This article is part of the teaching tip "Five Keys to Helping Students Read Difficult Texts"

Launch yourself into a powerful reading experience.  Use the information from previewing, the hints the professor has given, and your own curiosity  to set useful purposes for reading the text.  Asking some of these questions will help:

  • What are the author’s purposes for this chapter?
  • What questions do I hope will be answered?
  • What do I need to be able to do with the information in this text?
  • What does the professor want me to know and be able to do because of this text?
  • How much attention do I want/need to give to this text?
  • Why am I reading this text (beyond earning a good grade) and what do I want to learn from it?
If the text is not one you are clamoring to read, be creative and personal in setting purposes.  This will help you gain more enjoyment and engagement from the reading experience.
  • Use action verbs to generate strong purposes for reading the text.  Avoid vague verbs such as know, think, learn, understand, find out about… because they are too hazy for you to be able to decide if you have met your purpose or not.  Rather, use observable, actions such as argue, classify, draw, explain, list, or solve.
  • Be sure to consider what professors expect when they give assignments.  With all your getting, get that.  Their purposes may be very pointed, such as Be able to discuss at least three probable causes for Eleanor Roosevelt’s insecurities and be able to defend your answers.  Other professors may give reading assignments with these more open purposes as this professor did:  “(1) Learn something new and fun,  (2) Challenge your current perceptions,  (3) Prepare to teach others what you learned” (Isakson, in prep). 
  • State your purposes for reading, or, better yet, post them in front of you so they can guide you as you read such as at the beginning of the chapter.   Be willing to change and refine your purposes when you realize the text doesn’t deal with your original purpose or when you realize the original purpose is minor or unimportant in contrast to what is becoming clear you should be learning from this text.
  • As you read and after reading, prove to yourself the degree to which you have met the purposes for reading this text.
Tip conributed by:
Marné B. Isakson, Ph.D. (
Developer of courses: Advanced Reading Strategies for College Success and Surviving College Reading
Author of Learn More & Read Faster: A Handbook of Advanced Reading Strategies for College Success and Surviving College Reading: A Handbook of Essential Strategies for College Success. 
For more information please contact Taylor Halverson, Teaching and Learning Consultant