Reading is a deceptive skill, for it is not a single process, but a number of processes. Thus, while you might be a fluent reader, in that you can swiftly and easily decode the letter-markings, and quickly access the meaning of the words, that doesn't mean you're a skilled reader of informational texts.
Reading effectively for information or instruction, unlike reading a story, needs to be a very active process, for comprehension is far more difficult than it is in the familiar format of a story. That's why so-called 'speed reading' can be so problematic.
Reading "actively" involves:
- thinking about what you’re reading
- asking yourself questions about it
- trying to relate it to information you already know.
How well you do this depends in part on your understanding of the topic. Thus, you may be a skilled reader of philosophy texts, but be completely at a loss when confronted by a physics text.
Nor is it only a matter of content knowledge. How you go about your active reading also depends in part on the subject you're reading in. Reading scientific texts, for example, is very different from reading a history text; both require a different approach — different skills — compared to reading an economics text. And reading in a foreign language is, of course, different again.
Reading for study is difficult to separate from note-taking, for the active processing you need to do is helped considerably by note-taking strategies. The two go hand in hand, and more so the more difficult the text is.
Improving your reading skills, then, involves not simply improving reading skills themselves, but also:
- recognizing the different processes involved in reading, so that you can accurately pinpoint the source of your comprehension difficulties (for example, it may be simply a jargon issue - unfamiliarity with the specialist vocabulary used)
- increasing your knowledge and understanding of the topic
- improving your note-taking skills, so that you know the best way to approach different types of text, to organize the information for better understanding.