1.1 Reading and Writing in College


This unit covers the following topics:

  • using this textbook
  • college vs. high school
  • reading strategies
  • college resources

Writing well is difficult. Even people who write for a living often struggle to get their thoughts on the page. For people who do not like writing or do not think of themselves as good writers, college writing assignments can be stressful or intimidating.

But you cannot get through college without having to write–sometimes a lot and often at a higher level than you are used to. Educationally, you are moving into deeper waters. A good introductory writing course will help you swim.

Using this Textbook

The chapters in this textbook are divided into sections.  Each section begins with a green Preview box that lets you know what topics will be covered and ends with an orange Takeaways box that highlights important points to remember.  Red Tips boxes on the right side of the page provide interesting or helpful insights.

Exercises in blue boxes help you review the information presented.  Work will be submitted in Blackboard; look for instructions there.

The following supplemental information is also available in the text:

  • Blue underlined text is a link to outside materials.  Click on it to view the material.
  • Red text with a dotted underline is a link to a brief definition of the word.  Click on it to view the definition.  (If you print this book, the full Glossary will be at the end.)
  • Purple boxes contain graphics.  Click on the camera icon to view a PowerPoint presentation, video, or image.

You can read this text online throughout the term or you can download a PDF to your desktop for easy access.  You can also print out a paper copy to read and annotate.

College vs. High School

In college, expectations change from what you may have experienced in high school.  The quantity and quality of work increases.  The table below summarizes some major differences between high school and college assignments.

High School College
Teachers may set aside class time for reading and reviewing material. You are expected to come to class with a basic understanding of material.
Teachers often provide study guides and other aids to help you prepare for exams. Reviewing is primarily your responsibility.
Your grade is determined by a wide variety of assessments, both minor and major.  Many assessments are not writing-based. Your grade may depend on just a few major assessments.  Most are writing-based.
Writing assignments include personal and creative writing. Except in creative writing courses, most writing assignments are expository.
The structure and format of writing assignments is generally familiar. You may be asked to master new formats or follow new standards within a particular professional field.
Teachers try to help students who are performing poorly, missing classes, or not turning in work.  Often students get many “second chances.” Although teachers want students to succeed, they expect you to take steps to help yourself.  “Second chances” are less common.

Reading Strategies

Most discussions and writing assignments–from brief responses to in-depth research papers–will require you to understand what you read.  Following are some strategies for getting the most out of assigned readings.


To handle college reading successfully, you need to manage your time and know your purpose.  “Time management” includes setting aside enough time to complete work and breaking assignments into manageable chunks.  For example, if you are assigned a fifty-page chapter for next week’s class, don’t wait until the night before to start.  Give yourself a few days and tackle one section at a time.


When you start a reading assignment, identify your purpose and write it down on a sticky that you put on the first page of the book or on your computer screen.  Keep that information nearby and refer to it occasionally as you read.

Knowing what you want to get out of a reading assignment–your purpose–helps you determine how much time to spend on it and helps you stay focused when tired or distracted.  Sometimes your purpose is simply to understand the reading well enough to discuss it intelligently in class.  However, your purpose will often go beyond that.  You might read to compare two texts, to write a personal response, or to gather ideas for research.

Improving Comprehension

In college, you will read a wide variety of materials, including textbooks, articles, and scholarly journals.  Your primary goal is to identify the main point, the idea the writer wants to communicate.  Finding the main point helps you understand the details–the facts and explanations that develop and clarify the main point.  It also helps you relate the reading to things you learned in class or in other assignments.

Sometimes that task is relatively easy.  Textbooks have headings that identify main concepts and often include comprehension questions at the end of a chapter.  (This text provides information in the Preview and Takeaways boxes.)  Diagrams and charts can help you understand complex information.  Non-fiction books and articles may have an introduction that presents the writer’s main ideas and purpose.  In long works, chapter titles give a sense of what is covered.


Stop occasionally and assess how well you understand what you are reading.  If you aren’t confident, go back and read it again.  Don’t just push ahead.

A good way to review and reinforce what you’ve learned is to discuss the reading with classmates. Discussions can help you determine whether your understanding is the same as that of your peers. They can also spark new ideas or insights.

Active Reading

The most successful students in college are active readers: students who engage in purposeful activities as they read.  The best way to remember the information you read is to do something physical with it, something beyond just letting your eyes scan the page.   For example, taking notes as you read helps your brain retain the information.

Exercise 1

There are many different ways to take notes, but the process does not need to be difficult or complicated to be effective.  The essay “How to Mark a Book” by Mortimer Adler  provides a simple technique that is effective and easy to personalize.

Print out the Adler essay.  Read it through once.  Then, read it a second time, marking the essay up using the process Adler explains.

Scan the annotated essay as a PDF or take a correctly-oriented photo of the pages and submit the assignment.

Here is an example of what your marked-up essay should look like.  You won’t say exactly the same things; your notes are for you.  But they should be thorough and useful.

Example of marked up page from

College Resources

If we try to handle every challenge alone, we can become frustrated and overwhelmed.

  • NSCC College 101 2e -contains information about supports for students at NSCC and study strategies.

  • Your instructors
  • Tutors
  • Tech support
  • Librarians
  • Free, confidential counseling services

Many students are reluctant to seek help.  They feel like doing so marks them as slow, weak, or demanding.  The truth is, every learner occasionally struggles.  If you are sincerely trying to keep up but feel over your head, ask for help as early as possible.  Most instructors will work hard to help students who make the effort to help themselves.


  • College reading and writing assignments differ from high school assignments in quantity and quality.
  • Managing college successfully requires you to plan ahead, divide work into smaller, manageable tasks, and set aside sufficient time for study.
  • Learning to read purposefully and actively is crucial to succeeding in college.
  • Many resources are available to help with writing and other aspects of college life.  Ask for help when you need it.


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