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Reading Purposefully | Introduction

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A common mistake many readers make when tackling a new document or passage is to go straight to the first paragraph and start reading. When you do that, sometimes it takes a few paragraphs until you realize what the passage is about. At that point, you have already missed a great deal of information, so you end up having to start over.

Worse yet, sometimes you get to the end of the material when you realize you have missed a great deal of information from the beginning, which you need to understand the conclusion. Having to start over several times is a sign that you are reading ineffectively.

To avoid this problem, you should Read purposefully from the start.

Having to start over several times is a sign that you are reading ineffectively.

The Problem

When presented with a passage, you know little or nothing about it. Who is the author? What type of passage is it? What is it likely about? Have I read on this topic before?

If you start reading the material right away, it will likely take a few paragraphs, sometimes even a few pages, until you know enough about the passage to finally start “getting it.”

At that point, you may realize that you need to start reading from the top again once you understand the content better or you did not need to read that material to start with because you were looking for some different information.

So, what is the solution?

The Solution: Reading Purposefully

“Reading purposefully” has a literal meaning. You do not read by simply scanning each word, sentence, and paragraph in the text. Rather, you read with a clear purpose. When you read purposefully, you methodically build your understanding of the writer’s message as you move through the text.

You understand not only what you are doing (i.e., decoding a written message) but also, most importantly, why you are doing it. You are using all your reading skills to learn and understand deeply what the writer intended you to.

In short, you do not simply go through each word and sentence in the text for the sake of “finishing it.” Rather, you understand that the purpose of reading it to learn information that a writer coded into writing. (Franco, “True Purpose of Reading and Writing” and “ Advanced Reading Course”)

Reading purposefully helps you avoid the abovementioned problems and improves your comprehension and retention. Effective readers understand that to fully absorb all the information in the text, you need to engage with the material before, during, and after reading it.

When you read purposefully, you methodically build your understanding of the writer’s message as you move through the text.

One of the reasons readers resist using the technique is that, “It takes too long,” they say. “I just want to be done with the reading quickly.”

Rushing to read actually causes readers to waste time rereading information. It also results in poorer comprehension compared to moving through the reading process methodically and purposefully.

Different Purpose, Different Strategy

We do not always read for the same purpose. Consequently, our strategy changes depending on why we read something.

Contrast, for example, how you read just to enjoy learning new things as opposed to reading to studying the material, say, as a professional or college student. You likely approach reading differently. When reading an article just because the topic interests you, you will likely sit back and enjoy reading at your own pace. As a professional or student, your goal is to learn it deeply enough so you can discuss the topic without needing to consult the material.

Whether you read for the sake of reading or you read to study the content, you can still read purposefully though you would adjust the strategy a bit.

Strategies for Purposeful Reading

Let’s examine different strategies depending what your purpose for reading is.

Continue reading to learn how to read purposefully in two situations...