AssignmentWork Payment (USD)
Post Your Query





This chapter will help you improve your college-level reading skills.  The chapter is not intended to provide study-skills advice or to help you read only your textbooks more quickly and efficiently.  Granted, you will do much of your reading in textbooks over the next few years, but a sophisticated, college-educated reader must also be able to read, understand, and evaluate journal articles, editorials, blogs, biographies, histories, essays, scholarly books, and many other forms of written communication.  Let’s face it, many of today’s college students aren’t exactly thrilled to hear that college work includes a great deal of reading.  If you’re one of those students, we’ll try to persuade you in this chapter that you should read more often and more carefully than you may be accustomed to.  And we’ll offer advice for sharpening your reading skills, advice that even accomplished and dedicated readers might find useful. 




Why read?


You may wonder why you’re being asked to read a chapter such as this or take a course on reading.  After all, you can read.  Although there have been a few shocking cases of truly illiterate students graduating from high schoo chances are you wouldn’t be in college if you couldn’t read this sentence. Simply put, reading is the decoding of printed symbols first into sound and then into meaning, something we learned in the earliest grades when we were shown three consecutive letters – C  A  T – and asked to “sound out” the word and tell what it meant.  Eventually we learned how to decipher longer units of meaning—phrases and sentences—and to follow a sequence of ideas expressed in stories, poems, and essays. It’s something you’ve been doing now for most of your life. 


But recent evidence suggests that today’s college students do not read as much or as well as their predecessor  And some educators fear that when today’s students are no longer forced to read—when you no longer have to wrestle your way through a philosophy or history book, read a novel for literature class, or scan the daily paper for current events—you simply won’t. You’ll depend on moving images (television, movies, YouTube) and on sound (music, audio books, radio, phones) for information and entertainment.  Occasionally, or so the argument goes, you’ll visit online sites, where you’ll scan quickly for non-textual graphics (pictures, charts, icons) and scan the boldfaced, italicized, or highlighted text for whatever information you need.  You’ll continue to read blogs (especially and perhaps only those that reflect your own opinions), FaceBook pages, e-mail, text messages, and any documents required at your workplace, but you won’t read longer, more complex material such as journal and magazine articles (whether in print or online), novels, editorials, history books, memoirs, biographies, and so on.  In a culture based primarily on images and sounds, reading will eventually disappear as both a necessity and a pastime.  Televisions have already replaced magazines in doctor’s waiting rooms, on airplanes, even in bathrooms.  And many young people wile away downtime not with books but with movies and games on tiny little screens (that only young people can see!).


So what? you might ask.  With so much information available in time-saving, simple, abbreviated forms—in sound bites, brief video clips, user-friendly Web pages, updates and warnings sent right to your cell phone—why bother to read at all?  Most of the reasons for reading can be divided into three broad categories:


We read for information and instruction.  We read instructions, recipes, movie times, box scores, and other purely informative sources.  We also turn to textbooks, online and print encyclopedias, history books, newspapers, magazines, journals, how-to manuals, advice columns, and many other sources for the information and practical guidance we need to understand, survive, and participate in our world.  The information we seek needn’t be immediately useful.  We may read to discover where an opposing political party stands on an issue or how another religion deals with the notion of an afterlife, or we may simply be curious to know how minds other than our own perceive and interpret the world.  Certainly, instructional videos, documentaries, news reports, and photographs provide helpful information on a range of topics, but reading permits us to investigate issues—especially complicated and esoteric issues—that cannot be fully developed in visual media.  And even if in the future all known information were available on film, some people simply learn and retain more of what they read than what they see, which means that reading for information, at least for some people, will always be necessary.


We read for entertainment.  As with reading for information, some people simply prefer to read for entertainment rather than watch television or go to movies.  We might read to laugh, cry, tremble or dream.  This particular impetus may seem to be vanishing as fewer and fewer people turn to works of the imagination—novels, short stories, and poems—for the sheer enjoyment of reading.  Literature, however, is not the only reading that provides pleasure.  Many readers enjoy biographies, histories, memoirs, critical reviews, philosophy, cultural analysis and many other non-fiction forms of writing.  While these genres might provide information, many people read them just as much for the joy of turning words into meaning, reveling in the beauty of language or an author’s unconventional or eloquent style, imagining the world depicted on the page, and escaping into imagined or historical places.  For many people, reading is its own reward.  People who simply love to read will study the back of the toothpaste tube or the advertisements on a placemat not so much to learn something as to experience the joy of making meaning from the printed word.


We read for enlightenment, knowledge, and wisdom. We read to discover something significant about life, to reinforce or discover our values, and to improve ourselves in profound and fundamental ways.  Beyond being informed about a topic, for example, we might wish to truly know a subject, to master it, take possession of it, understand how its parts are related to one another and to the whole.  We might read to know ourselves better: to put language to our deepest desires and fears, overcome trauma, improve our relationships, strengthen our faith, interpret our dreams, establish a philosophy of life, deepen our appreciation for culture, or formulate a political perspective.  We read for inspiration and to ignite our own creative fires.  Reading also invites us out of ourselves—to discover people and places beyond our experience and to envision a better world.  For many readers, literature provides moral guidance and advice for living as good citizens.  Movies and television shows can certainly have a powerful impact on our understanding of the world and our place in it, but for many people reading provides a deeper and more personal connection to significant, life-altering issues.


There are, of course, other reasons to read.  Many readers believe, for example, that grappling with difficult material helps sharpen their mental abilities, perhaps helping to stave off the effects of age-related decline in memory and cognition.The desire for companionship might motivate someone to pick up a book to share time with its author and characters.  For many of us, reading is simply an unbreakable habit, even an addiction, begun in childhood.  And it’s foolish to deny that many student read solely to avoid failing a course.  But, generally speaking, many life-long readers freely pick up articles and books to gain information, pass the time enjoyably, and deepen their knowledge about themselves, the world, and its people.


Questions for Discussion


1.      How were you taught to read?  Can you recall the methods used by your teachers?

2.      What were your readings experiences in high school?  Were you assigned a lot of reading?  What are some of your reading strategies?  How do you approach a reading assignment?

3.      Do you enjoy reading?  If so, do you enjoy reading more for information, for enlightenment, or for entertainment?  How much time each day do you devote to reading that is not required by your teachers?  If you agree that today’s generation of students does not read as often or as well as previous generations, can you offer any reasons for this other than the ones provided in the text (reading has been replaced by communication through image and sound)?

4.      Do you think you’ll have much reading to do in your chosen profession?  Do you think we are right in arguing that you should read more often? 

5.      Have you published anything?  If so, discuss the purpose of one of your publications.  If you’ve maintained a blog, talk about the topic and purpose of your blog.  What audience are you targeting?  What reactions do you hope to generate in your reader?  Do you maintain a FaceBook page?  Of all possible reader reactions to the material on your page, which would please you the most?  What do you want visitors to think or feel about you? 

6.      We’ve all been asked the question, “If you know you were going to be stranded on a desert island for a year, what books would you take with you?”  What books—actual or made up—would you take in each of the three categories: instructive, entertaining, and enlightening? 








The Hidden Benefits of Reading


Often we read a single work for more than one purpose.  True, we may read the movie schedule only for information, and we can read a nineteenth century British novel purely for entertainment, or for the information it contains about life in Victorian England, or for how it might alter our attitudes and perhaps our behavior toward children or the working poor.  But it’s just as likely that we’ll read the novel for two or three reasons at once.  Or we may start out reading for information and find ourselves entertained and even inspired.  Reading often surprises us.


In fact, it is the unexpected influences and effects that we would lose were we to forsake reading for the information, entertainment and enlightenment provided exclusively by sounds and images.  Reading, in fact, may affect us in ways that we are unaware of.  Here we’re talking not about the purpose of reading (for information, etc.), but about the effect, about what is gained in the actual process of decoding printed symbols into meaning.  What does the act of reading do for us?  Among the more subtle, life-long effects gained in the act of reading are the following possibilities:


Reading might make us more tolerant and empathetic.  The literary characters and the historical figures we meet in books often elicit our sympathy and admiration, which may contribute to our social skills.  Additionally, because reading requires that we listen to the voice of another person and make every effort to understand that person’s intentions and meaning, the very act of reading forces us to think momentarily like someone outside ourselves.  We don’t have to agree with what we read, but we must pay generous attention.  Also, because reading takes place in language, we must supply the images—the sights, sounds, smells, tastes, and sensations—evoked by words, which helps to develop, as the word image suggests, our imagination.  Poets for generations have suggested that an active, well-developed imagination allows us to better empathize with real people whose experiences may be alien to our own. Reading, then, creates a cycle of understanding and tolerance—for the “other” that we encounter in the text and for a world of people outside our familiar circle. 


Reading might make us smarter.  Certainly the more we read, the more we learn.  But the act of reading—not just, in this case, the content of what we read—also helps to sharpen our intellects.  When reading, we immerse ourselves in a sea of language where we must actively connect the individual words, sentences, paragraphs, sections, and chapters to one another; and we usually make connections among the various things we’ve read, seeing, for example, similarities and differences between one book and another on the same subject.  We must follow entwined plot threads or intricate arguments, connecting premises to one another and to the conclusions that follow them.  We must make inferences, fill in gaps, recognize patterns, and look for unifying themes. The act of reading can, therefore, help to foster in us the ability to make connections on a grander scale, outside the realms of the printed word.  Intelligence has many definitions, but among the many facets of intelligence is the ability to connect the disordered chaotic fragments of life into a unified whole, to recognize patterns and to connect disparate idea.


Reading might make us more introspective, more contemplative.  In a world where information often assaults our senses in flashy graphics, reading slows us down and gives us a chance to reflect more deeply on the conditions of our lives.  When reading we control the pace of the images, ideas, and information presented to us.  We can pause to reflect on an interesting or provocative comment.  A truly profound statement might make us ponder the truth it contains.  We can pore over a word—“elementary”— listening to its sound, allowing its connotations to recall emotions and memories.  One of the benefits of learning to read better, and therefore more quickly, is that rapidly processing the printed word allows more time for reflection and contemplation.  It’s true that we can pause recorded media, but we would most likely disturb our enjoyment of a movie if we paused every few moments to think about what had just been said or shown.


Reading makes us better readers.  This may be self-evident in the way that batting practice makes us better hitters, but it’s worth repeating to college students that the need to read well does not end on graduation day.  And because the habits, skills, and attitudes—both good and bad—formed in college tend to endure and intensify in life after college, learning to read well now will make life easier later.  It’s hard to imagine a profession that doesn’t require employees to read constantly: memos, letters, e-mails, progress reports, statements, briefs, white papers, executive summaries, feasibility studies, annual reports, and on and on.  Away from work, you can look forward to reading mortgage contracts, insurance forms, tax instructions, your children’s homework assignments and all the paperwork their teachers send home.  There’s no escape.  But it will all go much more smoothly if your reading skills are sharp.



EXERCISES: Read the following passage at a slow pace, allowing yourself to imagine the scene being described.  Take note of the thoughts, memories, feelings, sensations, reactions, and any other mental event that might occur as you read.  Circle any words that you found especially evocative.


  1. A passage describing an encounter between four members of the Lewis and Clark expedition and a band of Shoshone Indians in August, 1805:


After two miles, the long-awaited and eagerly sought contact took place. Sixty warriors, mounted on excellent horses and armed for war with bows and arrows plus three inferior rifles, came at full speed. When they saw Lewis’s party, they halted.


This was the first time an American had ever seen a Shoshone war party, and the first time this band of Shoshones had ever seen an American. The Indians were overwhelmingly superior. It would have been the work of only a moment for them to overwhelm Lewis’s party, and they would have more than doubled their firepower in rifles and gathered as loot more knives, awls, looking glasses, and other trinkets than any Rocky Mountain Indian band had ever seen.


But rather than assuming a defensive position, Lewis laid down his rifle, picked up his flag, told his party to stay in place, and followed the old woman was guiding, advanced slowly toward he knew not what.


A man Lewis assumed was the chief rode in the lead. He halted to speak to the old woman. She told him that these were white men “and exultingly shewed the presents which had been given.” This broke the tension. The chief and the warriors dismounted.


  1. A passage describing an adventure at sea in a log raft:


One day Knut had an involuntary swim in company with a shark. No one was ever allowed to swim away from the raft, both on account of the raft’s drift and because of sharks. But one day it was extra quiet and we had just pulled on board [by their tails] such sharks as had been following us, so permission was given for a quick dip in the sea. Knut plunged in and had gone quite a long way before he came up to the surface to crawl back. At that moment we saw from the mast a shadow bigger than himself coming up from behind, deeper down. We shouted warnings as quietly as could so as not to create a panic, and Knut heaved himself toward the side of the raft. But the shadow below belonged to a still better swimmer, which shot up from the depths and gained on Knut. They reached the raft at the same time. While Knut was clambering on board, a six-foot shark glided past right under his stomach and stopped beside the raft. We gave it a dainty dolphin’s head to thank it for not having snapped.


  1. A passage describing a visit to an ancient Roman villa in England:


At a place called Cole’s Hill the path plunged abruptly into a seriously overgrown wood, dark and primeval in feel and all but impenetrable with brambles. Somewhere in here, I knew, was my goal—a site listed on the map as “Roman villa (remains of).” For perhaps half an hour, I hacked through the growth with my stick before I came upon the foundations of an old wall. It looked like nothing much—the remains of an old pigsty perhaps—but a few feet farther on, all but obscured by wild ivy, were more low walls, a whole series of them, on both sides of the path. The path itself was paved with flagstones underneath a carpet of wet leaves, and I knew that I was in the villa. In one of the relict chambers, the floor had been carefully covered with plastic fertilizer bags weighted with stones at each corner. This was what I had come to see. I had been told about this by a friend but had never really believed it. For underneath those bags was a virtually complete Roman mosaic, about five feet square, exquisitely patterned and flawlessly preserved but for a tiny bit of fracturing around the edges.


I cannot tell you how odd it felt to be standing in a forgotten wood in what had once been, in an inconceivably distant past, the home of a Roman family, looking at a mosaic laid at least sixteen hundred years ago when this was an open sunny space, long before this ancient wood grew up around it. . . . I don’t know which seized me more, the thought that people in togas had once stood on the floor chatting in vernacular Latin or that it was still here, flawless and undisturbed, amid this tangle of growth.


What is Critical Reading? 


Critical reading, like reading as defined above, is something you’ve been doing for a long time.  After c-a-t, the words got longer and harder to pronounce (catapult, catastrophe, catamaran), and you discovered the power, beauty, and flexibility of language in such figurative expressions as hyperbole, idiom and metaphor (“That cat plays a mean saxophone”).  Over time, the stories and essays grew more intricate and subtle, and you became proficient in the more sophisticated aspects of reading, learning about attitude, tone, and point of view, and discovering that the information you sought in history books or encyclopedia articles revealed the author’s perspective as much as it reflected the “real” world.  You learned the difference between fact and opinion and were admonished not to believe everything you read.  In other words, you started reading more critically. 


When we read critically we do more than simply allow ourselves to be informed, entertained, or enlightened; we think as we read, and we think critically, reacting to the text and the writer, consciously rejecting or accepting the writer’s assertions, asking questions, and applying what we are reading to what we know and belief. Being able to read critically means recognizing that the words on a page did not magically appear; they were placed there by someone, a real and unique person who selected words and organized ideas in an attempt to affect readers in some way: to teach, persuade, amuse, disturb, captivate, thrill, provoke, advise, and so on.  Often a writer simply wants the reader’s attention in return, but writers sometimes want more from us—our money, votes, assent, admiration, sympathy, laughter, whatever.  And all writers, being human, make mistakes, occasionally misremembering facts, using language inaccurately, and arguing illogically.  Critical reading is a conversation between the reader and writer in which the reader listens carefully, reflects upon and responds to the writer’s ideas, and evaluates the effectiveness of the message, rejecting manipulation and error and praising what is powerful, inspiring, and honest.  When you read critically you listen to the voice of an author recorded in written words, and you respond in your own words—in your mind’s voice, out loud, or in the margins of the text:


No way!

Well put!

I disagree.


I’ll have to look that up.

Interesting evidence.

This is slanted.



Where’s the support?

Aristotle would disagree.

What does that word mean?

Is this the whole story?  What am I not being told?

This is illogical.

Pshaw!  (Well, okay, no one says that anymore.)


Reactions like these are more likely to occur when a reader is aware of the author’s presence. Readers of blogs, for example, seldom forget that the gripes, insights,  polemics, witty observations, and ironic wisecracks are the ruminations of a unique individual sitting at a keyboard.  Blog readers experience a wide range of responses, from agreement to shock, but no matter the response, readers know they are encountering a personal point of view, and they generally remain vigilant for any signs of bias or dishonesty.  Can the same be said when we read a work in which the author is nearly invisible, a work that strives to appear neutral and objective, a newspaper article, for example, or a work like this one, your textbook?  Chances are you’ve been reading for information, highlighting the italicized phrases and key points.  But have you at any point heard a real person speaking to you?  Did you respond?  Did you write “Pshaw!” anywhere in the margins?   When readers encounter a work that appears “writerless”—textbooks, for example—they tend to assume that what is written was manufactured in a factory where words pour into a book like soda into bottles.  Oh, were it that easy.  Whether you’re reading a rant on a personal Web page or the measured advice of a textbook writer, you’re still listening to a human voice rendered in graphic symbols.


The Publishing Process


There is a difference, of course, between a personal Web page and a textbook, and the difference has less to do with the credibility of the individual author and more to do with the process of publication.  To publish something means, simply, to make it public, to make it available to a wide range of readers beyond the writer’s control (a consequence we tend to forget, by the way, when we publish private information in online social networks).  As we discussed in Chapter 12, on finding and evaluating sources, some writing must pass through a rigorous review process before appearing in print.  An article in a national magazine such as the New Yorker, for example, has been scrutinized by editors, fact checkers, and proofreaders before it hits the newsstand.  Drafts of college textbooks are reviewed by numerous editors and professors to insure that extraneous personal opinions, obvious factual errors, and questionable pedagogical methods are edited out of the text.   Articles appearing in scholarly journals have undergone a grueling peer review process, in which experts in the field decide the merit of the writer’s thesis and defense.  On the other hand, the message from a writer in a blog or discussion forum usually passes through no filter or gatekeeper who might edit out problematic content or errors.  We say usually since some blogs and forums are moderated or censored, but typically only to prevent libelous, pornographic, or irrelevant comments.  It might be said that anything published can be placed somewhere along a spectrum from, at one extreme, the most unrestricted publication (a personal Web page) to, at the other, the most meticulously scrutinized (an article in a scholarly journal). 


None of this means, however, that a blog writer is untrustworthy, any more than a journalist or a professor is infallible for having passed the review process.  In fact, the current state of publishing makes the question of reliability more complicated than ever before for critical readers.  Some of the most perceptive, informative, honest, and entertaining writing today is provided in blogs that have not been squashed by corporate editors.  The Internet and several modern printing technologies have made self-publishing of books easy and affordable.  More and more of these books, many of which have had little or no objective editing, will appear on the market in the future.  Can we trust the information in such books?  A reputable publishing company with a staff of editors, on the other hand, might rush a book into print to take advantage of current, trendy interests and therefore earn the publisher a great deal of money.  Can we trust that book?  Some cultural critics argue that we should continue to read critically even the great works of literature and philosophy, which may reflect ways of thinking and seeing that some readers would question or reject.  And what should we say about Wikipedia, which seems to slide along our spectrum of reliability?  A visitor to the site could revise an entry to suggest that the elephant population in Africa had tripled in the last six months, but someone in the legion of Wikipedian elephant experts will correct the misinformation almost immediately.  In some ways, Wikipedia is among the most thoroughly scrutinized of publications, yet it does not undergo the conventional review process that the scholarly community demands. When should we trust it?  Once again we’re forced to say that while some guidance exists to help you separate the good from the bad, the best guide to determining the reliability of a published source is a critical, well-educated mind.


Questions for Discussion

1.  Do you routinely visit any blogs?  Which do you find most informative, entertaining     
     or enlightening, and why? 

2.  What methods do you generally use to determine how credible or reliable a writer is? 



Why Read Critically?


Reading critically is hard work, much harder than reading uncritically for information, entertainment or enlightenment since we must stay alert during the reading process.  We must ask if the information we’ve uncovered is true and verifiable, if what entertains us isn’t just contributing to our prejudices, and if we aren’t being exploited in our search for enlightenment and self-improvement.  Without reading critically we may as well be hypnotized.  Reading critically lets our alert, skeptical, reasoning mind stand between the words of an author and our believing, acting selves.  Readers who shun confrontation sometimes feel uncomfortable reading critically, but without consciously engaging what we read, we run the risk of becoming mere consumers of discourse and easy targets for any author with designs on our money, votes, values, and beliefs.  Besides, a critical reader does not have to be aggressive or combative; we can point to the flaws in a work without restoring to personal attacks or arrogance, and critical reading demands that we also recognize when writing is clear, logical, and effective. Reading critically means that we, the readers, get to decide when an author has earned our trust.  We carefully and thoughtfully evaluate the facts and opinions that will inform our own worldviews and behaviors.  Ultimately, reading critically is an assertion of independence, an act of freedom against any attempt to enthrall or manipulate us as we attempt to learn something and to enjoy and improve our lives. 


An added benefit of reading critically is that it can make us better writers and speakers.  When we read critically, since we are so attuned to the presence of a writer, we can’t help but notice the writer’s technique—how he or she has chosen to deliver the message.  Rather than simply examine an author’s assertions and factual data, we might look at the manner in which he or she lays out the evidence, organizes paragraphs, creates interest, appeals to the senses, incorporates quotes, paraphrases and summarizes source material, creates coherence, and so on. We look at word choices, syntax, punctuation and style.  In this regard, reading critically is like examining the hidden structures—the beams, joists, rivets and such—that support a building, which is exactly where we would need to look if we had hopes of designing a building of our own someday.  In looking carefully at the how as well as the what, we improve our own language construction skills.





You’ll notice from the list of possible reactions listed above (Good! Vague! Great evidence! etc.) that critically reading is not necessarily negative.  While good readers might demonstrate a healthy amount of wariness and skepticism, they are not unreasonable or paranoid.  A critical reader, like a critical thinker, avoids reactions that are purely subjective and applies, instead, a set of guidelines in an effort to determine what is acceptable, what needs further investigation and what should be rejected. To become a good reader, you need to evaluate your current abilities and attitudes and be willing to improve both if necessary.  You need to be curious about and attentive to language.  When reading, you must make every effort first to understand what you are reading, and be ready then to respond to your reading and evaluate the effectiveness of the author’s message. 


No one develops these traits thorough a linear set of step-by-step instructions: Do A; then do B, etc.  In fact, in all honesty, the best method for learning to read better is to read—a lot, as much as you can, in every form and length, whether you immediately understand it or not.  In the meantime, what you’ll find on the following pages will help you hone your reading skills and habits for the amount of reading you will be expected to do in college.  Keep in mind that all advice comes from an author (or authors) whose recommendations reflect personal experience and research.  You must adapt the advice to your personal habits and needs.  Do what works for you, but be sure that what you do really does work and that you haven’t fooled yourself into believing it works.





In order to hold up our end of the conversation with the writers we encounter we should be prepared to read carefully, slowly and patiently.  Look honestly at yourself as a reader.  Take inventory of your limitations and strengths.  When are you most alert and amenable to the power of reading, for example?  How fast can you read a novel or a textbook chapter?  Do you have the kind of memory that allows you to read quickly without taking notes?  Most important, do you want to read?  Learning to read is a lot like learning to play the piano; you must want to play, and you must practice.  No amount of instruction will help if you have little desire to spend the time necessary to read complicated material. 


The Logistics of Reading


You can improve your chances of getting the most out of your reading if you follow these suggestions:


Choose your reading location carefully


Read in a place and a position that is not so comfortable that you’ll fall neither asleep nor so uncomfortable that you’ll fidget and squirm and become fatigued.  That old line about curling up with a good book in front of the fireplace is nothing more than romantic fantasy: with all that heat and lost oxygen, you’ll be asleep before chapter two.  Don’t read on your bed; beds were designed for sleeping.  Try reading in a chair at a desk in good light. The room should be cool and well ventilated.  If even under the best conditions reading causes you to tire quickly, it’s possible that you need glasses. 


Read with a pencil in hand


Highlighters are helpful in marking important passages, but they can become a crutch and can actually impede critical reading.  Students will sometimes highlight what they don’t understand in a text, figuring that if it’s that difficult it must be important.  Some students will read quickly and superficially, highlighting what they intend to reread at a later time, as if they were editing the book down to a more manageable size.  Whether you use a highlighter or not, you should also use a pencil to circle important or unfamiliar words, underline key concepts and central ideas, emphasize memorable statements, and especially to record your responses in the margins of the text and in a notebook.  You might also mark the text as a means of revealing its structure: the premises and conclusions of arguments, for example, or where opposing positions are introduced and refuted. You don’t have to record your every thought.  Be selective: mark the text so that you can be reminded later of what you found interesting, questionable, inspiring, and so on.  Many advanced readers have developed systems for marking a text using asterisks, exclamation points, question marks, stars, lines in the margin, brackets, and so on. Use a system that will help you recollect your initial responses to the text.  Just having the pencil in your hand will help ensure that you remain actively engaged in your reading.  When reading in college, remember that you usually own whatever you have purchased or whatever has been distributed in class.  Don’t hesitate to mark your texts—with a pencil.


In fact, if you get into the habit of reading with a pencil (or a pen), you might also try keeping a notebook handy as you read.  Jot down important or unfamiliar words, key concepts, questions, insights, and outlines of paragraphs, essays or chapters.  You can even use the notebook to jot down wayward distracting thoughts like “Call Dad!” so that you can get back to your reading without interruption. (We’ll return to the idea of marking the text later in this chapter.)


Take your time


One of the greatest obstacles to reading critically is lack of time. With all of the obligations faced by today’s college students, many of whom work, take care of families and play sports, finding the time to read carefully and thoughtfully can be a real challenge, and too often students will try to squeeze their reading assignments into available moments throughout the day--the ten minutes between classes or the bus ride to hockey practice.  A better approach is to schedule your reading time so that you can read at whatever pace allows both comprehension and reaction.  Depending on the complexity of an assignment, you might need several hours to read a relatively short work.  Some readers feel that they must read quickly to avoid losing focus or comprehension, but there is no correlation between reading fast and understanding.  It is true, however, that comprehension decreases if we read at a panicked rate or are tormented while reading by thoughts of impending obligations and appointments.  Don’t hurry just to get done.  If at all possible, make reading a routine part of your day, like exercising or showering, rather than an obstacle to get beyond.  Like all skills, critical reading takes practice and patience, and the better we become at reading, the faster we can comprehend, leaving more time for thinking and responding.


Keep distractions to a minimum


The word “multitasking” was invented in the mid-1980s to describe the ability of a computer to carry on more than one task as a time.  Despite the metaphorical use of the term to denote the habit among some people to simultaneously listen to music, watch television, send a text message, talk on the phone, check e-mail, AND read Aristotle, no one—no one—can concentrate on more than one demanding communications task at a time and do them all equally well.  Something must be sacrificed.  Usually it’s Aristotle.  True, the less demanding the tasks—read an e-mail and listen to music—the better you might be able to accomplish them at one time.  But reading college texts is demanding and requires great concentration.  Multitasking in this context is a myth.  Period.


Don’t quit easily


You will occasionally be bored.  Boredom, like beauty, is in the eye of the beholder; therefore the statement “This book is boring” makes little sense.  There may be some things that are universally boring (you should see the memos from college administrators), but it’s unlikely that college-level reading assignments bore everyone, no matter how many of your classmates boast about falling asleep over the text. 


The statement “I was bored by this,” however, is perfectly justifiable.  Not every assignment will engage your interests.  When faced with a reading assignment you find dreary or tedious, answer the following questions honestly:


1.  Do you have too much on your mind and are failing to concentrate sufficiently?  Often we expect a work to be so engaging that it will shove aside the competing desires, plans, images, memories and other junk banging around in our head.  It’s hard to focus on a reading assignment with a math test looming or when we’re obsessively rehashing some dumb remark we made at dinner.  When mental distractions are too loud and persistent to ignore, it may be wiser to schedule your reading at a later time. 


2.  Is it really the topic that you find uninteresting, or are you actually having trouble with the author’s style?  Some authors use a very sophisticated and demanding style that requires great effort on the reader’s part to unravel difficult sentences, define technical or obscure terms, recognize cryptic references, and so on.  Faced with such challenging prose, some readers will dismiss the work as boring.  True, some writers test our patience with tortuous sentences and vague language, but if you’re finding an assignment especially difficult, don’t immediately dismiss the work as boring.  You may need to slow down and work harder at comprehending the writer’s meaning.  If the writer’s style is especially unusual, try rereading the earlier parts of the assignment—the opening paragraphs or introduction—several times until the author’s style seems natural to you and you’ve fully grasped the content.  Once you’re used to the sound of the author’s voice—his or her particular dialect—you may have an easier time advancing through the material.


3.  Is it in fact the topic you find uninteresting?  Well, this is going to sound like a platitude on one of those bookmarks your second grade teacher handed out, but you may simply need to expand your horizons.  Seriously.  If you read only what appeals to your current interests, you will be eternally stuck in high school, but without the proms and unrelenting sarcasm. Broadening your interests allows you to hear a variety of voices on a variety of topics, which will provide new ways of seeing and thinking, not to mention a larger vocabulary, which is intrinsically enlightening and has the added benefit of being useful for bringing new perspective to old interests.  One of the pitfalls of reading only what interests us is that we may find ourselves trapped in an endless loop of repeated opinions and language, a phenomenon that happens in discussion groups and online forums.  Reading beyond our interests—in philosophy and history, for example—might enliven our old interests as we discover foundations, sources, and interpretations for the things we enjoy. If there is simply nothing you can relate to in the reading, if you simply can’t drum up any interest in the topic, if it’s not the style that’s making the work boring, well, then, soldier on anyway.  It’s good practice for reading those tax instructions in the future.



Questions for Discussion:


1.      As we mentioned earlier, what works for one reader may not work for you.  Discuss among your classmates and with your professor your preferences for when, where and how to read.  What are your reactions to some of the specific advice presented in the section above?  Do you agree, for example, that reading on the bed is not a good idea?  If you’re reluctant to read with a pen in hand, why is that? 

2.      Your authors have the sense that some readers will want to defend multitasking.  Well, go ahead.

3.      One word of advice that was considered and rejected is this: read as far away from your computer as possible!  What do you think of that advice?





It’s not you (usually); college-level texts really can be very difficult, and some are more difficult than others.  Students coming to college seem surprised to find that they must read primary works from ancient and modern writers whose level of vocabulary and rhetorical style were intended for audiences with more education and fewer competing distractions.  True, you’ll occasionally sail through a reading assignment, but some of what you’re asked to read in college is rough going.  You might take some comfort in knowing that your professors probably found the material difficult the first time they encountered it.  And you can also take some consolation in the very fact that you find the work confusing or difficult, which indicates that you’re paying attention and at least trying to comprehend the reading. 


Because we don’t need to read as much now as we used to (before phones and movies and books on tape), reading skills in the United States have declined over the past few decades according to measures such as the ACT and SAT.  This would present no problem if everything you were asked to read had been written with today’s college students in mind.  And in fact, many works are updated for contemporary readers or supplemented by notes and guides such as Shakespeare for Dummies, The Complete Idiot’s Guide to the Bible, and SparkNotes, to name just a few.  When faced with a difficult text, notes and guidelines can be very helpful, but the wise student will remember that these ancillaries present interpretations and representations of the original work and will include the perspective of the interpreter. You’re better off reading the original, as difficult as that may be.  Despite all evidence to the contrary, your professor is not a sadist.  He or she has chosen difficult books in the genuine hope that they will contribute to your education. 


Preview the Text


To make a difficult work more comprehendible, try some previewing techniques.  First, familiarize yourself with the author and the context of the reading.  Check the date of publication, and keep in mind that you were not the intended reader for works published more than a decade ago, so it might help to quickly gain a bit of information about the time period and the intended readership.  Was the assignment written for Americans immediately after 9/11, the ruling class in Renaissance Italy, women in eighteenth century England, young American men in the 1960’s, and so on.  Also, look up information on the writer, perhaps in an online encyclopedia or your library’s biographical dictionaries (ask a librarian).  Knowing something about the author’s background (was she a historian, a defender of human rights, a humorist, etc.?) may give you some idea of how to approach the reading.


If the reading was published in a periodical, find out what you can about the publication and its audience.  Is it a scholarly source or a popular magazine?  Does the publication cater to an audience with a specific political perspective?  You can find additional assistance in evaluating publications in Chapter 12.  See especially the section on distinguishing among publications.


If it’s a book you’ve been assigned, get to know it.  Look carefully at the full title.  What clues does the title provide about the reading’s purpose or main idea?  What expectations does it raise?  Look through the book.  Read over the table of contents.  Read the subtitles and headings.  Look at any photos, tables, timelines, and maps.  Check to see if there is an index or glossary at the end of the book and if there are endnotes or a bibliography listing sources or suggestions for further reading.  (And when reading the text, don’t skip the footnotes and endnotes, many of which are supplied by editors to clarify difficult concepts or define arcane words.)


Read any prefaces, abstracts, or introductory material that accompanies your assigned reading—even if your professor hasn’t explicitly required it.  If it’s a book, be sure to read the back cover and any critical blurbs that precede the main text.  If you’re reading an excerpted passage or a condensed version of a longer work in an anthology, read the headnote, the short section that introduces the main text.  Introductions and headnotes might give you some idea of what occasioned or inspired the piece: was it a response to someone else’s work, for example, or written to address a specific event?  


If the editor of the text has supplied questions at the end of the reading, take a look at them and at any questions your professor may have distributed with the reading.  Some students resist reading questions before the assignment, perhaps fearful that their interpretation will be influenced or that it is somehow cheating to do so.  Granted, reading questions ahead of the text will shape your interpretation, but there is little danger in reading whatever you can in addition to the assigned work to improve your chances of understanding the reading as long as you keep in mind, of course, that all supplemental materials reflect the views of their writers.


A Note on Skimming


Students sometimes complain that college reading assignments are too long.  Well, “long” is a relative term.  A newspaper editorial may as well be Moby-Dick if you discover as you take your seat that it was due in class that day.  And the actual word-count of an assignment can matter to us less than the assignment’s complexity: for many readers, a novel takes far less time to read than a philosophical treatise half the novel’s length.  But, yes, you will be asked to read works that are longer and require more time than you may be accustomed to.  In fact, you might perceive printed material to be exceptionally lengthy if you normally do most of your reading online, where you can jump from link to link whenever your attention wanes or something catches your eye.  The Web gives some readers the impression that information and ideas can be gotten quickly and without much concentration.  The kind of reading you’ll do in college, however, requires attentiveness and dedication.


However, depending on your purpose for reading, the kind of assignment you’ve been given, and your professor’s demands, you may be able to skim the work rather than read it thoroughly.  If you are reading solely for information, for example, and have been assigned a textbook chapter, you may be able to avoid reading every line of the text and still come away with nearly as perfect an understanding of the assignment.  Skimming takes less time than reading thoroughly, but it is not easy.  In fact, it is in some ways more difficult than reading since you must remain even more alert than usual.  Ironically, only the very best readers can become good skimmers.  Skimming, when done right, is a method for reading a portion—say 30 percent—of the text rather than the entire thing. The trick is to devote your reading to the 30 percent that is most significant and to ignore passages in which the author has digressed or provided examples and explanations you feel you don’t need. 


When skimming, do the following:


1. For a book, examine and reflect upon the title, and read the table of contents.  Read the introduction and conclusion thoroughly. Look for the author’s stated purpose and thesis (we’ll talk about these later in this chapter), and note what key points the author promises to address in the body of the work. An introduction to a book will almost always include some idea of how the book will proceed to defend the main point. 


2.  For each chapter (and for shorter works such as articles) read the introductory and concluding sections. (Be careful: an introduction can be more than one paragraph.)  Look for the chapter’s main idea.  One of the most important steps in skimming is this: you must think about what you are reading.  When you find the main idea in a chapter, you must ask how it connects to or advances the main idea of the book.  The material you are skipping makes this connection clear.  If you can’t see the connection without the explanation, read into the chapter. 


3.  Look through the chapter at any subheadings.  Look for key words and graphic indicators such as boldface, italics, and bulleted lists.


There is more to skimming than this short list suggests.  We are reluctant to address it at all and include the information above primarily to alert you to the distinction between skimming, which takes practice and attention, and scanning, which means glancing through something in search of information, like scanning a Web page for the “contact us” button.  Skimming will get you in trouble if your professor expects you to read every word of an assignment; and while skimming is best suited to traditional textbooks, it does not work well with fiction or philosophy; and it is almost guaranteed to prevent the hidden benefits of reading we discussed earlier.



Determining Genre and Discipline


In many cases, while previewing a text you can anticipate what to expect by determining the genre and discipline to which the text belongs.  While, admittedly, the work of some contemporary authors can be very difficult to classify, writers usually organize their works according to the conventions of a genre and discipline, and many publishers note the genre, the discipline, or both on the back of books.  Understanding something about these two concepts will help you approach the text in the most appropriate manner.


Genre means type. You’re probably familiar with the concept from your classes in culture and literature. Film genres include horror, documentary, science fiction, westerns, and so on.  Literary genres include drama, poetry, and fiction.  Fiction is further divided into the short story, the novel, the novella, and so on.  Non-fiction writing also divides into genres, including, for example, memoir, biography, history, expository essay, argument, and so on. 


Knowing what genre a work fits into can help prevent misreading by narrowing a reader’s expectations.  You would not review the movie Cloverfield as a documentary even though the movie mimics some documentary conventions.  Cloverfield is a horror film in the same category as Godzilla and King Kong and should be evaluated by the conventions of that genre.  The same is true of reading.  Take as an example the topic of war.  A war novel might be set in an actual war, one you’ve heard of, but a novel is a work of the imagination that follows the actions of invented characters in a made-up world seen through the eyes of a narrator. You could not denounce the novel if in that world soldiers did something as outrageous as, say, follow a trail of M&Ms across Asia and Europe in search of a comrade.  In a work of history, on the other hand, an author presents as accurately as possible the actions of real people. Granted, the author’s perspective may interfere with his or her rendition of facts, but the author cannot—well, should not—fabricate events and people.  You'll find no trail of M&Ms in a history book. As a reader, you only invite confusion if you insist that literary characters act according to historical precedence or treat historical figures as if they were literary characters.


The study of genres is a very complicated matter that might best be illustrated in the recent argument about the overlap between memoir and fiction.  How true-to-life must a memoir be before it passes over the line into the realm of make-believe?  Why do comic writers enjoy so much more freedom than “serious” writers when describing real events?  We can’t answer these questions here, and for our purpose the point can be kept simple.  The conventional definitions of a genre may help us to anticipate the author’s purpose, and we should be wary of using the conventions of one genre to analyze and evaluate another.  To simply matters somewhat, start with a basic distinction between fiction and nonfiction genres.  Literature must be approached differently from the manner in which you read histories, biographies, memoirs, scientific essays, and the like.  Ask yourself, is what I’m about to read a work of fiction or not?


Related to the notion of genre is the concept of academic disciplines.  The word discipline comes from the Latin disciplina, meaning instruction.  When parents discipline a child, they are instructing him in a code of acceptable behavior.  In an academic discipline--philosophy, literature, anthropology, sociology, psychology, and many, many others--students (disciples, really) learn a body of knowledge from faculty who are experts in the field.  As with genres, many contemporary scholars dispute the relevance and even the usefulness of thinking in terms of disciplines.  With so much interdisciplinary studies today and with the profusion of new fields of study, it would be a mistake to overstate the value of applying discipline-specific guidelines to everything you read in college.  Sometimes, however, determining what discipline a work was produced within can help us narrow a writer’s purpose.  For example, a work written in the area of sociology, a discipline that falls within the larger discipline of the social sciences, usually examines how people interact and relate to one another.  Authors writing in this discipline often interpret statistical data for the purpose of helping readers understand social problems and derive policies and solutions.  An author in the discipline of literary studies provides an interpretation of a poem, play or story to help readers more deeply enjoy and understand a work of literature.


Remember, these are only very rough guidelines.  A sociologist could just as well publish a literary memoir about growing up in an orphanage.  Someone from the field of literary studies could publish a work on the psychological effect of poetry on individual readers.  Again, keep it simple: when approaching an assignment, knowing something about the discipline in which the reading traditionally falls can help us understand something about the author’s purpose, but don’t shoehorn a reading into either a genre or a discipline or impose expectations upon the work.  Some of the best works you’ll discover cross disciplinary boundaries or explode them altogether.


Reread the Text


The best thing you can do for yourself when faced with challenging texts is to reread as many times as necessary to understand what has been said.  College students are often reluctant to read a passage or an entire work more than once.  Time constraints and the expectation that the next day’s lecture will elucidate the text have something to do with this reluctance, not to mention in some cases, you’ll agree, a measure of laziness and disinterest.  But even the best students—any reader, really, professors included—will find it necessary to reread a passage or an entire work several times in order to comprehend it.  If a passage remains especially thorny after several readings, mark it for rereading and return to it after you’ve finished the work since subsequent passages may help to clarify the stubborn one.  This approach may of course backfire if your confusion is only compounded as you read on.  In that case, however, you might try a somewhat counterintuitive approach: read the entire work even though you don’t fully understand what you are reading.  Get as much as you can out of this first quick reading and then start again at the beginning.  Complex, meaningful writing often does not give up its secrets unless we “work at” our reading, but if we are willing to devote time and energy, we often find our labor well rewarded. 


One last word on the difficulty of college-level texts: some of what you read in college will be difficult to comprehend not so much because of the complexity of the writing as because of the vexing, shocking, radical content of some works that may call into question your values and assumptions.  You must prepare yourself to confront these challenging, often fascinating arguments and expositions with an open mind, resisting the temptation to shut down defensively and instead committing yourself first to understanding the author’s point and then to analyzing and evaluating the discourse.  Having an open mind does not mean that you should consent to every new idea.  You may encounter outdated information, inane opinions, and spurious arguments.  But much of what you read will introduce you to new ways of seeing and thinking. Of course, keep an open mind even when you find yourself agreeing with the author.  You’ll encounter writers who will reinforce your values and provide new support for your opinions. But scrutinize even what echoes your core values and beliefs.




It may seem from the subheading that we are about to turn out attention entirely away from you, the reader, and toward the writer, but in many ways you are also the writer of what you read.  Paradoxically, when you play close attention to your reading—when you are most fully involved—you cannot help interfering in whatever meaning the author may have intended.  If your mind is active, your reading will evoke memories, thoughts and feelings that are uniquely yours, and those evocations will influence how you understand the work.  In some way, you “write” the text you read since your interpretation is both influenced and limited by your experiences, vocabulary, and knowledge.  You unavoidably make connections and see distinctions between your perspective and the author’s, and you draw inferences and conclusions that the writer may never have foreseen.  Ten students carefully reading the same piece may come away with ten different ideas of the author’s most significant points and the “meaning” of the work.  If you’ve ever been part of a book discussion, you may know the feeling of having “completely missed” what someone else in the group insists the book was entirely about. 


Your role as a co-writer is one of the most enjoyable aspects of critical reading and it is not one we recommend relinquishing.  A critical reader does not pretend that reading is merely comprehension of a writer’s point or the ability to parrot back what an author has said or intended to say.  In fact, knowing an author’s (or, for that matter, anyone’s) intentions may be nearly impossible.  However, you should make every effort to understand what the writer has said and avoid attributing to the writer anything that he or she clearly did not intend.  Simply put, a critical reader tries to distinguish to the best of his or her ability between what the writer has placed in the text and what the reader is getting out of the text. 




The Author’s Vocabulary


Mastering any college subject requires that students learn the jargon used by specialists in that subject.  Psychology majors learn to define psychosis, displacement, and schema; chemists also use the term displacement but in a different sense; students of philosophy know what epistemology and hermeneutics mean.  Textbook writers usually define key terms in a conventional manner: the term, set in boldface or italics, is followed immediately by a definition, usually with examples of the term in context.  Good readers have learned to watch for the textbook’s graphic signals and to take note of the important terms.  In college reading materials other than textbooks, however, important words are not usually boldfaced or italicized.  With these sources a critical reader must work a bit harder.


Our reading vocabularies are much larger than our writing and speaking vocabularies.  We store in the deep recesses of our memories many words that do not find their way into our daily conversations because they are inappropriate for most occasions or audiences we encounter. Often we are reminded of a word in our mental dictionary only when we see it in print, and we understand the term immediately:


Lou was surprisingly derogatory in his remarks about immigrants.


It may be a long time since you used the word derogatory, but you have some sense of its meaning and can understand the sentence. 


While reading, we can often discern the meaning of an unfamiliar word because of contextual clues—


My uncle is quite the raconteur; I always look forward to his wonderful stories.


  —or because of our familiarity with the way words are constructed:


Sue became quickly disenamoured when she learned of Mike’s liberal politics.


Raconteur, we would guess, means something close to storyteller, and it does.  The unusual word disenamoured may trip us at first, but analyzing the word shows that its root is amour, which we may know means love.  En we might recognize as a prefix meaning “in” (ensnare) and dis as a prefix meaning “not” (dissatisfied).  Dis-en-amoured means, then, out of love.  The sentence simply says that Sue fell out of love when she learned Mike was a Democrat.  Pshaw!


A critical reader calls on all three methods—memory, context, and structure—in an effort to understand a word.  But too often—and you know this is true—we skip over and ignore words that we cannot immediately define.  At times nothing is lost in skipping over a word; you may be able to grasp the broader point without understanding every word an author uses, and sometimes you don’t want to interrupt the flow of a fascinating passage.  It’s also true that some writers show off their intelligence by using words more sophisticated than necessary, an irritating habit that costs us more time searching the dictionary than reading the primary text itself.  But most educated authors choose words for their accuracy and precision, and in order to understand these authors, you must be willing to try through whatever available means—memory, context, structure, or a dictionary—to define the words upon which the meaning of an entire passage or essay might depend.  Especially important are any words that appear several times in a passage or work.  Your elementary school teachers were right: you must look up those words.  You do not need a large vocabulary to be a good reader, but curiosity about language is absolutely vital if you hope to understand, learn from and fully enjoy your reading.  And, of course, the more you read, the larger your vocabulary will grow. 


When you read, keep a dictionary handy. A hardback collegiate dictionary is superior to pocket dictionaries, which include fewer words and brief, often useless definitions. Online dictionaries and dictionary search sites (dictionary.com and onelook.com, especially) are invaluable for reading and writing, but avoiding them while  reading will prevent you from giving in to the temptation to surf the Net or check your FaceBook page and e-mail. Also, be wary about looking up discipline-specific words in standard dictionaries.  If you’re studying philosophy and want to learn more about the meaning of epistemology, even the best dictionary might not provide the kind of nuanced and comprehensive definition you need.  In that case consult an encyclopedia, the glossary in your textbook, a handbook on the subject, or a dictionary devoted solely to the subject under study.


The Author’s Purpose


Every author writes with two purposes in mind, one purpose regarding the topic and the other regarding the reader.  We'll take each of these in turn.


Writers approach their topics or subjects for a variety of purposes.  A writer could examine the popular television show The Family Guy with any number of purposes or intentions. You can imagine an author saying, “When I wrote about The Family Guy, my purpose was to


·         Trace the history of the show from its inception to its most recent episodes

·         Compare the show to other cartoons for adult audiences

·         Analyze a particular episode to show how the elements (allusions, dialogue, editing, etc.) contribute to the overall theme

·         Interpret the meaning of an episode

·         Evaluate or review the show according to standards of comedy or cartooning

·         Argue that the show presents an unjust view of women or children


To determine the writer’s purpose regarding the topic, first ask what the topic is and then decide how the author is approaching the topic.  You can ask yourself, “What is the author doing with this topic?”  Is she or he telling a story about the topic; investigating the causes of the topic; describing the topic, and so forth?  Some purposes you might discover include the following.  A writer might intend to


·         explain a process

·         describe events, people, places and things

·         illustrate a generalization with examples

·         narrate or tell a story

·         analyze something: examine it in great detail, show how the parts contribute to the whole

·         divide something into its component parts

·         classify many items into manageable groups

·         define a term or concept

·         compare two or more things (show similarities)

·         contrast two or more things (show differences)

·         investigate causes or reasons

·         examine effects or results

·         argue a claim

·         report findings, research, or someone else’s position

·         interpret something: determine its meaning or significance


It’s very important to note that a writer can combine purposes, narrating a story, for example, as part of an investigation into the causes of an event in order to argue that an innocent man has been convicted.  In fact, in longer works authors often combine approaches under one overriding or primary purpose.  Looking at the title; reading any prefaces, forewords, and introductory chapters and paragraphs; and determining the genre and publisher will all help in figuring out the author’s purpose.  Be careful to avoid stating the author’s intentions in vague language like “discuss.”  Say instead that the writer intends to illustrate, argue, define, contrast, and so on. 


Rhetorical Purpose


Besides having a purpose toward the topic, authors have intentions toward their readers.  The effect that a writer hopes to achieve in the audience is called the author's (or the work's) rhetorical purpose.  The writer may wish to teach, advise, disturb, amuse, and so on.  Broadly speaking, writers’ purposes fall into three categories: to inform, to persuade, or to entertain, which, you'll notice, roughly correspond to our reasons for reading--to be informed, enlightened, or entertained. Like all attempts to classify human endeavors, these three categories are not exhaustive, and certainly they overlap since an author can write a single piece for more than one purpose—to inform and entertain, for example.  Most works, however, can be placed into one of these three categories based on the work’s primary purpose. 


Stating the author’s purpose—toward the topic and toward the reader —prevents a reader from unfairly evaluating the effectiveness of an author’s work.  You might recall from Chapter 3 that an explanation, which is intended to provide information, should not be confused with or evaluated as an argument, which is intended to persuade.  But deciding whether a writer’s purpose is to inform or persuade can be exceptionally difficult.  Much informative writing can appear to be persuasive.  In fact, depending on how widely accepted the information is, the writer may have to make a strong case for accepting the information he or she presents.  A scientist describing how plants produce carbon dioxide would simply explain the process in a linked chain of events, but a scientist calculating the long-term effects of carbon monoxide on the environment might have to take a more persuasive stance toward this more controversial issue.


To distinguish among informative, persuasive and entertaining works, ask the following questions:


·         Is the writer primarily attempting to act as an objective mediator between reality and the reader, reporting to the reader facts about the real world?  If so, the writer intends to inform. 


·         Is the writer sharing a personal perspective of the world and asking the reader to “see it my way”?  Or is the writer suggesting that the reader ought to change in some way—attitude, beliefs, values, etc.?    If so, the writer intends to persuade.  Persuasion in this case includes not just argumentation but any effort to convince the reader that the author’s perspective is one worth considering. 


·         Is the writer telling a story (real or imagined) or describing something (real or imagined) primarily to evoke laughter or amusement?  Is the writer attempting to elicit a reaction--fear, horror, disgust, sadness, and so on--primarily for the sake of the emotion and not to prove a point?  Is the writing fictional?  If so, the author intends to entertain. 


Answering these questions won’t solve the problem entirely since, for example, some writers will slant an informative piece, omitting important information or using highly emotive language, for example, in the hopes of persuading the reader. And a good short story intended primarily to evoke sadness can be a powerful argument, for example, against racism or war.  In fact, it can be argued that much literature is intended to both entertain and persuade.  But dividing your reading into three broad categories will help you get a better grasp of what the author expects.  Unless a writer states his or her purpose explicitly, the reader must carefully determine it.  Try to look beyond any immediate or personal reactions you might have.  You might be persuaded to act on behalf of the victims of the earthquake in China in 2008 after reading an article that was intended solely to inform readers about the devastation. Try not to confuse your response with the writer’s inte


The following paragraphs, all of which concern the same topic, illustrate different purposes for writing.  Which paragraph is informative, which is entertaining, and which is persuasive?


A.  Wexford College officials have decided against turning O’Dowd Hall into a coed dorm, according to Dean George Alan.  “We studied the proposal very carefully, but determined that we should keep all student residences exactly as they are for at least the time being,” Alan said.  Assistant Dean David Jones cited several reasons for the administration’s decision.  “Primarily, we were worried about the moral implications, and, frankly, we had many parents calling us to discourage us from instituting coed dorms,” Jones said, adding that the college worried also about the possibility of sexual harassment and the effect coed dorms might have on modest students.  Students for Coed Dorms plans to protest the decision with a rally on Saturday afternoon.


B.  Wexford College’s decision to keep O’Dowd Hall a men’s dorm is misguided and terribly unprogressive.  For the past thirty years or more, many colleges have offered students the choice of living in coed arrangements, and Wexford needs to do the same.  Allowing men and women to live in the same building will introduce them to the real-life experience of sharing space with one another, something they will have to do in their workplaces and neighborhoods.  The world isn’t divided into “his” and “hers”; why should dorms be?  Recent surveys of students at colleges that provide coed dorms have shown that living with members of the opposite sex does not increase sexual activity among students.  Wexford is simply showing its very old fashioned way of thinking when it insists on keeping men and women separate from one another.


C.  I think the problem has something to do with underwear.  In the eighteenth century men and women wore so much clothing they needed four hours just to get dressed.  The Victorians were supposedly scandalized at the sight of an ankle let alone a petticoat.  This is probably Dean Alan’s heritage.  He thinks we’ll be offended or thrilled at a glimpse of someone’s underwear as they head down the hall to the showers Is he kidding?  I see more underwear in my short walk to class than Jockey sells in a year.  I can tell you the brand and color of every pair of boxer shorts ever worn by the kid who sits in front of me in composition class. My generation would walk around in nothing but their underwear given the chance. 


In the first paragraph, the author acts as a mediator between the administration and readers, informing them about a decision and the reasons for it.  The author takes no position on the issue, so there is no attempt to persuade the reader, as there is in the second paragraph, where the author lists several premises in support of the claim that “Wexford needs to do the same” (that is, provide coed dorms).  The third author takes a position but does so comically, making the paragraph more entertaining than argumentative.  Whether the authors of these paragraphs have successfully provided information, argued their case, or entertained the reader is a matter for the reader to decide, using the methods of critical thinking detailed throughout the print edition of your textbook.





EXERCISE: For each of the following paragraphs state the topic.  Then tell what the author intends to do with the topic (narrate, describe, compare, etc.).  Then determine whether the author’s primary purpose is to inform, entertain, or persuade the reader.


1. University of Louisville men’s basketball coach, Rick Pitino:


When I go to work in the morning, things I don’t like to do I do right away.


If I have to make two or three unpleasant phone calls over the course of a day I always try to make them early on. By getting these done right away you are able to put a positive spin on the rest of your day. By postponing them they hang over your head like a guillotine, putting a negative spin on everything you do before you bite the bullet and make those calls. The rule should be simple: If we have twelve hours in the day and eight are going to be enjoyable and four are not, let’s get those four out of the way as quickly as possible.


2. Writer Dave Barry on issues likely to come between a man and a woman living together:


The major issue facing a man and a woman who decide to live together is: Dirt. I am serious. Men and women do not feel the same way about dirt at all. Men and women don’t even see dirt the same way. Women, for some hormonal reason, can see individual dirt molecules, whereas men tend not to notice them until they join together into clumps large enough to support commercial agriculture. There are exceptions, but over 85 percent of all males are legally classifiable as Cleaning Impaired.


This can lead to serious problems in a relationship. Let’s say a couple has decided to divide up the housework absolutely even-steven. Now when it’s the woman’s turn to clean, say, the bathroom, she will go in there and actually clean it. The man, on the other hand, when it’s his turn, will look around, and, because he is incapable of seeing the dirt, will figure nothing major is called for, so he’ll maybe flush the toilet and let it go at that. Then the woman will say: “Why didn’t you clean the bathroom? It’s filthy!” And the man, whose concept of “filthy” comes from the men’s rooms in bras, where you frequently see bacteria the size of cocker spaniels frisking around, will have no idea what she’s talking about.


3. Actress Meryl Streep offering advice to Vassar College graduates:


What everybody says is absolutely true. These are, or these were, the halcyon days. Real life is actually a lot more like high school. The common denominator prevails. Excellence is not always recognized or rewarded. What we watch on our screens, whom we elect, are determined to a large extent by public polls. Looks count. A lot. And unlike the best of the college experience, when ideas and solutions somehow seem attainable if you just get up early, stay up late, try hard enough, and find the right source or method, things on the outside sometimes seem vast and impossible, and settling, resigning oneself, or hiding and hunkering down becomes the best way of getting along. . . .


The choice, between the devil and the dream, comes up every day in little disguises. I’m sure it comes up in every field of endeavor and every life. My advice is to look the dilemma in the face and decide what you can live with. If you can live with the devil, Vassar hasn’t sunk her teeth into your leg the way she did into mine.


4. British Prime Minister Winston Churchill reacting to news of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941:


No American will think it wrong of me if I proclaim that to have the United States at our side was to me the greatest joy. I could not foretell the course of events. I do not pretend to have measured accurately the martial might of Japan, but now at this very moment I knew the United States was in the war, up to the neck and in to the death. So we had won after all! . . . England would live; Britain would live; the Commonwealth of Nations and the Empire would live. How long the war would last or in what fashion it would end, no man could tell, nor did I at this moment care. Once again in our long Island history we should emerge, however mauled or mutilated, safe and victorious. We should not be wiped out. Our history would not come to an end. We might not even have to die as individuals. Hitler’s fate was sealed. Mussolini’s fate was sealed. As for the Japanese, they would be ground to powder. All the rest was merely the proper application of overwhelming force. The British Empire, the Soviet Union, and now the United States, bound together with every scrap of their life and strength, were, according to my lights, twice or even thrice the force of their antagonists. . . .


Silly people—and there were many, not only in enemy countries—might discount the force of the United States. Some said they were soft, others that they would never be united. They would fool around at a distance. They would never come to grips. They would never stand blood-letting. . . . But I had studied the American Civil War, fought out to the last desperate inch. American blood flowed in my veins. I thought of a remark which Edward Grey had made to me more than thirty years before—that the United States is like “a gigantic boiler. Once the fire is lighted under it there is no limit to the power it can generate.” Being saturated and satiated with emotion and sensation, I went to bed and slept the sleep of the saved and thankful.


5. A passage from Abraham Lincoln’s Second Inaugural Address:


The Almighty has His own purposes. “Woe unto the world because of offenses! For it must needs be that offenses come; but woe to that man by whom the offense cometh.” If we shall suppose that American slavery is one of those offenses which, in the providence of God, must needs come, but which, having continued through his appointed time, He now wills to remove, and that He gives to both North and South this terrible war, as the woe due to those by whom the offense came, shall we discern therein any departure from those divine attributes which the believers in a living God always ascribe to Him? Fondly do we hope—fervently do we pray—that this mighty scourge of war may speedily pass away. Yet, if God wills that it continue until all the wealth piled by the bondsman’s two hundred and fifty years of unrequited toil shall be paid by another drawn with the sword, as was said three thousand years ago, so still it must be said, “The judgments of the Lord are true and righteous altogether.”




Tone (as an indicator of purpose)


A writer’s tone can give some indication of whether he or she is writing to inform, persuade, or entertain.  Tone in writing is very similar to tone in speaking: the one-word expression “No” can be said in anger, surprise, disbelief, frustration and so on.  Likewise, through vocabulary and style, a writer can strike a tone that reveals his or her attitude toward the subject matter (and occasionally toward the reader).  In fact, through tone (and other techniques such as structure and evidence) an author establishes a persona, an identity or personality that may or may not differ entirely from the author’s “real” personality.  An author can come across as haughty, pedantic, compassionate, angry, confused, and so on.  The tone of voice (and the persona) that an author uses—whether created or not—helps to make the point that the author is promoting. 


Consider the following two passages, the first by Alice Walker and the second by Lisa Farrington.  Both paragraphs deal with essentially the same issue: the cultural obstacles faced by black female artists.   


Black women are called, in the folklore that so aptly identifies one's status in society, "the mule of the world," because we have been handed the burdens that everyone else—everyone else—refused to carry. We have also been called "Matriarchs," "Superwomen," and "Mean and Evil Bitches." Not to mention "Castrators" and "Sapphire's Mama." When we have pleaded for understanding, our character has been distorted; when we have asked for simple caring, we have been handed empty inspirational appellations, then stuck in a far corner. When we have asked for love, we have been given children. In short, even our plainer gifts, our labors of fidelity and love, have been knocked down our throats. To be an artist, and a Black woman, even today, lowers our status in many respects, rather than raises it: and yet, artists we will be. 


Since the beginning of the slave trade in the 1500s, women of African descent have been typecast in the Western imagination as both sexually attractive and physically repulsive; as promiscuous femme fatales and genderless domestic servants; as excellent caregivers to white children and inadequate mothers to their own children; and as either naive and childlike primitives or dangerous and cunning shrews.  This amalgam of conflicting clichés integrates misperceptions of both race and gender, making an analysis of the African-American woman’s image doubly problematic.  Whereas African-American men have been unsympathetically categorized as criminal, indolent, dull-witted sexual predators, their female counterparts have endured these same racial stereotypes, as well as others rooted in their gender.


When Walker writes “we have been handed the burdens that everyone else—everyone else—refused to carry,” we can hear a particular tone in the way she repeats “everyone else, ” in her colloquial expressions (“knocked down our throats”), and in the rhythmic repetition of phrases (“when we have…, when we have . . ., when we have. . .").  How would you characterize her tone?  Outraged, angry, exasperated, indignant, defiant?  Farrington’s tone, on the other hand, is less impassioned, more somber.  Like Walker’s, her writing is rhythmic, and she uses repetition as a structuring device (grammarians call it anaphora), but her vocabulary is scholarly (“amalgam,” “integrates,” “analysis,” “problematic”), and her style less personal than Walker’s.  Walker’s anger gives her paragraph an argumentative edge, while Farrington’s more neutral tone suggests that her primary purpose is to inform the reader, even though any sensitive reader will see that Farrington is not taking an entirely disinterested stance on the issue of the treatment of African-American women.


As a point of comparison, consider the following passage from Africana: The Encyclopedia of the African and African American Experience, in which the tone is almost entirely neutral:


As artists and audiences grew more conversant in the diverse ways that one could express black culture, the 1970s and 1980s ushered in a variety of artists and artworks all comfortably operating under the rubric of Afro-American art.  From the photorealism of painter Barkley L. Hendricks and neo-mannerists stylizations of painter Ernie Barnes to the cloth-and-canvas accretions of mixed-media artist Benny Andres and altar-like installations of sculptor Betye Saar, African American art could no longer be contained in neat, stylistic categories.  The important exhibitions of past and present African American art organized by curators David C. Driskell and Edmund B. Gaither and the definitive histories and art publications of Elsa Honig Fine, Samella Lewis, and Ruth Waddy helped educate the experts and uninformed public alike on all that might constitute African American art.


Irony       A tone heard frequently in contemporary writing, irony is based on opposition and contrast.  Irony occurs when an author’s intended meaning runs contrary to the literal meaning of his or her words, or when what actually happens runs contrary to what we expected would happen.  An example of an ironic situation is provided by the former governor of New York, Eliot Spitzer, who rose in politics on the basis of his firm stand against corruption and crime, including prostitution, and fell from grace after it was discovered that he had engaged the service of prostitutes while in office.  Employing an ironic tone, writers can effectively expose hypocrisy, political shenanigans, and human weaknesses.  But it can be one of the more difficult tones to detect because an author is saying what he does not mean.  We may miss the irony, and therefore miss the point.  Or we may assume an author is being ironic when he is being dead serious.  In any case, an ironic tone is an indication that a writer’s primary purpose is to persuade the reader. 


Ascertaining a writer’s tone is not always easy.  Without clues such as vocal pitch and facial expressions, we must depend on words alone and the sensitivity of our inner ear to ascertain the writer’s tone.  Sometimes we misperceive.  In the case of irony, we may believe that a writer is jesting when he is serious.  Our own anxieties may cause us to hear anger or accusation in a writer’s voice when none is intended.  And sometimes writers give the wrong impression, or they give no hint as to how we are to hear their words.  When ascertaining tone, use whatever textual clues are available, and be willing to say when you can’t tell for sure.  Finally, remember that when you can ascertain tone, use it to help identify a writer’s purpose: anger, irony, insistence, pleading, and many, many other tones are used by writers trying to persuade readers.  Purely informative writing is often marked by more neutral, disinterested, objective tones.




A short list of words used to describe tone











































A Last Word on Author’s Purpose:


When writing about the things you’ve read, try to mention both the writer’s purpose regarding the topic and the intended (or accomplished) effect upon the reader.  To return to an earlier example, you might say about an article on The Family Guy, “In this informative and entertaining essay, the writer traces the history of The Family Guy from its inception to its current status as one of television’s most popular shows.”  You don’t have to overuse the words “informative,” “entertaining” or “persuasive”; you can find synonyms and even more precise words.  Also, in writing about what you read, you may have occasion to mention the tone: “In this cynical look at commercial television, . . . .”  or  “In this irreverent and skeptical essay on modern cartoons for adults, the author compares The Family Guy and The Simpsons, arguing convincingly that…..   What follows “that” is the author’s point, to which we’ll turn next.





The Author’s Point


Much of what you read will have a single central point (the main idea or thesis) that will either be stated outright or implied.  Do not confuse the point of a work with its topic, which is the central subject of a reading.  The point is what the author is saying about the topic or subject. In the sentence “Cats are sneaky,” cats is the subject or topic; the point of the sentence is that they are sneaky. 


When establishing the point of a reading, think in terms of information, persuasion, and entertainment:




The main point of a persuasive piece is the central claim the writer is asking the reader to believe or accept, whether the claim is defended in a rational argument, an emotional appeal, a sarcastic mocking of an opponent’s position, a list of shocking and disturbing facts, and so on.  A writer who hopes to convince readers of her point of view must give those readers some indication of what that viewpoint is. 


As an example, we’ll use a paragraph.  It should be noted that not all paragraphs have a single, central point; some paragraphs are intended simply to serve as transitional bridges connecting two sections of an essay or chapter, for example.  But many content paragraphs do have a point, usually expressed in a topic sentence.  What is the point of the following persuasive paragraph?  The sentences are numbered to make referring to them easier. 


1Although more overtly political rap lost popularity in the mid-1990s, some critical discourse is still embedded in the lyrics of many recent rap songs.  2Nevertheless, rap’s more critical voices have been marginalized in recent years. 3Some say that corporate control and marketing have deadened hip-hop’s political edge (Powell, 2000).  4Rather than offering a critique of the postindustrial United States, which was more evident in early rap (Rose, 1994), rap’s critical voice has faded into the background. 5Even though this may not be directly connected to rap’s widening and “Whitening” audience, it is probably not coincidental


Don’t assume that the main point of a paragraph is in the first sentence (although it’s safe to assume that the main point of a book will appear in the introduction or first chapter).  Here the main point is best summarized in the second sentence:


“…rap’s more critical voices have been marginalized in recent years.” 


If you have trouble seeing the point immediately, ask yourself how the sentences in the paragraph relate to one another.  Sentence 1 cannot be the main point because the second sentence begins with “Nevertheless,” thereby reversing the point of sentence one.  Sentence 3 provides a reason for the point given in Sentence 2.  Sentence 4 essentially repeats the point of 2.  Sentence 5 provides another reason for the point in Sentence 2.  Clearly Sentence 2 is the focus of the paragraph. 




Many writers of informative pieces state the main point clearly and include explanations, examples, facts and so on to clarify the point. 


What is the main point of the following paragraph?


Why do people use cell phones? The most frequently cited reason is convenience, which can cover a rather wide range of behaviors. Writing in the Wall Street Journal this spring, an executive for a wireless company noted that “in Slovakia, people are using mobile phones to remotely switch on the heat before they return home,” and in Norway, “1.5 million people can confirm their tax returns” using cell phone short text messaging services. Paramedics use camera phones to send ahead to hospitals pictures of the incoming injuries; “in Britain, it is now commonplace for wireless technology to allow companies to remotely access meters or gather diagnostic information.” Construction workers on-site can use cell phones to send pictures to contractors off-site. Combined with the individual use of cell phones—to make appointments, locate a friend, check voicemail messages, or simply to check in at work—cell phones offer people a heretofore unknown level of convenience.


The author gives several wide-ranging examples to illustrate her main point that cell phone owners use their phones for the sake of convenience.  (Later in the essay she discusses the other uses of cell phones, such as to make the user feel safer.) 


Some informative readings, however, are not centered on a main idea or point and contain, instead, facts related to the topic.  For example, a strictly informative piece on how to operate an mp3 player could be written to include just the necessary steps.  The purpose would be to show the reader how to use the device, but a single central point might be missing.  A persuasive piece, on the other hand, might include the central claim that operating an mp3 player is easy if one follows the simple steps described. 


Does the following paragraph have a main point?


1Tarantulas customarily live in deep cylindrical burrows, from which they emerge at dusk and into which they retire at dawn.  2Mature males wander about after dark in search of females and occasionally stray into houses.  3After mating, the male dies in a few weeks, but a female lives much longer and can mate several years in succession.  4In a Paris museum is a tropical specimen which is said to have been living in captivity for 25 years.


The topic is the sex life of tarantulas, the tone is objective, the rhetorical purpose is informative, and the point is, what?  You may be able to locate a unifying idea in the passage, but there is no thesis being advanced.  The author simply wants to provide information on his topic.




An entertaining work, like informative and persuasive readings, can contain a single main point.  Comic arguments and essays certainly do, as when an author asserts and demonstrates, for example, that his mother was dangerously inattentive or that scientific knowledge of something can ruin our romantic attachment to it.  Bu few literary works other than essays (short stories, novels, poems, plays) include an outright statement of the main idea.  In fact, the word theme, rather than point, is usually used for literary works, most of which contain more than a single theme.  The theme can be stated in terms of the message or moral promoted by the literary work (“Believe in yourself!”) or in terms of what the work says about the human condition (“Modern love is complicated”).  Sometimes the purpose of a literary work is best stated as the impression it leaves upon its reader.  Perhaps a certain novel was intended only to make us laugh or tremble in fear, for example, and not to make any greater point. 


Is there a point in what follows?


Screaming for help, a man runs into the vet's office carrying a pet turtle.  The vet grabs the turtle, rushes him back to an examination room and sets him on the table. After examining the still body the vet tells the man that his pet turtle, unfortunately, is dead. The man can’t believe it and demands a second opinion. The vet shrugs his shoulders, goes into the back room and comes out with a cat.  The cat sniffs the turtle up and down, pokes at it, looks at the vet and meows. The vet says to the man, "I'm sorry, but the cat thinks your turtle is dead, too.”  “That can’t be,” the man says.  “I want another opinion.”  The vet brings in a black Labrador Retriever. The Lab sniffs at the turtle, pokes it a few times, turns it over, and finally looks at the vet and barks. The vet looks at the man and says, "I'm sorry, but the dog thinks your turtle is dead, too."  Finally resigned to the truth, the man thanks the vet and asks how much he owes. “$750,” the vet says. "$750 to tell me a turtle is dead?!" exclaims the man.  “Well," the vet replies, "I would have charged you only $50, but you’re the one who insisted on the cat scan and lab tests.”


Supporting Details (with advice on Annotating and Summarizing)


After establishing an author’s point, you can more closely examine the author’s method, that is, the author’s strategy for developing the point throughout the reading. Authors support their points in various ways, using facts, statistics, premises, references to other authorities, examples, analogies, personal observations, hypothetical situations, and so on. 


To reveal how supporting details provide evidence for the main idea, annotate your text, which means to make notes in the margin to help remind you of the content and meaning of the passage.  Annotating is somewhat like outlining, not a task students tend to accept willingly because of the time involved and the association with formal outlining of research papers.  But when annotating or outlining for understanding, you don’t have to adhere to any formal guidelines or write out long sentences.  A few short notes in the margin (or, if the margins are narrow or it’s a library book, in your notebook) will do.  You’re simply trying to understand the shape and substance of the passage.  Look, for example, at the following paragraph.  Read the full paragraph first, and then look at the “handwritten” notes in the margin:


Gender feminists insist upon gender-inclusive language and seek to eradicate terms such as man and he used generically for humans of both sexes.  Yet gender feminism fosters its own forms of gender-exclusive usage for political purposes.  The Ms. Foundation, for example, resolutely refuses to alter its Take Our Daughters to Work Day to Take Our Children to Work Day, lest boys be invited.  Gender feminist groups lobbied successfully in Congress for a Violence Against Women Act, even thought American males are almost twice as likely as females to be victims of violent crimes (even when rape is included in the tally) and three times more likely to be victims of murder (Farrell Myths, 32).  A woman who kills her male partner can plead the Battered Woman’s Syndrome; a man who kills (or even defends himself against) a violent female partner cannot plead the Battered Man’s Syndrome






Main idea: Gen. fem fosters gender-

exclusive language for political purposes.


Ex: Ms. Foundation: Take Our Daughters

to Work



Ex.: Violence Against Women Act


---more men victims of violent crime


            and murder




Ex.: Battered Woman’s Syndrome

When outlining a more complex paragraph, you may wish to show how minor details support the major details.  Look at the following paragraph, which is about product placement in reality shows:


Reebok, by outfitting the feet of Survivor participants, masterfully tapped in to the adventurous spirit of reality fans.  And since then, other advertisers followed, with mixed success.  Pontiac, the top advertiser for Survivor II, according to Competitive Media Reporting, shelled out $7.2 million to advertise its outdoorsy Aztek truck/camper during the program, both in commercial spots and as a coveted prize during one episode of the show.  Jason Thompson, the reality enthusiast from Texas, says that the car manufacturer made a smart move.  “Before seeing it in the program, I didn’t’ really know too much about the car,” he says.  However, he adds, some products work better than others. Regarding the abundance of product placement on Survivor II by Mountain Dew soda and Doritos Tortilla chips, Thompson says: “I’ve always hated Mountain Dew.  I’m not going to run out and buy it now because it was on Survivor.”  Dehnart, of RealityBlurred.com, says that advertisers should also be worried about potential backlash from product placement strategy.  “When it starts to interfere with the show, a lot of fans resent it,” he says.



 Main Point: To appeal to viewers’ adventurous spirit, advertisers have placed products on Survivor with mixed results.


  Pontiac Aztek advertised for $7.2 million


       ---a good result, according to Thompson


                   --he knows more about the car





Some products = negative  result


   ---Ex: Mountain Dew and Doritos



  ---Thompson: won’t buy MD




 Reason for some negative result: can interfere with show, according to Dehnart.

Once you’ve understood the content of the passage, you can, if you wish, summarize it.  We discussed summaries earlier in the textbook, so we’ll give a quick reminder here. In a summary you reduce a long passage to its essential meaning, including the main point and any major supporting details that are significant given your purpose for reading. There are no rules for the length of a summary, but you should be able to reduce a paragraph to one or two sentences, a short essay or article to a paragraph or two, and a chapter to a page or two.  For example, the paragraphs above might be summarized as follows:


Summary : Although gender feminists oppose the use of gender-exclusive language, they have used the same type of language for political reasons in projects such as Take Our Daughters to Work Day, the Violence Against Women Act, and the Battered Woman’s Syndrome. 


Summary: Advertisers’ efforts to appeal to the “adventurous spirit” of Survivor viewers worked in the case of the Pontiac Aztek, which intrigued viewer Jason Thompson, but did not work in the case of Mountain Dew, which Thompson does not like and would not buy anyway.  RealityBlurred.com’s Dehnart cautions that product placement can alienate viewers if it “interferes with the show.” 


Notice a few important things about summaries.  They do not include any evaluative comments or personal reactions. If you want to add your own thoughts to the text, put your thoughts in brackets to distinguish your ideas from the author’s.  Second, in a summary you can rearrange the ideas of the original as long as you don’t alter the author’s meaning or logic.  Finally, you’ll notice that the language of the summary does not repeat word-for-word the language of the original.  To the extent possible, try to paraphrase the original passage.  Paraphrasing is one of the best methods both for determining whether you’ve comprehended the original and for helping you remember it.  Don’t, however, paraphrase significant words; if you’re summarizing a definition, for example, you don’t want to substitute your word for the key term.  Otherwise challenge yourself to come up with synonyms that don’t alter the meaning of the original passage.  If you can’t think of a substitute, or if the original is best left intact, put the original language in quotes, as we did with “adventurous spirit” and “interferes with the show.” Even if you initially intend your summaries only for personal use, using quotation marks will alert you to the original text should you decide to use your summaries in an essay later on. 


Finally, keep two important points in mind:  First, not all paragraphs or longer passages need to be outlined or summarized.  Depending on your purpose for reading and the content and design of a paragraph or passage, you may be able to encapsulate its significance in a single marginal annotation—a sentence, a phrase, even a single word—or ignore it altogether.  The point is to use whatever technique is most useful for capturing the essential meaning of the text and for condensing readings that are especially challenging and complex. 


Second, when working to comprehend a passage, don’t forget to respond mentally to the writer even though your subjective responses will not appear in your summary: challenge the point, question the logic, compare to other writers, note what’s interesting or inspiring, comment on the author’s style or tone (which doesn’t show up in a summary).  You may want to jot down your thoughts, reactions, and questions immediately after your summary so that the summary provides context for your reactions.  Also record questions that you can raise in class, in a discussion forum, or among your classmates.  Make your questions specific and connect them to particular passages if possible: “I didn’t understand the distinction the author was making between purpose and effect on page three.”  (Tip: Avoid making vague statements like “I’m not sure what the author was getting at,” which may seem intended to give the impression that you read when you didn’t.  Make your comments and questions specific.)


Practice with Longer Passages


Below are two paragraphs that present a greater challenge than the paragraphs used as examples above. The paragraphs, from Machiavelli’s The Prince, begin a section in which the author asks whether it is better for a prince, the head of state, to be thought generous or miserly.  Each paragraph is outlined in the right margin and summarized below.  (Read the paragraph before reading the annotations.)


Beginning, therefore, with the first of the above-mentioned qualities [generosity], I say that it would be good to be considered generous; nevertheless, generosity used in such a manner as to give you a reputation for it will harm you; because if it is employed virtuously and as one should employ it, it will not be recognized and you will not avoid the reproach of its opposite. And so, if a prince wants to maintain his reputation for generosity among men, it is necessary for him not to neglect any possible means of lavish display; in so doing such a prince will always use up all his resources and he will be obliged, eventually, if he wishes to maintain his reputation for generosity, to burden the people with excessive taxes and to do everything possible to raise funds. This will begin to make him hateful to his subjects, and, becoming impoverished, he will not be much esteemed by anyone; so that, as a consequence of his generosity, having offended many and rewarded few, he will feel the effects of any slight unrest and will be ruined at the first sign of danger; recognizing this and wishing to alter his policies, he immediately runs the risk of being reproached as a miser.


Being considered generous is good, but


Main point: don’t be so generous that you earn a reputation for it.


????  Employ generosity virtuously and you’ll be considered the opposite, a miser,   which is OK???


Reason for main point: To keep rep. for generosity, prince must make a show of it


---which costs a lot, requiring taxes on the majority


 ---which will lead majority of subjects to hate the prince, now too poor to be liked

and in jeopardy


If he changes his policies, he will be considered a miser. 


A reader may have difficulty figuring out what Machiavelli means when he writes, “[B]ecause if it [generosity] is employed virtuously and as one should employ it, it will not be recognized and you will not avoid the reproach of its opposite.”  We’ve noted the reader’s confusion in our marginal notes.  The second paragraph helps clarify Machiavelli’s point: 


A prince, therefore, unable to use this virtue of generosity in a manner which will not harm himself if he is known for it, should, if he is wise, not worry about being called a miser; for with time he will come to be considered more generous once it is evident that, as a result of his parsimony, his income is sufficient, he can defend himself from anyone who makes war against him, and he can undertake enterprises without overburdening his people, so that he comes to be generous with all those from whom he takes nothing, who are countless, and miserly with all those to whom he gives nothing, who are few. In our times we have not seen great deeds accomplished except by those who were considered miserly; all others were done away with. Pope Julius II, although he made use of his reputation for generosity in order to gain the papacy, then decided not to maintain it in order to be able to wage war; the present King of France has waged many wars without imposing extra taxes on his subjects, only because his habitual parsimony has provided for the additional expenditures; the present King of Spain, if he had been considered generous, would not have engaged in nor won so many campaigns.


Main point: A wise prince does not worry about being considered a miser.



Reason: he will be considered generous when


he can fund wars and other ventures without raising taxes.


He is now actually generous to the majority since he takes nothing from them.  A few people will consider the prince a miser, but


great deeds are accomplished only by those considered miserly: Ex.: Pope Julius II


           Ex.: King of France


           Ex.: King of Spain

It now becomes clear what Machiavelli means in the confusing passage in the first paragraph.  He means that even if a prince is carefully and wisely generous—giving only to those few who deserve it—he will still be considered a miser because his generosity will not be recognized by the majority of the people.  He may as well, therefore, give away nothing.  Here’s how the paragraphs might be summarized:


Summary ¶1:  A prince can earn a reputation for being generous only through extravagant attention-grabbing displays, which will deplete his resources, forcing him to raise taxes and angering the majority of his subjects, who will come to dislike the prince and may cause his downfall.  Any other approaches—being “virtuously” generous or giving nothing away—will earn the prince a reputation for miserliness.


Summary ¶2: A wise prince will not worry about being considered a miser, for when he can fund wars and other ventures without raising taxes, those from whom he has taken nothing will then consider him generous.  A few, who have gotten nothing, will still call him a miser, but only miserly leaders have accomplished anything great. 


We’ve summarized both paragraphs, but, in fact, one even briefer summary would do.  Once you’ve gotten the meaning of the passage, you can move on to reactions and evaluations: Is Machiavelli being realistic or cynical about the nature of people?  What’s interesting about Machiavelli’s definition of the term generosity?  Has he chosen too small a sample to defend his assertion that only misers accomplish great deeds?  Does Machiavelli’s generosity/miserliness dichotomy have any relevance in modern politics?  And so on.




Be careful when you outline, summarize and paraphrase to avoid putting words in the author’s mouth.  Whenever you attempt to render the author’s words into your own language, you must consistently ask “Is what I’m saying what the author is really saying.”  If you have ever attempted to paraphrase poetry, you have some idea of how hard it is to substitute synonyms for a poem’s words without losing or altering the intended meaning.  In fact, some literary critics argue that literature is not paraphrasable since the author’s literary language is a significant and inextricable part of the meaning of the text.  However, you can summarize the plot of a story or the series of images in a poem, and informative and persuasive writing can be both summarized and paraphrased, but you must do so in a way that is fair to the author.


This is easier said than done.  If you are reading actively and not just decoding and comprehending, you will create thoughts that are not necessarily part of the author’s intention.  Look, for example, at the following joke.


In a certain monastery the monks have taken a vow of silence. But once a year, on the anniversary of the founding of the monastery, one monk may briefly speak.  One year, at breakfast, a monk looks up from his bowl and says, “The porridge is a bit hot.”  At the next anniversary, another monk looks up and says, “The porridge is just fine.”  A year passes and a third monk looks up and says, “If you two don’t stop your bickering. . . .”


In order for the joke to work, you must fill in some gaps.  For example, the writer does not say in the third sentence that the monks eat together, but a reader infers this from what he or she knows about monastic life, and the next sentence provides more evidence that breakfast is a communal event.  The reader must also infer that the first monk is present when the second monk speaks a year later.  And so on.  When inferring, you “read between the lines,” supplying connections and filling in gaps based on the evidence in the text and your own personal experience and knowledge. You might infer an author’s attitude or motivations, pick up information through clues and suggestions, and draw conclusions that the author is subtly and intentionally leading you toward.  If we couldn’t infer, an author would have to tell us everything and comedians would ruin every joke.


Making inferences is an important part of reading.  It’s especially necessary in literature, where authors get at their points in roundabout ways, including describing a character’s actions, from which the reader infers the character’s thoughts, emotions, and motives.  Literary authors also rely heavily on symbol and metaphorical language. Nick Carraway isn’t really referring to rowing boats when he says at the end of The Great Gatsby that “we beat on, boats against the current, born back ceaselessly into the past.”




EXERCISE:  For each of the following paragraphs or sets of paragraphs, do the following:


  1. State the topic.
  2. Tell what the author’s purpose is regarding the topic (narrate, describe, compare, illustrate with examples, etc.)
  3. Determine what appears to be the author’s rhetorical purpose—to inform, entertain, or persuade the reader.
  4. Underline or state the author’s main point if there is one.
  5. Describe the author’s tone.
  6. Annotate the paragraph or set of paragraphs.
  7. Summarize the paragraph or set of paragraphs.


It can not be denied that understanding a paragraph out of context can be more difficult than understanding it as part of the work from which it has been taken.  You may have to read a paragraph several times to fully understand its meaning and purpose.  You can find the full context for each of the following items in the accompanying endnote, many of which provide an Internet source in addition to the print source of the passage.


1.     To stop the illegal activity and restore staff morale [in the Broward County, Florida, Public Library, where patrons were accessing pornography on Internet terminals], the library board chose to install N2H2 filtering software. Since then, abuse of the Internet has stopped. Further, no patrons have complained about being denied access to legitimate sites.

This experience has been repeated across the county. After watching the failure of the education/policy approach, nearly 4,000 public li­braries have chosen to install filtering software. According to a 20001 study by the U.S. National Commission on Libraries and Information Science, 24.6 percent of public libraries now use filters, an increase of 121 percent in two years.

Other research shows the filters are widely popular with the librar­ians who use them. Library researcher Ken Haycock, who recently stud­ied the use of filters in public libraries, found that 76 percent of public librarians said they were "very/somewhat satisfied" with the decision to install Internet filter software. An eye-popping 90 percent of public librarians using filters responded that the software serves its purpose either "very well" or "somewhat well."


2.   Our closest allies have spoken out against an invasion of Iraq. Gerhard Schröder, leading a usually complaisant Germany but locked in a tough re-election fight, had gone so far as to label this possibility an "adventure," sparking a protest from our [United States'] ambassador. Some Bush administration officials seem not to believe that our allies' views matter all that much. Others argue, more temperately, that the Europeans and other protesters will swallow their reservations after the fact, when they can see the military success of our action and its positive consequences. They may be right. But it is at least as likely that this disagreement will widen the already sizeable gap between European and American worldviews. Generations of young people could grow up resenting and resist­ing America, as they did after the Vietnam War. Whether or not these trends in the long run undermine our alliances, they could have a range of negative short-term consequences, including diminished intelligence sharing and cooperation.


3.   I have argued that war with Iraq is avoidable and should be avoided. But if the U.S. does go to war, I contend that there are better and worse ways of prosecuting such a war. The U.S. must make a visible and cred­ible effort to explore and exhaust all other reasonable options—not logi­cally possible options—but all reasonable ones. The U.S. also must state a public rationale that focuses on enforcement within some viable inter-national system. And most important of all, if regime change means the unconditional surrender of Iraq and abdication by Saddam Hussein of all reins of power, then the U.S. must commit itself to doing for Iraq what it did for Germany after World War II. The U.S. must commit itself to political, economic, and social reconstruction of Iraq such that a decent regime capable of standing on its own will be the likely outcome of U.S. efforts. If that means an occupation measured in decades rather than months, and it means the expenditures of tens of billions of dollars a year in order to sustain that—then we must commit ourselves to that here and now, because if what we really have in mind is the destruction and abandonment of a nation, that, in my judgment, is absolutely the worst outcome imaginable.


4.   Workplaces are breeding grounds of envy, personal grudges, in­fatuation, and jilted loves, and beneath a fairly high threshold of outrageousness, these travails should be either suffered in silence, com­plained of to higher management, or left behind as one seeks other em­ployment. No one, female or male, can expect to enjoy a working envi­ronment that is perfectly stress-free, or to be treated always and by everyone with kindness and respect. To the extent that sympathetic judges have encouraged women to seek monetary compensation for slights and annoyances, they have not done them a great service. Women need to develop a thick skin in order to survive and prosper in the workforce. It is patronizing to think that they need to be recom­pensed by male judges for seeing a few pornographic pictures on a wall. By their efforts to extend sexual harassment charges to even the most trivial behavior, the radical feminists send a message that women are not resilient enough to ignore the run-of-the-mill, churlish provocation from male coworkers. It is difficult to imagine a suit by a longshoreman complaining of mental stress due to the display of nude male centerfolds by female coworkers. Women cannot expect to have it both ways: equal­ity where convenient, but special dispensations when the going gets rough. Equality has its price and that price may include unwelcome sexual advances, irritating and even intimidating sexual jests, and lewd and obnoxious colleagues.


5.   [Reports about the dangers of smoking began appearing in the 1950s.] Small brands could not resist the temptation to use advertising to scare smokers into switching brands. They inaugurated several spec­tacular years of "fear advertising" that sought to gain competitive advantage by exploiting smokers' new fear of cancer. Lorillard, the beleaguered seller of Old Gold, introduced Kent, a new filter brand supported by ad claims like these: "Sensitive smokers get real health protection with new Kent," "Do you love a good smoke but not what the smoke does to you?" and "Takes out more nicotine and tars than any other leading cigarette—the difference in protection is priceless," illustrated by television ads showing the black tar trapped by Kent's filters.


6.  I'm thinking of asking the servants to wax my change before placing it in the Chinese tank I keep on my dresser.  It's important to have clean money--not new, but well maintained.  That's one of the tenets of my church.  It's not mine personally, but the one I attend with my family: the Cathedral of the Sparkling Nature.  It's that immense gothic building with the towers and bells and statues of common people poised to lead from the spires.  They offer tours and there's an open house the first Sunday of every October.  You should come!  Just don't bring your camera, because the flash tends to spool the horses, which is a terrible threat to me and my parents, seeing as the reverend insists that we occupy the first pew.  He rang us up not long ago, tipsy--he's a tippler--saying that our faces brought him closer to God.  d its' true, we're terribly good-looking people.


7.   Napster, the first widely used music-sharing software, appeared in 1999. It was based on a program developed by a nineteen-year-old college student named Shawn Fanning.  Later that year the R.I.A.A. [the Recording Industry Association of America] charged Napster with copyright infringement, and, after a hearing in San Francisco, a California federal judge ruled against Napster and eventually closed the service down. But that action did almost nothing to diminish the availability of free music online; people simply began to use other file-sharing programs, like KaZaA, Morpheus, Grokster, and LimeWire. Unlike Napster, these programs, which operate on what are known as P2P (peer-to-peer) computer networks, have no central computer that keeps an index of all the files on the system. Instead, any computer using one of these programs can search and share files with any other computer using the same software. The number of people downloading music files over P2P networks today is thought to be many times greater than the number of people who used Napster at its height; by some estimates, fifty million Americans have downloaded music illegally.


8.   In another big victory for the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) a federal jury has fined Boston University student Joel Tenenbaum $675,000 for illegally downloading and distributing 30 copyrighted songs.

In finding Tenenbaum guilty of willful copyright infringement, the Boston court's jury fined the 25 year-old doctoral student a sum of $22,500 for each illegally downloaded song, far less than the maximum statutory fine of $150,000 per song that the jury could have hit him with.

The damages awarded today were about a third less than the massive $1.92 million fine that was assessed against Minnesota native Jammie Thomas-Rasset in a similar music piracy case that was decided in June.

As with Tenenbaum, Thomas-Rasset too was found liable for illegally downloading 24 copyright songs. But in her case, the jury awarded the music companies which had sued her, $80,000 per infringed song.

The verdict in the Tenenbaum case came after a brief trial that began Monday and ended yesterday when Tenenbaum admitted under direct questioning that he had illegally downloaded and distributed all of the songs at the center of the case.

9.  The RIAA’s sue-happy stance and the ridiculous judgments probably won’t help them make any friends.  They continue to fight against digital music, which has long since replaced the CD as the music distribution system of choice, just as CDs replaced cassettes and cassettes replaced LPs.  The huge success of iTunes and the growing popularity of streaming music and internet radio have proven digital music is here to say.  Unfortunately the RIAA seems determined to destroy it, between their lawsuits against file sharers and they insistence on charging internet radio stations such high per song royalties that many of them face going out of business altogether


11.   Student plagiarism may be becoming less common as more and more colleges and universities adopt plagiarism-detection software, such as Turnitin, a product of a company named iParadigms. Thousands of colleges both in the United States and abroad have acquired licenses, at an annual cost of about 80 cents per enrolled student, to use the program. The program digi­tizes each student's paper, uploads it into the Turnitin database, and searches the database for matches. The Turnitin database is actually a collection of databases. One, the equivalent of Google's database, is a complete and continu­ously updated copy of the World Wide Web. Others contain archived materials from the Web, contents of other publicly available databases—and all the student papers that have been submit­ted to Turnitin for a plagiarism check.


12.  Some especially tony colleges, such as Harvard, do not subscribe to Turnitin or other plagiarism-detection software services but prefer to preach to their students about the evils of plagiarism. These schools are naive. True, their students are abler on average than the students at lesser colleges.  But no college has a uniformly able and motivated student body, when one considers athletic scholarships, legacy admissions, and affirmative action. Abler students tend also to be more ambitious than mediocre ones, and ambition can be a tempter. What is true, however is that a clever teacher can make it difficult for students to plagiarize simply by the nature of the assignments he gives. If, for example, he assigns his students to write essays comparing two disparate writers, philosophers, etc. (Homer and Tom Clancy, Gibbon and Doris Kearns Goodwin), they will not be able to find a previously published comparison. But there will be pedagogical distortion, as my examples are intended to suggest. 


13.   Before we go any further, let's acknowledge that the questions of whether and how different kinds of animals feel pain, and of whether and why it might be justifiable to inflict pain on them in order to eat them, turn out to be extremely complex and difficult. And comparative neuroanatomy is only part of the problem. Since pain is a totally subjective mental experience, we do not have direct access to anyone or anything's pain but our own; and even just the principles by which we can infer that other human beings experi­ence pain and have a legitimate interest in not feeling pain involve hard-core philosophy — metaphysics, epistemology, value theory, ethics. The fact that even the most highly evolved nonhuman mammals can't use language to communicate with us about their subjective mental experience is only the first layer of additional complication in trying to extend our reasoning about pain and morality to animals. And everything gets progressively more abstract and convolved as we move farther and farther out from the higher-type mammals into cattle and swine and dogs and cats and rodents, and then birds and fish, and finally invertebrates like lobsters.


14.   The competitive aspects of billiards and bowling games, the ample opportunity for gambling on them, and the relatively inexpensive equip­ment needed for some games played on a small pitch or table helped make them immensely popular—so much so that they were banned or discouraged by social critics, religious leaders, and other scolds in many parts of Europe. Monarchs thought they distracted their subjects from the more important (to them alone) practice of archery, which obviously had greater value for warfare than did pitching or hitting a ball at a target. Stern religious leaders saw gaming—and play in general—as the entering wedge of licentiousness and other godless behaviors. Secular social critics saw billiards as interfering with the development of "habits of industry" that they were certain was what the lazy and morally challenged underclasses needed. And all critics decried the gambling that took place routinely. None of it worked. Eventually the bans were lifted (first for the nobility, then for all).


15.   What was in those clouds of sand, generated by drill and dynamite [in the building of railroad tunnels]? Freshly ground silica between five and ten microns wide, silica that floated through men's nostrils and directly into their lungs. While Big Bend work­ers left their site when they saw dust, convicts at the Lewis Tunnel could not. Even a single day's exposure to freshly ground silica can cause acute silicosis and early death. In a process that is still not well understood, these microscopic particles of silica get caught in the alveoli, or air sacs. The lungs have microphages, white blood cells that ordinarily ingest bacteria. When these microphages ingest freshly ground silica, they die. Other mi­crophages rush to the site, also dying. Pus fills the air sacs, providing a breeding ground for tuberculosis and pneumonia, as well as constricting air supply. Those not killed by tuberculosis and pneumonia will die any-way, because acute silicosis is almost always fatal within a year or two. In 1969, nearly one hundred years after John Henry and his fellow workers died, the Coal Act mandated that powered drills have collars to prevent silica from shooting out, that workers wear masks near them, and that drills be wet.


16.   The kids [in the national spelling bee] are all bright and winning and incredibly dedicated, and you feel their anguish as they're eliminated one after the other, in a cruel prototype of Survivor. But while that experience would have been familiar to [Horace] Greeley or [Mark] Twain, neither of them would have been likely to prevail in a modern competition. Back in the first decades of the national competition, the contestants were given the sorts of words that an ordinary literate citizen would be expected to know, like promiscuous, intelligible, and fracas. In 1932, Dorothy Greenwald from Des Moines, Iowa, walked away with the laurels when she was able to spell knack. But like a lot of other competitive events, the spelling bee has become a lot more specialized and intense over the course of time. In recent years the winning words in the national bee have included such bower-bird treasures as xanthosis, vivisepuliure, euonym, succedaneum, and prospicience. 


17.   Sarah and Todd and the kids were sitting maybe a third of the way up the hill on that sweltering Wednesday afternoon, much closer to the center of the pool than if they'd been able to claim their usual spot under the spreading oak tree. They had an unobstructed fifty-yard-line view of the water, from the toddlers sitting in the shallow end to their left, to the junior high kids batting around a beach ball in the middle, to the teenage daredevils doing backflips off the deep end diving board to their right.

But like most of the people around her, Sarah wasn't looking at the water just then. Her gaze was drawn—irresistibly, it seemed—to the nearside walkway, to the man standing near the lifeguard chair and glancing around with a worried expression, apparently searching for a clear patch of grass on which to spread the rolled-up pink towel that was draped around his neck.

At first she thought she was looking at him because he was holding a bright orange scuba flipper in each hand and had a diving mask of the same color perched high on his forehead. People didn't often wear that sort of gear to the Town Pool, and even if they did, this guy wouldn't have seemed the type. He was a pasty, overweight man who had made one mistake by going shirtless and another by wearing a ridiculously loud pair of swim trunks, lurid tropical flow­ers throbbing against a flat gray background, a combination of errors that somehow made him seem overdressed and underdressed at the same time. But then Sarah took a second look at his oddly familiar face and realized that she was staring at him for an entirely different reason.


18.   Pleasure is the business of woman's life, according to the present modification of society, and while it continues to be so, little can be expected from such weak beings. Inheriting, in a lineal descent from the first fair defect in nature, the sovereignty of beauty, they have, to maintain their power, resigned the natural rights, which the exercise of reason might have procured them, and chosen rather to be short-lived queens than labour to obtain the sober pleasures that arise from equality. Exalted by their inferiority (this sounds like a contradiction), they constantly demand homage as women, though experience should teach them that the men who pride themselves upon paying this arbitrary insolent respect to the sex, with the most scrupulous exactness, are most inclined to tyrannize over, and despise, the very weakness they cherish. . . .


19.   Gary Kleck's book, Point Blank: Guns and Violence in America, was published in 1991 and received a prestigious criminology award. Although it was generally ignored by both the media and the medical researchers, it was a turning point. At last there was a comprehensive, unbiased assessment of the issues surrounding guns and violence that was available to lay people and researchers alike. In 1995 there was an-other breakthrough when Kleck and Gertz's study "Armed Resistance to Crime: The Prevalence and Nature of Self-Defense with a Gun" was pub­lished. This study is the first one devoted specifically to the subject of armed self-defense. Of the nearly 5,000 respondents, 222 reported a de­fensive gun use within the past 12 months and 313 within the past 5 years. By extrapolating to the total population, he estimated there are about 2.2 to 2.5 million defensive gun uses by civilians each year, with 1.5 to 1.9 million involving handguns! Four hundred thousand of these people felt the defensive use of a gun "almost certainly" prevented a murder. This is ten times the total number of firearms deaths from all causes in a year! Clearly the risk of allowing civilians to arm themselves for self-defense pales in comparison to the huge numbers of lives saved.


20.  A couple of hunters are out in the woods when one of them falls to the ground. He doesn't seem to be breathing; his eyes are rolled back in his head. The other guy whips out his cell phone and calls the emergency services. He gasps to the operator: "My friend is dead! What can I do?" The operator, in a calm soothing voice says: "Just take it easy. I can help. First, let's make sure he's dead." There is silence, and then a shot is heard. The guy's voice comes back on the line. He says: "OK, now what?" 





A Checklist for Critical Reading


1.            What is the title? What clues does it provide about the author’s purpose, thesis, or methods?

2.            Who is the author?  What do you now about him or her?

3.            What is the date of publication?  What do you know about the time in which this reading was published?  Was it written in response to anything specific such as a historical event or another work?

4.            Was the reading published in a periodical?  If so, which one?  What do you know about this publication?  Who is the intended audience?  Does knowing the publication give you any insight into the reliability, worldview, or intend of the author?

5.            Did you use any additional materials (headnotes, prefaces, study guides, etc.) to learn about the author, the intended audience, or the context of the publication?

6.            Describe the assignment in terms of genre and discipline, if possible. Is it fiction or non-fiction?   Is it a review, a memoir, a historical account, a manifesto, etc. 

7.            What is the author’s topic?

8.            What is the author’s purpose regarding the topic?

9.            What is the author’s rhetorical purpose (to inform, persuade, entertain, or a combination)?

10.        What is the author’s tone?  Can you get a sense of the author’s persona?

11.        What is the author’s main point?

12.        What are the author’s methods?  What are some of the more significant supporting points?

13.        What words are significant? What words did you circle or underline to be looked up?

14.        Evaluate the work.  Is the argument sound/cogent?  Is the information complete?  Do you detect any evidence of bias? 

15.        What reflections do you have?  Did you find the work enlightening, inspirational, insightful, entertaining, and so on?  What use will you make, if any, of the reading?

16.        Where and when did you read the assignment?  Comment briefly on your methods, frustrations, distractions, etc.