Critical Reading

3 Tips on Being a Savvy Reader

3 Tips on Being a Savvy Reader

Author: Hillary Wentworth, MFA

hillaryA little over 4 months ago, I became a mom. I immediately began picturing future milestones in my son’s life: talking, crawling, walking, and—of course—reading.

I am a writing faculty member at Walden, so it’s no surprise I value reading. Words matter. Words convey arguments, emotion, facts. Words effect change in the world. And for Walden students, words—in the form of a capstone project—lead to a degree. I also know, however, that being an online student can sometimes feel like drowning in words. There is so much information to take in and not a lot of time to do so.

With this in mind, I’ve put together some tips to help you read more efficiently:

  • Pick and Choose. Ever get halfway through a journal article and realize that No, no, this isn’t what I needed at all? If so, you are losing valuable time. When you run a search in the Walden Library, don’t click on every article willy-nilly.
    • First, scan the title.
    • From the title, does the article meet your purpose? If so, read the abstract.
    • If that abstract intrigues you, bring up the full article.
    • Skim the section headings and subheadings.
    • Still interested? If so, dive in to a reading.
  • Skip the Boring Bits (At Least Initially). Part of being a savvy reader is filtering out the extraneous material. The findings section is always a thrill. Other sections might not be as necessary for you, so once you commit to an article, start with the findings and conclusions and go backward from there.
  • Ditch the Re-Read. While it’s sometimes necessary to re-read a complex text, it can also be a sign that you’re distracted. To stay focused and retain what you read, try these strategies:
    • Find a quiet place; silence your cell phone if that is a realistic option.
    • Print out the article if you are more comfortable reading hard copies.
    • Recite important parts of the article out loud; for some people, the act of both seeing and listening can assist in retention.
    • Take effective notes. Here are two note-taking strategies I recommend:
      • Summarize each section of the article in one sentence—by hand in the margin of a hard copy or as an electronic comment on a PDF copy. This allows you to quickly find relevant information later.
      • Answer questions as you read: Who conducted the study (researchers)? Why (study purpose)? How (methodology)? What resulted (findings)?

April in text photo2Reading, though you might have learned it long ago, is a skill that needs to be exercised. And every type of reading is not the same. After all, reading with my 4-month-old looks a lot different than the reading I do as a Walden faculty member. (One involves a myriad of fun voices in a lilting tone, and one does not.)

For even more tips on reading, see the Academic Skills Center’s web page on Developing Your Reading Skills.


Hillary Wentworth has been mentoring Walden writers since 2010—first in the Writing Center and now in the Academic Skills Center. She holds a BA in English from the University of New Hampshire and an MFA in creative writing from the University of North Carolina at Wilmington. In addition to teaching, she serves as the Academic Skills Center’s Manager of WCSS Faculty Development and Graduate Writing Courses.

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