Lesson 1, Topic 1
In Progress

1.7. Read, interpret and analyse texts

ryanrori January 24, 2021

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Reading experts tell us that meaning is not in the words on a page, but comprehension actually results from an interaction between the reader, the strategies the reader employs, the material being read, and the context in which reading takes place. A reader constructs meaning by making inferences and interpretations. 

Researchers have also found that reading and writing are integrally related, i.e. reading and writing have many characteristics in common and that readers increase their comprehension by writing. It is therefore a good idea to make notes while you are reading. 

How to read difficult text 

What is the right approach to reading difficult subject matter? The answer lies in one important rule of reading. You should read a text through superficially before you try to master it.

Look first for the things you can understand and refuse to get bogged down in the difficult passages. Read right on past paragraphs, footnotes, arguments and references that escape you. There will be enough material that you can immediately grasp … even if it is only 50 percent or less – that will enable you to understand the text in part.

A variation on the method of giving a text a first superficial reading is the technique of skimming. You will never get from skimming what reading and study can give you, but it is a very practical way of dealing with the mass of information available to you. By skimming you can get, often with surprising accuracy, a general sense of the contents of a book or article.

For skimming, the following steps are a good way to begin giving a text, in particular a book, the once-over:

  • Look at the title page and preface and note especially the sub-titles or other indications of the scope and aim of the book or the author’s special angle. 
  • Study the table of contents to get a general sense of the book’s structure; use it as you would a road map before taking a trip. 
  • Check the index for the range of subjects covered or the kinds of authors quoted. When you see terms listed that seem crucial, look up the passage. You may find the key to the author’s approach. 

If you need more detail, you will practise scanning:

Scanning involves running your eyes down the page looking for specific facts or key words and phrases. Scanning is a technique you often use when looking up a word in the telephone book or dictionary. 

In most cases, you know what you’re looking for, so you’re concentrating on finding a particular answer. This technique is useful when you’re seeking specific information rather than reading for comprehension.

Scanning involves moving your eyes quickly down the page seeking specific words and phrases. It works well to find dates, names, and places. It might be used to review graphs, tables, and charts

Strategies that can be used when scanning:

  • When scanning, look for the author’s use of organisers such as numbers, letters, steps, or the words, first, second, or next. 
  • Look for words that are bold faced, italics, or in a different font size, style, or colour. 
  • Sometimes the author will put key ideas in the margin.

Skimming and scanning are particularly valuable techniques for studying technical writing. Technical writers pack many facts and details closely together, and students react by shifting their reading speeds to the lowest gear and crawling through the material. Notwithstanding the fact that technical writing is usually well-organised, with main points and sub-topics clearly delineated, the typical student ignores these clues and plods through the chapter word-by-word, trying to cram it all in.

It is precisely these characteristics (organisation and density of facts per page) that make it so vital that you employ skimming and scanning techniques. 

All of the techniques discussed above will allow you to approach a text in a more organised way, and therefore increase your ability to learn from it.

When we read the text for the purpose of learning, we should read for:

  • detail i.e. extract information that is stated directly in the text
  • interpretation i.e. extract the meaning where the idea is there but not stated directly
  • analysis i.e. use the content to draw a conclusion or add your own idea: you have to sort out some information in the text to get an answer, or assess something in order to give an opinion