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There is a near unanimous consensus among the greater writers that in order to be a better writer you must work to improve your reading first. Reading and writing go hand-in-hand – something many people fail to realize. Famous 20th century educator and leftist philosopher Paulo Freire went as far as to contend that the act of reading, and of learning to read deeply and critically, was the pathway to permanent liberation.

In order to be a better reader you not only have to read more, but you have to know how to read as well. Anyone can look at words on a page and repeat them to themselves (either out loud or in one’s head), but it takes actual skill and discipline to be able to really engage with that you’re reading, commit it to memory, cross-reference it with other things you have read and learned in the past, and pass real critical judgement on a text. If you are at university, one of your main goals should be to improve how and what you read. Below are some tips to help you improve your reading.


The simple fact of the matter is that in order to get better at reading you have to read more. While it does matter to a certain extent what you are reading (i.e. its intellectual substance), you can learn about reading from reading pretty much anything. Even the act of detecting bad, insincere, disingenuous, dishonest, cliched, or other forms of unimpressive writing requires effort and concentration.

If you are someone who likes to read for pleasure, and are just beginning your university career, one of the things you will likely come to realize is that with so much of your time dedicated to reading and writing, doing it for pleasure is a) difficult to find the time to actually do and b) perhaps not something you even want to do. Even if it is something you get immense enjoyment out of, it likely isn’t something you are going to want to do all day, every day. That being said, you should read all of your course material very carefully. Just paying special attention to your course material, and engaging with in ways your professor asks you to will improve your reading capabilities dramatically.


There are really two tasks at hand when striving to become a better reader: adding to your written and verbal dexterity, and learning how to read between the lines. The first concerns your ability to express yourself and your ideas, as well as to interpret and engage with the ideas of others. The second concerns your ability to assess the truth value, or the validity/legitimacy of what you are reading. Both are highly important, as well as interconnected.

To improve your reading, you have to be able to keep up with what you are reading. When you go from high school-level reading, to college and university-level reading, the leap in complexity can be quite overwhelming for many students. All of a sudden you are asked to grapple with big ideas, new terms, unfamiliar references and concepts, and to do so for multiple different courses. The more words in your vocabulary, the more literary, historical, scientific, sociological, etc. references you have stored in your head, the quicker you can understand what other people are talking about.

Secondly, in order to actually contend with what you are reading (i.e. to truly read and understand it), you must be able to decipher what an author is actually saying. It is a foolish reader who takes everything he or she reads literally. There is often subtext and ideological motivation to everything you read. A critical reading, writing, and rhetoric course equips you with the intellectual armaments to attack and defend against the misleading and the misinformed.


If you are reading for university-level courses, chances are, if you are serious about learning, you are taking notes while you read anyways. They will come in handy when it is time to take an exam, or develop a thesis statement for an essay. But to really become a better reader you should be taking notes on everything you read (at least in books). A good habit to get into is to read with a pen in hand so that you can annotate, or mark-up whatever it is you are reading (if it’s a hard copy), or to open a word document and create a list of words, concepts, terminology, and references that are unfamiliar to you. You can either define and expand on these as you read, or wait until you’ve finished your reading session and then do so.

Annotating is ultimately what helps you understand and retain what it is you are reading. By asking questions of the author, summarizing points in your own words, and writing down words and phrases of interest, you build your ability to both understand and interact with the texts you are reading; invaluable skills for any reader (and writer).

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