Monday, 9 September 2013


There are no skills that are more essential to your success as a writer than reading skills. A good reader will always make a better writer.Besides as a writer, you would want to know how readers judge your work, and that can be done by proper mastery of a few reading skills and strategies. Look at what some of the famous writers have to say about the reading-writing connection.

        'Nobody but a reader ever became a writer'
                                                          -Richard Pecks
        'Easy reading is damn hard writing
                                                       -Nathaniel Hawthorne
        'One sure window into a person's soul is his reading list'
                                                      -Mary B. W. Tabor
Clearly, you can see from these quotes that the intimate connection between reading and writing is something of mighty significance. Your reading skills could always be developed and channeled into a wonderful writing career.
    Throughout your life, you will read a wide variety of materials ranging from textbooks to newspapers to electronic mails to novels to traffic signs on the road and even e-mails as well. Therefore, it is important for you to be able to read all these materials with a high level of comprehension and retention.  As a writer, you'd be reading for many reasons most importantly gathering resources for writing your book. So, learning to  become an effective and efficient reader is not an option.  You must do it!
       The way in which you can approach reading varies widely, depending on the nature of the piece of reading. For example, an article about entertainment, say, "the top 5 rap songs on Billboard" would require a very light and less critical approach compared to a persuausive article on "The perks of  a military government" which would need complete analysis and evaluation to point out the validity and bias in the central idea and determine the quality of the information conveyed.
       However, the strategies I outlined below can be applied to almost any materials or resources you come across. These strategies are much more than just the famous 'SQ4R' or the 3 S's (survey, skimming, scanning). They entail a detailed approach to critically analysing and evaluating any random piece of writing with techniques that are qiuite easy to practice.
     Sit tight, then, ladies and gents.  Let's go for a long ride!!!


An outline is a list of ideas organized in a structured pattern. The ideas are arranged according to the central idea, major details and the supporting details. Outline are excellent tools to evaluate the strength of the evidence and the writer's credibility. By checking to see that a writer is thorough in supporting his central ideas with major details such as facts and  supporting details like examples and statistics, you can determine if the writer has expertise or has done a thorough research on the subject.
    Make an outline as you keep track of important information and ideas.

Tips to writing a neat outline
  • Use Roman numerals for main ideas. Use capital letters for major details. Us e arabic numbers for supporting details.
  • Use indentation to indicate importance. Main ideas should begin at the left. Items begin farther to the right as they become less important.
  • Never place a single item under any main idea. Always place two or more items or none at all.
The example above illustrates a formal outline on a descriptive essay 'The place I like the most'  .
   You could try this, no kidding! Just pick a textbook, and using a chapter make an outline of a section giving your outline at least two main details. Then test the effectiveness of your outline by sharing it with a friend who has not read the chapter. See if the schoolmate can answer the chapter reviews using the outline. But if this is not the case, then you might have left out a few important details of the outline.

Graph outlining
 Outlining with the use of graph organizers are effective as they can always help identify the relationship between details. The cluster diagram is the appropriate graph organizer for outlining key details. Begin by writing your central idea in the center of a sheet of paper. Circle that topic, then, write down any sub-topics and draw circles around them, making the circles large enough to add supporting detail. Link the related ideas with the central idea using lines and writing down their relationships. Also list the supporting detail.
  • Establish a purpose for reading: Before you begin, establish a purpose for reading to focus your thoughts. Your purpose could be affected by the nature of the draft. So you could be reading for enjoyment, to enjoy the exotic settings of a novel, or learn lessons to apply in your daily life.
  •  Let out that curiosity in you. be inquisitive about every information in the article. As you read, ask questions? When are the events taking place, what are the consequences of these events? Look for answers as you walk your way through the piece.Base your predictions with what you know about the characters and settings as well as on clues the author provides
  • Make Personal connections: You will increase your understanding and enjoyment if you connect the characters and the events to your own experiences. Compare your similar experiences with the events. Consider what you would do and how you would feel if you were in the same situation as a character. This way, you get to understand the characters better, knowing how they feel, and be able to predict their next move.


  •   Try to understand the meaning behind events and character's actions. Isabel Allende, a famous author, said "I don' think of literature as an end in itself. It's just a way of communicating something. That 'something', be it a theme or a central message of life could be communicated indirectly. So, in order to fully grasp the real message, you have to do a bit of analysis. Envisioning the setting and the action by using details of the story to create pictures in your mind could help bring the message of each scene to light. 
  • Identify the Author's purpose: To analyse critically, you must also determine why the material was written. Is he trying to inform, persuade or simply entertain you. Let's look at these bestsellers:
  1.  Persuasive: I don't know about you guys, but the Da Vinci Code is one evil monster. Dan Brown's extensive research technique and very persuasive style of writing   almost kept me apart from my faith.
  2.  Instructive: Well, the four hour work week pretty much instructs its readers on a number of things ranging from health tips to money making strategies
  3.  Entertaining: Surely, anyone who has read Thanks to Jennings by Anthony Buckeridge wouldn't agree more-The man does have a mighty sense of humor.
  • Judge the Author's work: When you read many works by the same writer. try to draw some overall conclusions about the quality of his works. Here are some tips to help you know a good write-up from a bad one.
  1.  Use of Language and expression: Learning to analyse the various ways in which words are used is an important part of becoming a critical reader. As you read, you must be sensitive to the author's tone or attitude towards the topic. Tone can be expressed using words with connotative or implied meaning that differ from the denotative or literal meaning.For example:
                              Denotation: Jacob walked quickly up to the stranger
                              Connotation: Jacob walked confidently up to the stranger.
                     Also, check that he used other figures of speech in the appropriate manner. 

    2. Word choice: The word choice of a writer must suit his purpose and must his works must also show
        a  good control of vocabulary.
     3. Grammar:  Correct usage of grammar and keeping to the rules of conventions and concord.


Think about how the characters make you feel and explore the associations that they bring to mind. When you're done reading, take some time to see if the author succeeded in evoking any feeling out of you. You can always reflect on the work and consider what it means to you. If you like it, what will stop you from getting more?


  Writers don't always tell you everything directly. Sometimes you have to make inferences or make conclusions by considering the underlying meaning of details that the writer includes or doesn't include. Pattersons re a perfect example. They leave you in a situation where you get puzzled and you take a while to deduce what happened in the last two pages, especially the Women's murder club series.

READING FROM VARIED SOURCES: This makes you dynamic in every way and open to any field of literature. Ranging from poems, to memos, newspapers, written speeches, internet resources . . .[ the list never gets old.]. Read, read, read!!!
     But a note of advice: Do not treat information from any of these sources any differently from literary works in terms of critical analysis and evaluation especially resources from research on the internet. Use the same reading strategies presented in this post.


After about some time, probably a week of applying these reading skills and strategies for almost any type of work, think about the experience of using them. Did they change anything about your reading pattern. Jot down these experiences, and compare them with those of a regular friend. If you notice a big positive difference, I've got two words for you, "Don't stop". If there are still flaws, never give up hope. Go through the strategies as many times as possible until you are near perfect.
      Also, to get better at critical thinking, you could always look at published criticisms of literary works to see how these professional critics do it. That's a sure bet as any.
 Sorry, but it had to come to an end.

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