Inver Hills Community College


Home & Contents                       Basics                       College Writing             




Click on any  part or section below:

Part I. Basics/Process

  A. Chapters 1-6: Start

  B. Ch. 7-13: Organize

  C. Ch. 14-20: Revise/Edit

Part II. College Writing

   D. Ch. 21-23: What Is It?

   E. Ch. 24-30: Write on Rdgs.

   F. Ch.31-35: Arguments

  G. Ch. 36-42: Research

  H. Ch. 43-48: Literature

   I.  Ch. 49-58: Majors & Work

Part III. Grammar

 Study Questions




What are several methods for reading well at the college level?




Good writing about readings requires good reading.  This chapter describes what college and professional reading involves and what kinds of texts exist.  It also offers some of the trade secrets good college and professional readers use to read material more efficiently. 


  Reading Academic Texts Critically

What is "critical reading?"

Critical reading is careful, thorough, thoughtful, and active reading.  It is not negative or quick reading.  It is "college reading"--the kind of reading you are expected to do in college courses.  You are involved in critical reading whenever you are interested in a text and you make a variety of comments about it as you read it.  Academic text means a text that is specifically written for use by college instructors or students, or it is a text your instructor has assigned because of its usefulness in your college course.   

If you must respond to a text, whether in writing, orally, in a test, or in a discussion group, you will need to read your text critically.  Whether the text is chosen for you or you can make your own choice, you should do everything you can to understand it thoroughly.  This is one of the most important keys to beginning a rough draft about a text.  It should be obvious that you cannot write well about what you do not understand, but many people make the mistake of not completing a text, missing class discussion of it before a paper or a speech is due, or just rushing through it without really comprehending it fully.

How is it done?  

In critical reading, you take the time to think about what is on the page.  Your reading must be active: passive reading, in which you simply read a text with no marking or discussion of it as you read it rarely sticks in the brain very long and very often is a waste of your time and an instructor's.  Even if you take notes and never look at them again, you are twice as likely to remember what you have read because you have processed the text actively.  

Active, critical reading usually involves marking the text, so you need to have a printed copy to mark (even if only with pencil marks you later erase), or you need to write comments on paper using a system to note the page and paragraph or line number in your text.  Active critical reading is not just the highlighting of important passages.  It is that and much more: you should write regular margin notes.  Such notes can include brief comments explaining your agreement or disagreement with important points, comparisons and contrasts to other texts or ideas, and new ideas that occur to you. 

As part of this active reading strategy, you also should stop--at least briefly--after each page you have read.  Then take some kind of note, if you haven't already.  At the end of each page you also should ask yourself, "Have I understood everything on this page?"  You should be able to write a brief, one- or two-sentence summary of what the page says--and if you haven't yet written a note for that page, summarizing it can be your note.  Just looking at sentences and turning pages does not constitute critical reading.  Critical reading means actively comprehending what you have seen on the page.   

Another step in engaging in critical reading is to actively engage the text right after you have read it once.  This means talking with others about it, putting the words into practice, making an alternative model of what has been discussed (for example, a story or a drawing), or simply writing about it.          

To write, you may brainstorm freely about it by freewriting or by listing ideas or details.  Simply let out your thoughts and feelings about it on paper, or if you are more comfortable outlining, then write an outline.  You also can try imaging: what does the text make you imagine, and why or how?  Yet another way is to imagine the audience for your own paper: what kinds of questions will it have about the paper?  All of these may be useful methods for starting your own thinking processes about a text.  

As you write, if you become stuck at some point because you have a question or some point is muddy to you, simply write down your questions or muddy points so that you can come back to them later.  In this way, you can keep writing or outlining, thus maintaining the flow of your thoughts, your objective tone, and your energy for completing a first draft.  

Once you have read a text critically, you are ready to start developing a paper (or speech) responding to it.  As you develop your paper, you will need to refer again to your text and your notes about it frequently.  If you have read actively by writing good notes, you will find writing your paper much easier.


Return to top.      


  Typical Structures of College Texts

Is there a typical or common structure in most texts chosen for reading assignments?  

A text's structure often depends on the academic discipline in which it is used.  Many disciplines have their own unique patterns of writing: for example, in journalism, there are news reports, interviews, in-depth analyses, magazine articles, and editorials; in psychology, there are case observations, case studies, and scientific reports.  However, in undergraduate courses in which a general book or essay is studied, analyzed, or used in research, there are three structures that stands out above all others: (A) the thesis structure, (B) the problems-and-solutions structure, and (C) the factual structure.  All three are similar.

(A) What is a "thesis structure"?

The first of these two structures, the "thesis structure," is a basic pattern in writing that occurs in a large number of intelligent, well- and lesser-known books and essays in Western literature.  In this kind of writing, also called a "thesis," the writer presents his or her own primary argument about an important subject and presents reasons and supporting details to prove why his argument is true.  The general structure looks something like this: 

A Typical Thesis Structure

Introduction (1st paragraph of short essay or first chapter of a book):  The introduction contains the main argument, most often in its beginning or end.  


First Body Section:  An essay usually is divided into several main sections; a book, into chapters or several groups of chapters.  Each main body section usually starts with a topic sentence (or, in a chapter of a book, possibly a topic paragraph) that states a new reason why the main argument is true, and the details or specifics supporting it.  

Second Body Section: second reason why, and supporting details

Third Body Section: third reason why, and supporting detail

Fourth Body Section, etc.  


Conclusion: final paragraph or chapter, which reaches the final argumentative conclusion

How do you find this structure?  

Most such texts start with an introduction that summarizes the main thesis of the essay or book; if you aren't sure what the main thesis of the text is after looking at the introduction, then look at the final conclusion.  By reading the several paragraphs of the introduction and the conclusion, you should be able to find the main thesis.  Next, usually there are a series of supporting reasons.  If the text is divided into obvious body sections or chapters, then simply look at the very beginning of each division to find each main supporting reason.  If you're not sure what it is in a division, then check the end, too: sometimes it is repeated there or rephrased in another way.  Mark or write down the main thesis and the supporting reasons, as these will help you form the basic structure of your own paper.  (Most academic/expository texts use the structure of a thesis paper.  If you are unacquainted with this structure, please read the chapter "Writing a Thesis Essay."

A more recent form of argument that is similar--sometimes called a dialectic or dialogic writing, uses a similar structure but instead develops several competing or differing arguments, looking at each side--or several sides--of debate about an issue.  Sometimes this type of text reaches a conclusion by choosing a side; sometimes the author purposely offers no final solution, letting readers decide for themselves.  If you would like to read more about this type of structure, go to the chapter called "Writing a Dialogic/Dialectic Essay."   

(B) What is a "problems-and-solutions structure"?

Like the thesis structure, the problems-and-solutions structure offers argument.  However, it does so in a different pattern.  The writer's main thesis--the main argument--is presented as an overall solution to one or more problems.  Sometimes the writer offers her overall solution at the beginning of the essay.  However, she may simply start with one or more problems and not arrive at the overall solution until the very end.  Along the way-in the body sections--she will present a series of problems and, sometimes, several possible solutions, until she eventually arrives at her own final, overall solution.  Usually the writer uses the final paragraphs of the essay to offer her own solutions, if she has not already done so.  Occasionally, these final paragraphs will be reserved for explaining why no solution seems possible at present.  

A problem-and-solution structure may look something like this: 

A Typical Problems-and-Solutions Structure

Introduction (1st paragraph of short essay or first chapter of a book):  The introduction may contain the overall solution or, instead, one or more major problems with a subject.  


First Point:  This kind of essay may be divided into a series of points, each one to several paragraphs in length.  Each point may contain a problem alone in detail, or it may contain both a problem and a possible solution.  Sometimes it may even contain a problem, a possible solution, and a problem with this solution.  Each "point" section usually starts with a topic sentence describing the problem and then describes the problem (and/or solution) in detail.  

Second Point: second problem and, perhaps, possible solutions and/or related problems in detail

Third Point: third problem and, perhaps, possible solutions and/or related problems in detail

Fourth, Fifth, Sixth, etc. Points    

Final Solution/Resolution of problems (or a discussion of why a final solution seems impossible)


Conclusion: final paragraph or chapter, which reaches the final argumentative conclusion

(C) What is a typical "factual-report structure"?

The other most typical writing structure is a factual report.  You may need to use factual reports in researching.  In particular, the World Wide Web is a location especially filled with information meant to be factual. (For special reading needs on the Web, go below to "Reading the Web."  See also "Evaluating Web Resources").  There are many types of factual reports, but most of them have in common a similar structure, one that, in turn, is very much like a thesis structure but with no argument involved:

A Typical Factual-Report Structure

Introduction (1st paragraph of Web page, short report, or first chapter of a manual or other text):  The introduction contains the main subject, most often in its beginning or end.  


First Body Section:  A factual report usually is divided into several sections; a Web site, into separate Web pages; books, into chapters or several groups of chapters)  Each main body section usually starts with a topic sentence (and each book chapter usually starts with a topic paragraph) that states a new subsection of the factual information being conveyed.  

Second Body Section: second subsection of the subject, with explanatory details

Third Body Section: third subsection of the subject, with explanatory details

Fourth Body Section, etc.  


Conclusion: final paragraph or chapter, which reaches the final summary of the subject (and sometimes may suggest possible argumentative conclusions based on the facts)

It is important to distinguish between a thesis argument and a factual report.  Sometimes thesis arguments are disguised as factual reports, especially on the Web.  In addition, just like newspapers, factual reports are supposed to offer only facts but may--by leaving out some facts and giving others a narrow interpretation--offer a biased version of factual reality.  You need to pay attention to the value of the information and its sources. 

Yet another type of factual structure with a specialized use is the newspaper report.  For more about this structure, see "Writing a News Article."

One of the best ways to learn the structures of typical texts in your own academic and professional discipline is to study the types of papers in this Web textbook that are related to them (see "Table of Contents").  Another is to use critical reading and, in so doing, to mark significant parts, as explained in the section above.  Yet another is to use some of the techniques explained below.


Return to top.


  Previewing, Skimming, & Speed Reading

Why should you change your reading patterns?

The short answer is that college courses require much more--and much better--reading skills than often are required in high school.  In other words, college reading actually can be quite different (unless you had teachers in middle or high school who taught the skills in this chapter).  One of my own experiences offers a strong testament to this need.

The background of my story is, simply, that no one really taught me these skills in high school or college.  To some extent, I picked them up on my own.  However, when I first entered graduate school, I found myself more challenged by my texts than I ever imagined.  

When I first entered grad school, I was so nervous about understanding all the material that I started reading each sentence much more carefully.  My textbook reading speed, which had been between ten and twenty pages per hour, depending on the material, began to dip.  The slower and more carefully I read, the more I began to dwell on individual words, pondering their meanings.  My reading speed lowered even more, and I was even less satisfied that I was understanding the texts fully.  

Then, when my speed was down to two to four pages an hour, a strange thing happened.  The letters literally began to shift on the page in the way they looked to me.  They became indecipherable slashes, dots, and flags that seemed to move around on the page even as I watched them.  They were flashing symbols that I no longer could understand, let alone read.  Temporarily, I had become functionally dyslexic.  This all happened to me within a matter of weeks, and I grew increasingly scared because I knew that if I could not read faster and better, I would have to leave school.  Someone suggested I try a speed reading course.  I hadn't heard of such courses and had little faith in them when I discovered that they were taught by trainers outside of academic institutions.  However, I had nothing to lose, so I tried one: one evening of three hours each per week for five weeks.

The training was very professional and offered some simple ideas that helped me immensely even after the first night.  The trainer explained that it is a common misperception that people remember what they read better if they read it more slowly.  He explained that as long as a reader comprehends what she is reading, she is more likely to remember details of it by reading faster.  This is because she has a better picture of the whole: of how the details on each page fit together on the page and in the chapter.  Because of this, the trainer said, previewing a book (or essay) also is helpful: looking over key parts of a book briefly, before really reading the book, increases comprehension dramatically.  That first night, he taught us how to preview and gave us a taste of speed reading, as well.  

I went home and applied everything I had learned that night with dramatic results.  Within a week, not only was my former reading speed reestablished, but also-- because of the previewing lessons--I was comprehending what I read better.  Needless to say, I returned to the remaining four sessions of my speed reading course and, by the time it was over, I was reading my texts two to three times faster than I had in my first four years of college and understanding them better.

Having told this story, I should point out that there is not a great deal of research to show that speed reading techniques work--or don't work.  Results of the few studies that have been done have been mixed, with some indication that if readers are reading for general ideas, rather than specific details, there does appear to be greater comprehension. In other words, in the land of textbooks, if you want to see the forest and the general types of trees in it, speed reading can be very efficient; however, if you want to dwell on each trunk, root system, and leaf, then normal reading (or even reading aloud to yourself or to a friend) may be more appropriate.   On the other hand, other elements of reading described below--previewing (previewing or pre-reading) and skimming--are helpful in almost any reading situation, slow or fast.  They are well researched and frequently taught methods in the academic discipline of reading and are something every college student should know.  

They are invaluable precisely because they can help you absorb and remember information better, save you many hours per week, help you better prepare and review for tests, and give you significantly better grades.  And, if you plan on going into a profession that requires large amounts of reading--or you plan to go to graduate school--speed reading is an indispensable too, as well.  

How should you preview a text?   

How should a person start reading?  The least productive way is to dive in and start at the beginning.  If you take a little bit of extra time to start in another way--five to ten minutes for an essay, or twenty to sixty minutes for a book--you will save time in the long run and dramatically increase your comprehension at the very beginning of reading.  Use the following steps for a book.  If you are reading an essay, start with step "5."  

Steps of Previewing (Previewing or Pre-Reading)

  1. Cover or jacket: Read any descriptions or blurbs you can find about the book on the back or inside, or on the book's cover jacket, and consider the possible meaning of the title of the book.

  2. Table of contents: Read the book's table of contents.  If there is an index, look at it casually for a minute or two, picking up some of the words in it.

  3. Introduction: If the book has a short introductory chapter, read it.

  4. First and last pages: Read the first page or two of the first chapter, and the last page or two of the last chapter.  This will tell you more precisely what the book is about.

  5. Chapter beginnings and endings: Read the first and last paragraph of each chapter in the book.  Glance at the graphics (pictures, diagrams, etc.).  (If you are examining an essay rather than a book, think about the the essay's title; then read the introductory and ending sections, which probably are one to several paragraphs each, and look at graphics, if any.)  

  6. Each page: For more thorough previewing, turn the pages as fast as you comfortably can, letting your fingers and hands determine the speed at which you turn the pages.  Turn them at a steady rate, long enough to let your eyes light once, briefly, on each page.  If there are titles, subtitles, or illustrations, you are welcome to look at them.  Otherwise, simply let your eyes catch a word or phrase somewhere on each page.  This may seem strange at first, but once you are done looking at the entire book this way--usually within ten to thirty minutes--you may find yourself surprised at how much you can guess about its contents.  You then will read it much more knowledgeably--with a greater sense of what it is going to say and how it will do so.

  7. Chapter paragraphs: For very thorough previewing, read the first or last sentence of each paragraph.  If you do not have time to go to step "8" (reading every word in the book), this step (step "7") is very helpful.

  8. Every word: The final step, if you have time, is to actually read all of the text, taking critical notes as you do so.  You almost always will find, if you have previewed and skimmed the text first, that actually reading all of it is easier, as is taking notes about it,  and your understanding of the material is significantly enhanced.  

If you are reading a book, completing steps "1-4" is a necessary minimum for previewing to be effective.  Finishing step "5" is much more helpful, and completing step "6" is especially useful for textbooks and other books that eventually must be read in their entirety.  

   This method of previewing also can be used to help you review a text for a test or a final paper.  Simply go through the steps again to refresh your memory, taking notes as needed.

What is "skimming"?   

            Skimming a text means to look at it briefly: to learn what is in it by looking at main parts, but not the whole.  Another brief story illustrates the value of skimming.  When I was in graduate school, I was required to take a 600/6000-level graduate research-writing course.  The instructor was the chair of the English Department, his doctoral dissertation had been a book-length manuscript on Charles Dickens, and he assigned us one Charles Dickens novel per week to read and to discuss every Wednesday evening for three hours.  Dickens' famous A Christmas Carol, with Tiny Tim and Scrooge, is one of the author's shortest books.  Most of them in paperback are six to twelve hundred pages long.  The first two weeks, I spent about thirty hours per week reading the first two novels.  I had time for nothing else, it seemed.  By the fourth week, I discovered that Dickens had written his novels in such a way that they could easily be skimmed.  I began applying a rich-text version of skimming, and I read Cliff's Notes  for an hour or two each week.  The result was that I spent about eight to ten hours each week--a third as much as before--and was one of only two students who continued the discussion of the week's novel with my instructor throughout the whole evening for all ten weeks of the course. 

Why is skimming useful?  Not only can it help you get through texts completely and save you time in doing so, but it also is helpful in emergency situations--times when an assignment is due but you haven't done it yet (which happens to almost everyone in college).  In emergency situations, by using skimming you can go into a class discussion or test with a general knowledge of the entire text that is much better--and deeper--than if you only have had time to read the very beginning of it.

How does skimming work?  Follow this advice:  

Steps of Skimming

  1. Most nonfiction texts have paragraphs organized so that the first sentence indicates or summarizes what the paragraph will say.  

  2. Use the "Previewing" steps above.  Start with steps "1-5," which are necessary to make the skimming work efficiently.  

  3. Then focus especially on steps "6-7, above."  These are the steps specific to skimming.  

  4. Some authors' methods of organizing each of their paragraphs may be slightly different.  If reading the first sentence of each paragraph doesn't seem to work, try reading the first and last sentence.  (Occasionally, the best method to use is to read the first two sentences of each paragraph; very occasionally, what works best is to read just the last sentence of each paragraph.)  

When you skim-read like this, you are--in effect--looking at an outline of the work.  You may do this speedily if you have little time; however, the most effective skim-reading includes critical reading: thinking about the contents and responding to them by writing notes as described above.  

Skimming is another very effective method for reviewing a text prior to a test or final paper.  Simply use the steps above to review the text, taking notes as you do so.

It is best, of course, to allow enough time to fully read a document without skimming.  However, if you must skim, you may find it tempting--as you think and write notes about the contents--to stop skimming and read some paragraphs in more depth.  This is an excellent technique--doing some skim-reading and some full reading--if you have the time.  However, if your time is severely limited and you must choose, you may find it more practical to skim-read the entire document than to read only a part of it.  Whichever method you choose, critical reading--thinking and writing notes about it--remains a necessary skill for full engagement of the text.  

What is "speed reading"?   

Speed reading means a reading of every phrase in a text, without skipping any parts of it, but in a much faster fashion than normal or average.  Speed reading is a skill that requires practice.  However, it is a very useful skill, for it can save many hours of time.  The way speed reading works is that is transforms reading into a visual process only.  The great majority of people read with a mixed visual and oral process.  The visual part of it is the seeing of the letters on the page; at that point, most of the time, most people then "read" the words they see in their heads, as if reading aloud quietly to themselves.  Most people's reading speed thus is limited to the speed with which they can "talk" fluently inside their heads.  This is why most people can't read faster than twenty to forty pages per hour (or roughly one-half page per minute).  

Speed reading changes the essential manner in which a person reads.  In speed reading, you read faster than you can speak the words in your head.  How is this accomplished?  You learn to see the words--and only see them--rather than to turn them into a running monologue in your head.  You do this by starting with one of the oldest reading habits in the world--a habit, in fact, that many early-elementary teachers try to prevent: you use your finger to read.  Here is how it works:

Steps of Speed Reading

  1. Read normally for several minutes, and use your fingers to follow along beneath each line as you read it.  

  2. Next, increase the speed of your fingers, and make your eyes follow the print.  Practice this for several minutes until your eyes adjust to taking in the meanings of the sentences.  

  3. Then increase the speed of your finger movement even more.  (You may find your eyes will follow your fingers better if you tap each line two or three times in different places instead of moving your fingers steadily.)  Practice this for several minutes more.

  4. You can continue with “3,” maintaining or increasing your speed, or you can try doing so without fingers.  However, practice is required.  

  5. You may always need your fingers to speed read, especially if you don't use it often.  However, with constant use, over a period of weeks or months your eyes will become used to the speed, making use of your finger less necessary.  

Does speed reading exclude other forms of reading?  It doesn't.  In fact, you can move back and forth between speed reading and normal reading, if this is what you want to do, or even between speed reading and skimming.  However, you should try to plan enough time to read critically as you speed read.  As a result, in good speed reading (as in good normal reading), there may be frequent starting and stopping so that you may respond to the text by writing notes.  The most important element to remember in terms of the skill itself is that you can plan your method of reading (for example, by how many pages or paragraphs per hour you must read) according to how much time you have.  However, the most important element to remember in terms of the content--of the assignment's meaning and purpose--is to plan your homework time so that even if you speed read, you have time to read critically.


Return to top.


   Reading (and Writing) a Web Site    

Increasingly, students and professionals find useful quality information on the Web.  In addition, more people are writing their own Web sites.  Quality Web readings, while they usually have a similar structure of content, often present their material in very different ways than do physical books.  In addition, a reader can't exactly write notes on the screen.  As a result, it is worth examining how Web site reading is different.  As far as reading (and writing) is concerned, there are four elements of Web structure that may be helpful.  

1. How do you read (and write) a Web page's general contents?   

The contents of a Web page are more likely to be factual, or at least to present themselves as quasi-factual--that is, as seeming to be factual but having an underlying argumentative message (see, above, "What is a typical factual-report structure?").   It may be very helpful to determine whether the content is factual, quasi-factual, or argumentative.  Reading the written text of any Web page is in many ways like reading a standard text. A Web "page" actually can be much longer than a regular printed page: a Web "page" is not only what you can see on your screen, but also what you can reach by scrolling down or up.  For example, this Web page--the one you are reading right now--is composed of several sections, from "How to Read Texts Critically" to this part, "Reading the Web."  All of it is considered one Web page.  To read a Web page, you use previewing skills to pick out the basic sentences and basic structure.  Then you read critically.  

Critical reading requires good note taking.  There are several ways you can do this when reading Web pages:

  1. One is to take notes on a separate piece of paper, noting Web page names and paragraph numbers.  

  2. You also can simply print a Web page and take notes on the printed page.  Many people like this method because it is easy.  However, the margins often are small.  If you are using a recent version of Explorer, you can change the margins before printing by going to "File" and "Page Setup." 

  3. You also can open a new Word document and set its margins to whatever width you want (by going to go to "File" and "Page Setup").  You then copy the Web page to the Word document and print the Word document.  

  4. If you would like to take notes using your computer, you can do so by creating two windows.  Open a new Word document and resize it so it fits one third of your screen, either left to right or top to bottom.  Then resize your Web page so it fits the other two thirds of your screen.  Then you can simply read one while you take notes on the other.

2. Are the pictures important?  

   The answer is "yes!"  The visual cues on a Web site are called "graphics": the pictures and to some extent the differing column widths, text boxes, and other graphic features all are meant to convey information that speaks directly to the organization of the contents.  Text placed in left-hand columns or top-of-the-page boxes, for example, often is directional: it helps you move around the page itself or from one page to another.  Each picture on the page (in a well-written Web page) visually represents an important idea.  When information is placed in a separate column or text box within the text itself, such placement usually means the writing in it is a little "mini-section" of special information or, sometimes, a brief summary of ideas on the page. 

Therefore, as you prepare to read, you should examine the pictures, columns, and boxes for structural significance: they are like topic sentences and subtitles, even though in unwritten form, indicating major ideas. For more info about how to write Web pages using graphic components, see Chapter "19. Visual & Multimodal Design" in

3. Are Web site pages organized differently than those in books?  

Again, the short answer is "yes."  A true Web site, one with Web graphics and Web arrangement--not just a text pasted from a word-processing document--is organized in groups and subgroups of Web pages.  Pages in a physical book are arranged as a series of sheets of paper--one after another, in order.  However, in a Web site, pages are grouped differently.  The organization is roughly comparable to how a grapevine has separate bunches of grapes.  In a Web site, these "bunches" are organized hierarchically--something like a tournament roster with the winner's box first:

Hierarchical Structure of a Web Site

Level 1
Home Page




/                                \

Level 2
Home Pages

SECTION 1                            SECTION 2


/              \                              /              \

Level 3
Home Pages

  Chapter 1        Chapter 2              Chapter 1       Chapter 2   


/         \              /         \                     /         \              /         \

Level 4
Web Pages

p. 1     p. 2        p. 1       p. 2               p. 1     p. 2         p. 1     p. 2 


To see examples of the above from this Web click on each underlined title above.  In a real Web site (such as, there often are more sections, chapters, and individual pages than shown above.  In fact, is rather unusual in its size for a Web site because it has almost a dozen sections, several dozen chapters, and over one hundred individual Web pages.  However, the organization is much the same in the typical Web site.  Typically, there are three or four levels, and the lower the level, the more information there usually is on each Web page.  

What does all of this have to do with reading (or writing) a Web site?  It is simply this, and a very important suggestion it is: when you read a Web site, you should preview it by getting to know its hierarchical structure.  And when you write it, you must be sure to have a clear, simple hierarchical structure.  You should do so just as you would look at a book's table of contents and the first and last paragraph or page of each chapter.  You should, in a Web text, browse the site by clicking on the main links and looking at the beginning of each major Web page.

4. Do all Web pages fit this hierarchical pattern?

It is very important to know that not all Web pages do.  Another important feature of Web site development is the interconnectivity.  Often there are cross links: links between sections, chapters, and pages.  In this regard, any individual Web site that is thoroughly "webbed" is like a spider's web:

Chapters are connected to chapters, chapter parts to chapter parts, and some parts to external links on the World Wide Web.  For example, in this chapter, there are over two dozen links to other chapters, over fifteen to parts within the chapter, and over ten to other Web sites on the World Wide Web.  Of these, about a dozen are visual icons, and the rest words or phrases.

Trying to follow all such links can be difficult to nearly impossible, depending on the size of the Web site and your patience.  Following these webbed links is unnecessary in previewing and, often, in critical reading, as well.  In previewing, your job is to develop a sense of the main structure: the home page, the main second-level pages, the main third-level pages, etc.  The webbed links either will pop up in the course of looking at the main structure, or they are less necessary, like footnotes, endnotes, or references to other works that might be helpful to you.  As you critically read a Web site, you may wish to go to some of the webbed links in order to understand the text better; however, they are not always necessary. 

5. How do you write a web site?

There are a variety of tools available for this.  Two of the easiest ways involve either finding a free or fee-based site with pre-made formats from which you can choose, or using MS Word.  Often a combination of the two works well.

To find a free or fee-based site with a variety of pre-made formats from which you can choose, simply Google "free web sites" or "web sites for a fee."  One free, growing one that requires a little bit of knowledge of computer writing but not a professional level of skill is the MnSCU (Minnesota State Colleges and Universities) eFolio site.  It is free to anyone who wishes to use it.

Once you have a site, you can add words, images, and links on the site itself, live while on the web, or you can develop content on MS Word and then copy the content onto the site later.  To use MS Word to write a web site, start a blank page in Word and then, in the lower-right corner, click on the icon that has a picture of a page with a small globe overlaid on one corner of it.  Then simply develop your content.

The most common type of web as of this writing is the three-column (or two-column) web site.  The easiest way to start the site, usually, is to do it in the pre-formatted form you choose from your web site content provider.  Then once you have the basic format and columns, copy your basic page to MS Word if you want to work offsite.

 If you do start your site in Word, then the three column web site typically has left and right columns of 200 pixels wide (about 1.67" in Word) and a middle column 600 pixels wide (about 5" in Word).  Starting in Word, use use the functions for inserting and working with tables.  However, as soon as possible, you should try copying your basic format--your table--to your site to see if copying is possible.  In some pre-formatted web sites, you may not be able to copy the overall web site table into the site.  You may want to be sure, if you've copied your Word table successfully into your site, that the column widths are set accurately in pixels, not in inches or percentages, as doing so may help the appearance of your web site on others' computers.  

Even if you cannot copy your Word table to your pre-formatted web site, you should be able to easily use Word to develop the content of your columns and then copy it to your pre-formatted site.


Return to top.



            To conclude, it should be apparent that not just colleges and universities but also elementary and high schools should teach such reading skills, as appropriate to each age group.  Unfortunately, few schools do--or they do so only to a small number of students.  Even so, most college instructors assume that if you are in college, you do know how to use many of these skills (with the exception of speed reading, about which few students or instructors know).  Almost all students who are highly successful in college and graduate school know most of these skills or learn them on their own to succeed.  Hopefully, this chapter has helped you discover that such skills not only exist but are available to everyone who wishes to practice and use them.


Return to top.








24. What Is a "Response"?

25. How to Read Texts

26. Summary

27. Analysis

28. Disagreement

29. Evaluation

30. Critical Review





 Related Links in

  3. Thinking & Reading

12. Types of Papers

14. Online Readings

16. Research Writing


Updated 1 Aug. 2013

   also is at and

Natural URL:
1st through 5th Editions:: Writing for School & Work, 1984-1998;, 1998-2012.
6th Edition: 8-1-12, rev. 8-1-13.  Text, design, and photos copyright 2002-12 by R. Jewell or as noted.
Permission is hereby granted for nonprofit educational copying and use without a written request.
Images courtesy of Barry's Clip Art, Clip Art Warehouse, The Clip Art Universe, Clipart Collection, MS Clip Art Gallery and Design Gallery Live, School Discovery, and Web Clip Art
Click here to contact the author: Richard Jewell.  Questions and suggestions are welcome.