College Reading and Writing

You know how to read and write, but your college courses will challenge you to think more critically and work strategically. Here are some tips for effectively reading and writing at the college level.

Tips for College Writing

  • Trust the writing process: use pre-writing, drafting, peer review and revision to improve your writing. This process is about formulating your ideas and improving your writing. It is not simply about grammar.
  • Figure out what times and where you write best.
  • Use the Writing Center for all stages of the writing process.
  • Consider your purpose and your audience as you write. In other words, why are you writing it and who will be reading it.

Suggestions for Careful Reading

Slow Down

There are times for rapid reading (road signs, the newspaper perhaps), but difficult reading, as of dense theoretical or literary texts, requires spending some time to make sure you grasp what is being said.  Maybe re-read.  Reading is the protein of college.

Read Actively

This means reading to understand what the writer is saying (reading with the grain), and then thinking critically about what the writer is saying (reading against the grain).  Practically, this means marking significant passages and writing comments in the margins when appropriate.  For this purpose, a pencil might be better and more incisive than a highlighter.  It does take a little longer to read actively, but doing so makes the text useful to you because you will have decided what parts struck you, and to what extent you agree with what's been said.  For coursework, moreover, marking up your texts gives you a map for future writing and exam work—know what you will need to do with the text.  And if you have insights as you read, write them down!  It will be much easier to do so than to try to reconstruct the ideas later.

  • Use a dictionary, especially with unfamiliar (and sometimes even familiar) words that seem key to the writer.
  • Reconstruct the rhetorical context (figure out who is talking and why).
    • Who is the author?  What are her or his motives, purposes, etc.?
    • Who is the intended audience?  How well do you fit into that intended audience?
    • How does the context in which you are reading influence what you think of the text?
  • Determine the thesis and main points, as far as you can tell.
  • Note significant questions provoked by the text and bring them to class.
  • Discuss what you have read with others. Explaining something will help you better understand and will help you remember what you have read. Discussing something with others also helps you learn more as you hear the other person's perspective.
  • Understand your attention span. Take breaks rather than reading for two hours. This gives you the opportunity to think about what you have read before reading more and it refreshes you so you can be more alert.