Chapter 2: Reading in Writing Class

2.1 Why We Read

Melanie Gagich and Charlotte Morgan

“At the center of all academic writing is a curiosity about how the world works and a desire to understand it,” Stuart Greene and April Lidinsky write in the introduction of the textFrom Inquiry to Academic Writing.Colleges and universities provide students with the education and through research, to develop new technologies to compete in the 21st century global economy. College writing starts with asking questions. To get those answers we must read.

The Liberal Arts were once concerned with the study of that which is true. To make the adjustment from high school writing to writing at the collegiate level you must realize academic writing today is all about current beliefs which change over time. You will have to practice learning not only how to think like an academic, but how to read like one as well until this becomes a habit. We read, we research, and write about what we have learned.

Learning how to read in college also helps you develop content knowledge. This section includes a brief discussion of what it means to read to build content knowledge.

Reading to Build Content Knowledge

“Content knowledge” refers to your knowledge about a subject, topic, controversy, current event, or area of study. Creating content knowledge is important to the writing process because you must have something to write about before you can actually begin writing. Many students assume that they can simply read one or two articles and then write an entire essay, but that is hardly ever an accurate assumption. Whether you are writing about yourself, responding to a topic chosen by the instructor, or crafting a research essay for history class, you need to build knowledge about the content area first.

Scenario 1

In your creative writing class, you are asked to write about a scary moment in your life.

Before writing, you need to sit and think about what scares you, what it means for you to be frightened, what experiences you have had with fright, etc.

This process, even though it is content only about your experience(s), is part of the content knowledge building process because you need to sift through many life experiences in order to determine which one was the scariest. To do so, you must also define what “fear” or “scared” means to you, which might require some outside reading or research. Both defining and pinpointing an experience requires building knowledge about the topic and occurs before you actually begin writing.

Scenario 2

Your college writing instructor assigns everyone a debatable topic and you are asked to write about the benefits of the death penalty. You are excited because you have seen a lot of Law and Order episodes and have decided that the death penalty is a “good thing” for American society. So, you sit down and write your essay using all of your ideas about the death penalty. 

Sounds good, right? Wrong. Forming an argument based solely on a television show or on only one source does not lead to a strong or well-informed text. Also, a writer must consider all sides of an argument. In this scenario the student doesn’t really have a lot of experience with the topic, which means he or she must build content knowledge first. This will most likely require finding opinion-based (or popular articles), research-based (or scholarly articles), credible statistics from independent researchers, and any other legitimate source to develop an understanding of the topic. From there, an ethical writer (which you are working to become) must evaluate those sources to ensure credibility because if a writer relies on faulty sources, then his or her work becomes faulty or inaccurate, too. Once all of this content knowledge building work has been completed, then the you are ready to write a paper supporting the death penalty.

Building content knowledge is key part of the writing process, which is why reading effectively is an important skill to master.

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2.1 Why We Read by Melanie Gagich and Charlotte Morgan is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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