Working Carefully Through Trouble Spots

All of us run into passages or even whole sections of a text that are difficult to understand, even after we look up the unfamiliar words and references. For these sections, we need additional strategies.

Slow Down

While it may be tempting just to push past trouble spots and hope they will not matter for the test or your project, this approach limits both your learning and your success. Instead, try slowing down your reading and working through the sentences one by one.

If you are only dealing with a few sentences, sometimes it can help to identify the verbs and their subjects, separating out each independent clause to figure out what it means before moving to the next independent clause.

Follow the Topic Sentences

Reading the topic sentences can help you identify the main point, but it can also be a technique for working through a difficult section, particularly if that section is long.

Eliminate the Examples

Just as with the “follow the topic sentences” technique, you can eliminate the examples to help you work through difficult sections, even if you don’t need to do this for the whole text.

Come Back to the Section

If slowing down doesn’t help—or doesn’t help as much as you’d like—mark the difficult place and move on. Sometimes the meaning of a passage or section becomes clearer after you have finished reading the whole text. Once you have finished reading the section, go back to the trouble spot and see if it makes more sense. Make sure you update your annotations on that section to reflect your new understanding.

Ask Your Classmates or Professor

Sometimes a passage doesn’t make sense to you no matter what you do. Don’t pretend you understand the material when you don’t. Instead, ask a classmate to read through the passage with you. Or if you are using collaborative annotation tools, ask a question in that space. Or bring the passage up with your professor—either privately in office hours or in class. Odds are good that if you are struggling with the text, others in the class are, too!

Example: Mitchell’s Introduction

When I read Mitchell’s article for the first time, I struggled with what he means by “the quality of diversity.” This meant that I really didn’t understand the introduction much at all. I started by rereading that section slowly a couple of times and looking up “quality” to try to understand this phrase. Ultimately, I gave up and decided to come back to the introduction after I had finished the article. Once I had read the ending, the introduction made sense, and I updated my annotations to reflect that.

Activity: Dealing with Trouble Spots in Your Reading

If you ran into any sections that weren’t clear in the article you have chosen, try using one (or more) of these strategies to work through the difficult part.

Once you have done that, take a moment to reflect on your experience:

  • What did you have difficulty with?
  • Which strategy (or combination) helped most?
  • Why do you think that strategy was helpful in this case?

Key Points: Working Carefully Through Trouble Spots

  • Don’t ignore the difficult parts.
  • Try slowing down, and if that doesn’t help, use some of the strategies you tried for finding the main point; examining topic sentences and eliminating examples can work well in many cases.
  • If you’re still stuck, mark the passage and come back to it after you’ve read the whole thing.
  • Ask your classmates and/or your professor for help.




Icon for the Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License

Reading and Writing Successfully in College: A Guide for Students Copyright © 2023 by Patricia Lynne is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

Share This Book