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Expert Reading

To attain understanding from a text: reread, take notes, read critically.

Given the task of understanding a text that was written (in part) for the purpose of exploring a complex topic, the question arises; "How do I accomplish that?" In truth, being an expert reader is a set of skills that takes much practice. Set goals that are realistic for yourself in this effort. Your understanding of a text needs to be deeper that merely knowing what the author says, yet less ambitious than reaching a decisive solution to the issue. Here are three practical actions you should take to become stronger reader of any text.

1. Read and Reread

Once is not enough. Reading strategically means involves reading repeatedly. Genuine experts reread important texts dozens of times. Indeed, one of the features of a great written work is that one may reread it time and again while finding new aspects to it each time. This is not unusual to philosophical texts. Popular radio stations program hit tunes to be heard repeatedly. Watching a favorite movie several times or television reruns does not seem odd to us. We should equally expect to give complex and challenging works our repeated attention. The key to rereading is how you approach it. Read a new text once straight through to get the sense of how it goes. Then read again slowly and deliberately using the note taking and critical techniques outlined here.

2. Take Notes

What's written is not the end. Many of the important things to learn from a complex text are not said directly in it. To understand aspects of such a text you need to extract, combine, contrast, and expand on what is written. Understanding is an active process, so you need to do something with the text to bring its meanings into your own thought. Passive scanning does not suffice. Your second or third reading of the text should result in your own written notes that provide a guide to that work as you interpret it. The notes that you take will activate the process of critical reading.

3. Read Critically

The passive reception of words is not critical reading. You read by looking for important details, separate the text into conceptual parts, combine different points into larger wholes, construct arguments from the claims presented, and interpret the text with a purpose. Let's further explore four functions of critical reading.

Contextual Information: Information about the article, author,
date of work.
The Problem: The main issue, topic, or question of the text
and the solutions considered.
Key Concepts: Important concepts used and defined in the text
or outside it.
Analyses - Comparisons & Contrasts: Work the author produces
in developing the topic and thesis.

When you learn to apply the processes of critical reading to a text by compiling notes from thoughtful re-reading, there is not text in this class that is beyond your capacity to understand and use to develop your own intellectual designs.

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