How can you learn to read and write better? More to the point here: How can you learn to read and write better by reading web pages such as these? First of all:
Reading is primary. One can write only as well as one reads.
Consider: Not all readers are writers. Many people read newspapers and novels and never write an original word themselves. They can decipher words and sentences on the page, but do not have a sufficient grasp of spelling and grammar to construct their own sentences. But all writers must be readers! You cannot write without reading as you write. You cannot write without first understanding how the language works to communicate ideas.
All writers rely on their skills as readers. They must realize not only what they have said, but what they have done. And they must evaluate how what they have done will get them where they want to go. What additional ingredients are required? What other aspects must be considered? What misunderstandings must be prevented?
To write better, you must learn to read better. To consciously evaluate your writing you must become more conscious of reading behaviors. Finally, throughout our education and employment we are expected to be able to read far more complicated texts than we are expected to write. Once again, reading is primary.
Readers and writers already speak the language. Our concern here, then, is not with knowing the language itself—with vocabulary and basic sentence structure—but with facility in the use of the written language. And our concern is not so much with the structure of individual sentences, with the correct and resourceful use of spelling, grammar, punctuation, and appropriate word choice, as with the broader elements involved in constructing an extended discussion.
These pages are not concerned with traditional rules of grammar and usage, with correct verb agreement or spelling. They do not repeat rules you learned —or did not learn— in English classrooms. While these issues are important for good writing, these pages focus on broader concerns. Our attention here lies more with shaping and analyzing extended discussion, with broader questions of how thoughts are developed and how meaning is conveyed within a written discussion.
Constructing Extended Discussion
Writing is traditionally taught in terms of examples. Students are asked to read well- formed essays (often examples of rhetorical categories such as argument, explanation, and description) and to mimic their structure. But few if any essays really demonstrate only one form. A text might argue by explaining with a description as evidence.
Reading can teach us some things about the language, but reading good essays can only go so far in enabling us to become better writers. Seeing how well someone else expresses himself or herself does not mean we will suddenly be able to do the same ourselves. Just because we appreciate something does not mean we can mimic, imitate, or duplicate it. Only when we understand how ideas are expressed can we begin to do the same ourselves.
What is the structure of James Baldwin's sentence:
If we--and now I mean the relatively conscious whites and the relatively conscious blacks, who must, like lovers, insist on, or create, the consciousness of the others--do not falter in our duty now, we may be able, handful that we are, to end the racial nightmare, and achieve our country, and change the history of the world.
What resources of sentence structure does he use? What is he doing that we could learn to do ourselves?
To learn from reading essays, we must learn how to analyze those essays. We must know more about what we can expect to find in a text and more about how to draw meaning from what we find. We must, in other words, become more aware in our reading.
Reading instruction is dual-purpose. It serves both to improve our ability to understand texts that we read and to develop our own writing abilities. When we see how we draw meaning from others, we can see how to instill meaning in our own work.
To fully understand texts, both in terms of what they mean (as readers) and how they are constructed (as writers), you must read and discuss texts in a number of ways. Here we will look closely at three combinations of reading strategies and their respective forms of discussion or accountability:
- what a text says -- restatement
- what a text does -- description
- what a text means -- interpretation
The section on Three Ways to Read and Discuss Texts examines how to recognize each style of reading and discussion and when each form of discussion and reading style is most appropriate. The three perspectives are then utilized throughout the later discussion.
The discussion throughout focuses on nonfiction texts, simply because the bulk of reading in school, business, and the world involves nonfiction texts. The same principles can, however, be applied to fictional works —to stories, drama, and poetry.
The approach here is concerned with helping you to realize what you already know about the language as a speaker of the language, and with enabling you to consciously apply that knowledge to reading and writing. The result is a more active, reflective, problem-solving approach to reading, and a more resourceful approach to writing.