Reading and Breathing: Two Essentials for Every Student

By Kat Seidemann

I love to read and I always have. I was the kid reading under the covers with a flashlight. My parents were readers, too, so I did not get in much trouble over this small defiance. Now, as a college student, I don’t get many opportunities to read for fun.

Academic reading meant learning a new way to read. I wondered how I could ever get through the volume of reading required in college and still maintain my love of reading.  At first, I found I could never get through my course readings. I would read each word until my eyes ached and the words began to bleed together. I rarely finished an article and then I felt so unprepared for class that I would forget to breathe. Then I realized there are some tricks to academic reading.

I knew from my own writing that there is proper way to create a paragraph, an opening sentence that states the topic of the paragraph, a closing sentence that summarizes the ideas and moves gracefully into the next idea, details in the middle. It occurred to me that if I was doing this, then certainly academics were doing this. I did not need to read every paragraph! I could read the opening and closing statements to get main ideas and read only the passages that applied to what I need to know.

This new technique also helped me avoid getting hung up on every word or term I didn’t know. The constant interruptions to refer to my dictionary came to an end. I could find keywords more easily and only invest time in understanding those things. Words that would not add to my understanding of the author’s point no longer took up my time.

I found that if I became hung up on an important idea or theme it helped to read it aloud. My cat has listened to everything from Kafka to hooks, from Barthes to Freire. While my cat could care less about the content, I gleaned a deeper understanding of the material by saying the words.

One day a professor gave my class her skimming/reading formula. Read the abstract (if there is one), and read the introduction looking for the authors’ thesis or main points. Read the conclusion. Then go back to look for section headings and read those; they give a lot of useful information. By then you will have a reasonable idea of the author’s intent, attitude toward the subject, main points, and the layout of the reading.

I combine these tips with my own paragraph scanning technique and voilà! I am a much more efficient reader. Now, I can breathe easier when faced with academic reading and I even have time to squeeze in some fun reading.



  1. Yes! These are great tips. I especially love that you read to your cat. I read Foucault to my son when he was three months old and chapters of my dissertation when he was six months old. The dissertation would usually send him into slumber…though it helped clarify my own thinking.

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