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RocketReader newsletter -Determine the Message Quickly

Determine the Message Quickly - No Matter What You are Reading

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Most adults and students read daily. Whether we are checking email messages, reading books or trying to make sense of directions, we need to understand the written word quickly. Whenever you read something, you will get more from your reading if you understand what is the message of the article, book or email. If you can understand the main message of a work, you will be able to absorb more information easily and get more use from what you read.

Pre-Reading: The Key to Reading

Understanding the message of an article, book, email or any other written message begins before you even begin reading. Most experts agree that if you want to understand something quickly, you will want to pre-read. Pre-reading simply means that before you even start to read something, skim the article, book or text quickly to get a sense of what you are about to read. Even if you only take a few seconds to do this, your comprehension will be much better. If you are looking for just one fact or idea, you can often get the information you need this way.

Next, you will want to look at the opening or beginning of whatever you want to read. Glance at the preface, title, introduction and prologue to gain important clues about the subject of the reading material. Try to get a good sense of what you will be reading.

Next, look very quickly at any conclusion given. In an article or email, for example, quickly scan the final paragraph or so. In a book, look quickly at the final chapter or any afterword. This can help you get a sense of the author’s final opinion. Most authors will save their final arguments for the last part of their message, so the conclusion of any work often has valuable clues for the reader.

Next, look at any visual material and supplemental information the author gives. Look at any blurbs, tables of contents or epigraph. In articles, look at pictures and sidebars. In books, glance through glossaries, appendixes and any boxed text. Look at any graphs, charts and sidelines the author provides. These allow you to grasp information quickly.

If you are reading something very important, you might want to go outside what you are reading to get some background information. For example, you may want to look up information about the author and subject in an encyclopedia or online source. Knowing something about the subject lets you read faster and also makes you aware of any debates or problems surrounding an issue.

During your pre-reading, you should be asking yourself some questions such as: Who is the message for? What is the tone? Try to determine who the author is writing for. This can give you important clues about what the author is trying to say. Try to determine whether the author is being sarcastic, casual or witty.

Starting to Read

At this point, you have already done plenty of work and you will probably have a very good idea of what you are about to read. For many people, pre-reading seems like a lot of work at first but it is a stage that is only meant to take a very small amount of time. Once you begin to actually read, the benefits of pre-reading will become clear. As you read, you will notice that pre-reading lets you read much faster because the material is already familiar to you.

As you start reading, always have a pen and paper at hand. Take notes as you read. As you read, jot down a word or two that lets you get a sense of the main points being made. If you are trying to understand some material that you will need to remember later on, taking notes as you read will help you remember and keep the materials clear. If you are reading very complicated or very long works, even very small notes can help you keep the information clear in your mind.

As you read straight through, you may start to form your own opinions and ideas about what you are reading. This is great - it means that you are reading critically and are making sense of what you reading.

After Reading

Reading does not stop when you reach the final word. In fact, right after reading, it is important that you take a minute or two to analyze what you have read. If you do not, you will very quickly forget what you have just read. Without this crucial post-reading step, you may also not really understand what you have read.

student thinknig after reading Once you have put your reading material down, you may want to reword the main message or argument of what you have just read in your own words. This will help make the message easier to understand and remember. Try to write the main message of the work in one sentence. For very long books, you may need a small paragraph. However, you want to make this main argument short and simple, since you are only looking for the author’s main idea.

Next, decide “what’s next?” Look at the conclusion again and try to understand where the author leaves you. Are you supposed to understand something better as a result of reading or are you being asked to take action? Knowing what is expected of you makes what you have been reading much clearer. For example, if the author of an article about animals ends by persuading you to donate to an animal shelter, then it is likely that what you have just been reading has tried to convince you how important shelters are.

At this stage, you will want to reflect on what you have read. Put aside the text for a moment and try to think about what you have just read. This gives your brain time to process the information. Are you being asked to believe something or to do something? What is the purpose of the writing? Understanding the purpose is very important in trying to determine the message the author is trying to send. Where possible, you might want to note your observations, ideas and opinions about the material on a piece of paper. This helps your mind work out what is being said by the author. It also gives you something to return to later if you need to remember what the written material was about.

You will also want to analyze the writing more closely. Is the author basing the message on any facts or figures? If so, go over the work and look at the facts and information you are being asked to accept. Can you verify or believe these facts? If an author is using facts that you do not trust or cannot verify, then you know that you need to be suspicious of the authorῬs claims. Are there any problems with the message? It is fine to agree with a message but it is even more useful to understand the problem you are having with a specific message. If you are reading material for a school paper or essay, being able to define possible problems with a text helps to make your term paper or school assignments much better, since it shows your instructor that you have really thought about the text. If you are reading material in your work, being able to identify problems helps ensure that you and (possibly) your company will not make the wrong decisions based on imperfect information.

Returning to the Material

If you are reading something simple, you may be done at this point. After pre-reading, reading and thinking about the material, you should have a good idea of what is going on. If you are reading something important or complicated, though, you may want to return to the material and look at it in more depth. This will help you remember and understand what you are reading much more fully. Begin by reading the material again or skimming the text again. This helps to imprint ideas in your mind and helps you see ideas or arguments you have read about.

t this point, you may want to write about what you have read. Often, writing helps you to understand reading material better and retain facts for much longer. Depending on what you have been reading, you may want to write a journal entry, a letter to the editor or notes in your own words. The format matters less than what you write. The point of writing about what you are reading is to reflect on it. Tell yourself on paper what you liked and what you didn’t like about what you have read. Point out what you found convincing and what you had trouble believing. Write down whatever you feel is important about what you have been reading. This will create a permanent record of your reading and will help you to really explore the material. Writing about something turns you from a passive reader to an active learner who actually absorbs information and ideas. If you think your reading abilities are not very good, try writing about what you read for a week. You may be amazed by how much more you remember and understand!


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We forget most of what we read. To keep information and main ideas in our mind longer, it is important to take action right away in response to what you have read. For many people, this action can be as simple as writing about what was just read. However, what you can do with material can be more than that. If you are reading a textbook, for example, you may want to study the chapter you are reading right away, while you still have a good grasp of the main message. If you are reading an article in a newspaper, you may wish to contact a business or write to the editor in response to what you have read. If you have been reading something for work, you may have to contact a colleague or write a report.

If you really want to make reading more clear and more interesting, you will want to ask yourself “so what?” whenever you read something. The point is not to dismiss what you have read but to really investigate what is significant about the book, article or email. Anytime we read something, whether it is a textbook or a magazine article, we are thinking about the way that it applies to our lives. Once you have read something, try to ask yourself the significance of the message the author is trying to send. Does the message have wider implications or does it impact your own life? Understanding the way that something applies to you immediately makes the material more relevant, understandable and memorable.


Sometimes, reading is not enough and we are called to do some research about something we have read. For example, we may get an email that we find suspicious, so we need to investigate further. In some cases, we may have to review or summarize a book or article for someone else. At this stage, we need to not only read what we have in front of us but do some research.

man taking notes off of his computer Most of us today immediately turn to the internet in order to find information. If we get an email from someone we don’t know, for example, we may turn to the internet in order to find out who they are. We may also turn to the internet in order to find out about books we have been reading. The internet is in fact a great place to do research. However, you must always make sure that you check and double-check the information you find online, since it can be written by almost anyone.

Let’s say, for example, that you read a book about penguins. You decide to check the author’s credibility online. How would you go about this? The best way may be to check the official web sites of both the author and the book publisher. On these pages, you may read about the author, what books he or she has published and their education. When checking an author’s credentials, you generally want to make sure that the author has experience and education in the field. In your research, for example, you may find that the author you are interested in has written two books on penguins and spent part of a year doing university research on penguins in Antarctica. At this point, you have more assurance that the author is an expert and can be trusted.

When reading a book, you may also want to find out what others think of books. The internet is a great way to do this. You can look at sites such as, and The Internet Public Library in order to find critiques and book reviews. In general, though, you will not want to just type the title of the book into a search engine - this will probably only take you to web sites selling the book. You also want to avoid simply typing a set of words into a search engine. You will get lots of hits but many of these will be personal pages that may contain old information or unreliable facts.

If you want to know what other people like you thought of the book, a great way to do this is through online forums. Many book lovers gather on online forums in order to share experiences and ideas about books. Forums such as the forums allow you to select the genre you are interested in and ask other forum users about the book you are reading. You may find that the book is already being discussed or you may need to post a thread that asks others what they thought of the book you are reading. Someone who has read the book may then respond to your question and offer their own opinions and observations. This can be useful if you are forming your own opinions of the book and want a fresh perspective.

Of course, if you want to research a specific subject online, you can also do so. If you read about penguins, you may want to find out more about them. A great way to do this is to read more books online. Web sites such as list free books online by subject so that you can get free information. Online libraries and resources can also help. For example, is a useful site that lists all manner of articles about every subject. Online libraries such as and The Internet Public Library will provide you with reliable information as well and will take you to reliable links that offer useful information. Most university web sites also have lots of resources about every topic imaginable.

Case Study

Obviously, reading to really understand is about much more than simply moving from sentence to sentence. To better understand how this works, let’s look at a specific case:

Emily (not her real name) is a first-year college student. She is taking a college course in Western Civilization and needs to understand her history textbook well for her exam in two weeks. Emily decides to follow this plan for reading well. She begins by prereading her textbook. She notes the table of contents and realizes that each chapter title corresponds to a unit of study in the course. She glances through the maps, charts, and illustrations and is reminded about what she has read. Then, she flips quickly through the book, looking at the introduction and conclusion of each chapter and the introduction and conclusion of the book. At this point, she knows exactly what subjects she needs to cover and notices that some chapters seem more familiar than others. Right away, she notes that she will need to study some chapters (such as the one about the French Revolution) more closely. She is pleased to see that she is very familiar with the chapters on the world wars. Before she has even begun reading, then, she has a good idea of what she needs to study.

Once Emily has gone through her textbook, she begins analyzing her notes. On different paper, she summarizes each chapter into just a few words and tries to relate in just a few words how it relates to other chapters. For example, in her reading, Emily notices that many of the ideas stemming from the Enlightenment seemed to influence the French Revolution. Already, Emily begins to understand more. In order to memorize ideas better, Emily takes action. She does the practice exercises at the end of each chapter, writes practice exams she creates for herself and writes about each of the subjects in her journal. Rather than passively reading her notes and textbook, she actively works with the material at hand and finds that she understands more and more.

Emily begins reading, making notes as she reads. She makes more notes about subjects she knows less about. In a different colored ink, she jots down her own ideas and facts that she remembers from her classes. Already, the pre-reading is saving her time, since she is concentrating on what she needs to learn rather than simply treating all chapters equally.

Emily decides to do some research. She visits the online web site of her textbook publisher. There, she discovers a number of links and even some online multimedia supplements to her textbook! She reads about a new study that considers Hitler’s childhood and reads more about the French Revolution. At the Internet Public Library, she reads more articles. Some of them are written in a simple style than her textbook and she is able to understand more.

At exam time Emily is well prepared. Rather than blindly reading, she has actually understood her textbook. Most exciting of all, since she really absorbed the material, she is unlikely to forget everything right after the exam. With a good reading strategy you like Emily can read to understand and remember - no matter what your reading is for.
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