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
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.
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.