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Reading Tips for Undergraduate and ESL Students

written by: Larry Gordon•edited by: Tricia Goss•updated: 8/27/2012

When students begin their studies at the university, they often find themselves buried under a ton of readings for their classes.Their first reaction to this new reality is to panic. Instead, they should relax and breathe in deeply. There are non-traditional ways of reading to lighten that load.

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    Reading Shortcuts

    The traditional method of reading has been to begin on page 1 and read to the end of the article, chapter, or work. This is fine if you have all the time in the world. In today's world though, most of us cannot afford this luxury with classes, jobs, and families to tend to. So, if you are a university student, what do you do when you are confronted with 800 pages of reading material per week for 15 hour credit courses? Remember this: You are reading for information—not entertainment. You may not actually like the topic being studied. The reading tips and shortcuts given here are for extracting relevant information in the shortest time possible.

    The secret to reading an article or other non-fiction material is structure. Rely on what you learned in your writing or composition classes to help you out with your reading. For example, we know that an article should have a title, maybe a sub-title, an introductory paragraph or two, the main body, and the conclusion. The title is going to give a general idea of the topic to come, and the sub-title usually leads directly to that topic. The body of the article will give explanations, details, make basic points and give examples in the writer's attempt to back up his topic sentence. The conclusion often states these basic points and the topic sentence with different wording.

    Since the essence of the article or chapter is in the conclusion, this is a good place to begin your reading—right after the title and sub-title. Once you know what the writer is asserting, along with his/her defense of that assertion, you should go back to the first or second paragraph, and look for the topic sentence. This way you can check that you really understand what the writer is saying and why. Normally, the topic sentence is found in the first or second sentence of the first paragraph, but this is not a given.

    In the body of the article or chapter, the writer will make his points, explanations, and give examples. Since you have already read the conclusion and found the topic sentence, the bulk reading of the body goes much faster, and is easier to understand.

    On a final note regarding the structure of the paragraph, the first line of the paragraph is the clincher. Its purpose is to entice you to keep reading. Each sentence should relate to the following sentence so that they are linked. The last sentence, which may be the conclusion of a paragraph, should entice you to continue to the next paragraph. It must relate and link to the first sentence of the following paragraph, unless there is a break, and a new topic is begun under a new heading.