Active reading is a process or technique of actively engaging with the text we are reading. Often, we read passively—that is, we take in the information we read without questioning its validity and without making personal connections with the text. When we passively read, we do not gain as much from our reading as when we actively read.
Why Actively Read?
In “Is Google Making Us Stupid?” Nicholas Carr claims deep reading is tied to deep thinking. If this claim is true, then moving beyond surface level readings in a way that truly engages with the text can help us develop our abilities to think more clearly and more intelligently about a topic and about the world in which we live. Additionally, active reading, as opposed to the passive reading we do when skimming items or reading for pleasure, can help us
- Save time because we pay more attention to what we read the first time and do not waste time rereading.
- Prepare us for exams because we gain a more in-depth knowledge of the material.
- Stay informed about a subject that interests us.
- Develop exposure to new ideas or have familiar concepts reinforced.
- Create a deeper understanding of life’s complexities.
- Achieve intellectual growth.
Goals of Active Reading
When we read actively, we try to understand the text thoroughly by reading slowly and carefully, pausing to question a main idea or to reexamine a passage that confuses us, and interpreting the larger meanings and implications of the text we’re reading. We try to keep our minds actively thinking about what the text means. In general, active reading allows us to
- Capture main ideas, key concepts, and details of reading.
- Target, reduce, and distill the needed information from the text.
- Engage with the text by making connections with our own knowledge and lives.
- Ask questions that help us think deeper about the content.
Strategies for Active Reading
Many techniques can help us read more actively. Here are a few of the main ones:
- Start by previewing the text.
- Scan the title, subtitle, footnotes, pictures, and headings in the text. What do these tell you about the topic being discussed in the reading?
- Think about what you know about the topic. You already know a great deal about many topics. What preconceived notions might you bring to the reading?
- Look for information about the author. What does the author’s other works tell you about his or her stance?
- Think about the rhetorical situation. What is the author’s purpose? Who is the author’s intended audience?
- Read the text carefully and write ideas about the text in the margins, on your own paper, or on sticky notes placed in the text.
- Circle and look up the definitions to words you do not know or cultural references that you are not familiar with.
- Underline the thesis or main idea.
- Ask questions about the text. Questions may consider topics such as the author’s purpose or goal in writing, his or her use of evidence to support claims, or his or her use of language. Pause to think of questions you have about the topic at various points in the reading.
- Make connections between your own life experiences or knowledge and the text. Does the argument agree with your prior experiences? Have you read other texts with similar arguments? Do you think most people would agree with the evidence presented in the text? Has your own life confirmed or denied any of the arguments in the text?
- Find patterns within the text. Does the writer use repetition to get a point across?
- Identify assumptions the author makes in presenting the argument. Are the assumptions valid? Do the author’s assumptions challenge your own? In what ways?
- Interpret key passages to find the underlying meaning. Are there parts of the texts that can be interpreted in multiple ways? How do you interpret key passages? What does the text really mean?
- Reread the text.
- Review passages that are difficult. Now that you’ve read the text, can you more easily identify the meaning of difficult passages? What can you look up that might help you dissect the text’s meaning?
- Find shifts in points of view or in voice and identify any language that might cue you into the underlying meanings in the text.
- Paraphrase difficult passages by restating the passage in your own words.
- Create a summary of the text’s main argument in your own words.
- Try to describe the text to someone who has not read it.