Read Well to Write Well: Strategies for Reading Comprehension

For a man to write well, there are required three necessaries—to read the best authors, observe the best speakers, and much exercise of his own style…It is fit for the beginner and learner to study others and the best. For the mind and memory are more sharply exercised in comprehending another man’s things than our own.

~Ben Jonson

The English playwright and poet Ben Jonson knew what it takes to succeed in writing: read, observe, and exercise. In other words, it is important to observe the work of others and practice often. If you can understand what you read, then you will be able to:

  • Use the knowledge you have gained to support your own ideas
  • Apply the structure and style that others use to your own writing.

But understanding what you read, or reading comprehension, takes practice and intention. Before reading a text, it will help if you set a purpose. Take a look at the reading and ask yourself the following:

  • What is the topic of the text?
  • When was it written?
  • What issue(s) will be addressed?
  • What conclusion(s) might the author reach about the issue(s)?

Then, as you read the text, consider these questions:

  • What reasons does the author give for their statements or belief?
  • Is the author using facts or opinions?
  • Has the author used neutral or emotive words?
  • What seems to be the writer’s position?
  • What assumptions does the writer make?

Finally, when you have finished the reading, answer these questions:

  • What does the author leave out?
  • Whose perspectives, experiences, or attitudes are not considered?
  • Do you accept the arguments made by the author? Why or why not?

Setting a purpose will help you become a better reader, and being a better reader will improve your writing. By asking yourself the above questions, you improve your close reading skills. While speed is important when reading, comprehension is more essential to being a good reader. Strong reading comprehension requires close reading and a critical eye. Close-reading is a thoughtful, critical analysis of a text, which focuses on both structure and meaning to develop a deep, precise understanding.

To help you improve your engagement with a text, you might consider making a few notes as you read:

  • Notes to explain meaning
  • Synonyms for unfamiliar words
  • Challenges to opinions that are expressed
  • Examples to support points that are made
  • Connections of your own experiences or wider knowledge
  • Questions about the text

By enhancing your reading skills, you will also greatly improve your writing ability. So, if you aspire to be an excellent write, don’t forget to pick up a book!

Source: Pavich, Jill. Cambridge International AS Level: General Paper Coursebook