instructor about later.
Even when a text does not have built-in comprehension features, you can actively monitor your own
comprehension. Try these strategies, adapting them as needed to suit different kinds of texts:
1. Summarize. At the end of each section, pause to summarize the main points in a few
sentences. If you have trouble doing so, revisit that section.
2. Ask and answer questions. When you begin reading a section, try to identify two to three
questions you should be able to answer after you finish it. Write down your questions and use
them to test yourself on the reading. If you cannot answer a question, try to determine why. Is
the answer buried in that section of reading but just not coming across to you? Or do you
expect to find the answer in another part of the reading?
3. Do not read in a vacuum. Look for opportunities to discuss the reading with your
classmates. Many instructors set up online discussion forums or blogs specifically for that
purpose. Participating in these discussions can help you determine whether your
understanding of the main points is the same as your peers’.
These discussions can also serve as a reality check. If everyone in the class struggled with the reading, it
may be exceptionally challenging. If it was a breeze for everyone but you, you may need to see your
instructor for help.
As a working mother, Crystal found that the best time to get her reading done was in the evening, after
she had put her four-year-old to bed. However, she occasionally had trouble concentrating at the end of a
long day. She found that by actively working to summarize the reading and asking and answering
questions, she focused better and retained more of what she read. She also found that evenings were a
good time to check the class discussion forums that a few of her instructors had created.
Choose any text that that you have been assigned to read for one of your college courses. In your notes,
complete the following tasks:
1. Summarize the main points of the text in two to three sentences.
2. Write down two to three questions about the text that you can bring up during class
Students are often reluctant to seek help. They feel like doing so marks them as slow, weak, or
demanding. The truth is, every learner occasionally struggles. If you are sincerely trying to keep up
with the course reading but feel like you are in over your head, seek out help. Speak up in class,
schedule a meeting with your instructor, or visit your university learning center for assistance.
Deal with the problem as early in the semester as you can. Instructors respect students who are
proactive about their own learning. Most instructors will work hard to help students who make the
effort to help themselves.
Taking It to the Next Level: Active Reading
Now that you have acquainted (or reacquainted) yourself with useful planning and comprehension
strategies, college reading assignments may feel more manageable. You know what you need to do to get
your reading done and make sure you grasp the main points. However, the most successful students in
college are not only competent readers but active, engaged readers.
Using the SQ3R Strategy
One strategy you can use to become a more active, engaged reader is the SQ3R strategy, a step-by-step
process to follow before, during, and after reading. You may already use some variation of it. In essence,
the process works like this:
1. Survey the text in advance.
2. Form questions before you start reading.
3. Read the text.
4. Recite and/or record important points during and after reading.
5. Review and reflect on the text after you read.
Before you read, you survey, or preview, the text. As noted earlier, reading introductory paragraphs and
headings can help you begin to figure out the author’s main point and identify what important topics will be
covered. However, surveying does not stop there. Look over sidebars, photographs, and any other text or
graphic features that catch your eye. Skim a few paragraphs. Preview any boldfaced or italicized
vocabulary terms. This will help you form a first impression of the material.
Next, start brainstorming questions about the text. What do you expect to learn from the reading? You
may find that some questions come to mind immediately based on your initial survey or based on
previous readings and class discussions. If not, try using headings and subheadings in the text to
formulate questions. For instance, if one heading in your textbook reads “Medicare and Medicaid,” you
might ask yourself these questions:
• When was Medicare and Medicaid legislation enacted? Why?
• What are the major differences between these two programs?
Although some of your questions may be simple factual questions, try to come up with a few that are
more open-ended. Asking in-depth questions will help you stay more engaged as you read.
The next step is simple: read. As you read, notice whether your first impressions of the text were correct.
Are the author’s main points and overall approach about the same as what you predicted—or does the text
contain a few surprises? Also, look for answers to your earlier questions and begin forming new
questions. Continue to revise your impressions and questions as you read.
While you are reading, pause occasionally to recite or record important points. It is best to do this at the
end of each section or when there is an obvious shift in the writer’s train of thought. Put the book aside
for a moment and recite aloud the main points of the section or any important answers you found there.
You might also record ideas by jotting down a few brief notes in addition to, or instead of, reciting aloud.
Either way, the physical act of articulating information makes you more likely to remember it. After you
have completed the reading, take some time to review the material more thoroughly. If the textbook
includes review questions or your instructor has provided a study guide, use these tools to guide your
review. You will want to record information in a more detailed format than you used during reading, such as
in an outline or a list.
As you review the material, reflect on what you learned. Did anything surprise you, upset you, or make
you think? Did you find yourself strongly agreeing or disagreeing with any points in the text? What topics
would you like to explore further? Jot down your reflections in your notes. (Instructors sometimes require
students to write brief response papers or maintain a reading journal. Use these assignments to help you
reflect on what you read.)
Choose another text that that you have been assigned to read for a class. Use the SQ3R process to
complete the reading. (Keep in mind that you may need to spread the reading over more than one
session, especially if the text is long.)
Be sure to complete all the steps involved. Then, reflect on how helpful you found this process. On a
scale of one to ten, how useful did you find it? How does it compare with other study techniques you
Using Other Active Reading Strategies
The SQ3R process encompasses a number of valuable active reading strategies: previewing a text,
making predictions, asking and answering questions, and summarizing. You can use the following
additional strategies to further deepen your understanding of what you read.
• Connect what you read to what you already know. Look for ways the reading supports,
extends, or challenges concepts you have learned elsewhere.
• Relate the reading to your own life. What statements, people, or situations relate to your
• Visualize. For both fiction and nonfiction texts, try to picture what is described. Visualizing is
especially helpful when you are reading a narrative text, such as a novel or a historical account, or
when you read expository text that describes a process, such as how to perform cardiopulmonary
• Pay attention to graphics as well as text. Photographs, diagrams, flow charts, tables, and other
graphics can help make abstract ideas more concrete and understandable.
• Understand the text in context. Understanding context means thinking about who wrote the text,
when and where it was written, the author’s purpose for writing it, and what assumptions or
agendas influenced the author ’s ideas. For instance, two writers might both address the subject of
health care reform, but if one article is an opinion piece and one is a news story, the context is
- 1.1 Reading and Writing in College
- Learning Objectives
- Reading Strategies
- Planning Your Reading
- Managing Your Reading Time
- Setting a Purpose
- Improving Your Comprehension
- Identifying the Main Points
- Monitoring Your Comprehension
- Using the SQ3R Strategy
- Using Other Active Reading Strategies
- Pages from Chapter1-3.pdf
- 1.1 Reading and Writing in College