The Quick and Easy Guide to Reading Essays
Readers read in different ways for different reasons. You can read for
enjoyment, for guidance, for distraction or for practice. In each of these
cases, you can relax and leave the driving to the author. But the reader
in a writing class cannot read casually. It takes attention, critical skills
and practice to read an essay well enough to write about it. However, there
are certain strategies that can help you do just that.
Suggestions for Critical Reading
Focus on "P.A.T.". What is the author's Purpose in the essay?
Who is the Audience? What Techniques does the author use
Find the thesis. What is the main point of the essay? You will probably
find this in the introduction and conclusion of the piece. (But some authors
like to make you search.)
Summarize the thesis. Restate, in your own words, the main point
of the essay. You will use this in your own essay as you write your response.
Find the arguments. What supports the thesis? The author should
"back up" the main idea with facts, examples, interpretations or other
Summarize the arguments. Again, restate the arguments in your own
words to use later.
Evaluate the thesis based on the arguments. Does the essay work?
The author's arguments should seem reasonable and adequate. If the author
has done a good job supporting the thesis, you should generally understand
his/her position. You may even agree with the author.
Develop questions or challenges to the thesis and/or arguments.
What questions does the author leave unanswered? What information is lacking?
Do you agree with the arguments supporting the thesis? Are they reasonable?
Are they adequate? What more do you want from the author?
Evaluate the technique based on the purpose and audience. Note the
stylistic choices the author made in tone, emphasis, organization, etc.
Also, pay attention to the presentation format (e.g., a formal report rather
than an informal narrative.) Why did the author make these choices? Has
the author presented the thesis and arguments in an appropriate and effective
Consider alternatives to the technique. What could be done differently
in the essay to improve it?
Develop your own thesis in response to your evaluation of the essay.
You may want to support and expand the author's thesis or refute it. Perhaps
there is one element of the essay that needs clarification. Or perhaps
there is another subject that seems to develop from the essay.
Start Your Own Essay
You should now have the basic elements necessary to write your own essay,
either in response to the one you have just read, or inspired to a new
subject because of your reading. You have a thesis, perhaps in rough form,
to build your essay around. Your questions and challenges will point to
arguments of your own to develop and present. Make sure to cite the elements
in the essay you read if you use them in your own work. And remember, someone
will be reading your essay as well.
Written By: George Knox © 1999