Written communication is different from oral communication. Non-verbal signals (posture, facial expression, gestures) that supplement spoken conversation are not available to writers, and even some verbal signals are not readily available to writers (tone of voice and inflection). A gesture or sound might indicate a certain mood in a face-to-face encounter—from disinterest to resignation to unspeakable joy.
Expressing stances and attitudes in written form demands utilization of language in a way not necessary in spoken conversation. Writers must be more intentional than speakers need to be with their choice and arrangement of words. Likewise, readers who hope to understand what an author intends to say must become perceptive at discerning how the words are crafted to communicate the author’s ideas.
Careful readers should embrace the following principles:
- An author’s choice of words matters. Tone of voice, intention, and disposition are embedded in an author’s choice of words and phrases.
- How an author structures his work is important for understanding how the author thinks—some sections are longer for a reason, and an author treats ideas in a particular order for important reasons.
Reading in the Information Age
Modern technology presents us with an overwhelming amount of potential reading material. Much is worthwhile, but much is dispensable. Even assigned reading material needs to be evaluated for its level of importance.
Good students are discerning when deciding how much time to allot to reading assigned materials. Decide how much time you have to read a book or article, and then decide how deeply you can afford to read the work.
Inevitably, you will need to skim some material in order to read important material more closely. When conducting independent research, you must be especially cautious in choosing your sources, since the amount of available material is nearly infinite! Ask yourself:
- Does this material discuss the most important aspects of this subject (according to you and your professor)?
- Will my understanding of the subject be severely lacking if I only skim this source?
- Will this source reward the time necessary to read it carefully? In other words, is it worth the time and effort?
As a general rule, only read a source deeply if you have good reason to do so. For example, if you will be tested on its details or if the author’s particular contribution to a subject is of some significance, the work would be worth reading closely. But even in this case, always skim the source before reading it deeply.
For more guidance on how to become a demanding reader, click the links below.
Reading Under Pressure
A Brief Guide to Better Reading
Becoming a Demanding Reader Home