1.1 Reading and Writing in College


This section of Ch. 1 will cover the following topics:

  • using this textbook
  • reading and writing assignments in college
  • reading
  • college resources

Writing well is difficult. Even people who write for a living sometimes struggle to get their thoughts on the page. For people who do not like writing or do not think of themselves as good writers, college writing assignments can be stressful or intimidating.

But you cannot get through college without having to write–sometimes a lot and often at a higher level than you are used to. Educationally, you are moving into deeper waters. A good introductory writing course will help you swim.

Using this Textbook

Each chapter in this textbook is divided into sections. Each section begins with a green Preview box that lets you know what topics will be covered and ends with an orange Takeaways box that highlights important points to remember. Red Tips boxes on the right side of the page provide interesting or helpful insights.

Exercises in blue boxes should be completed in your class notebook, using this format:

  • Start a new page for each exercise.
  • In the top right corner of the page, write the chapter and section number, then put the date you do the assignment below that.
  • In the center of the top line, put the exercise number.
Example of notebook page

You will also see the following supplemental materials throughout the text:

  • Blue underlined text is a link to outside materials. Click on it to view the materials.
  • text with a dotted underline is a link to a brief definition of the word.  Click on it to view the definition.
  • Purple boxes contain graphic materials. Click on the camera icon to view a PowerPoint presentation or video.

You can continue to read this text online throughout the term or you can print out a paper copy to . If you do print a PDF, the full will be at the end.

College vs. High School

In college, expectations change from what you may have experienced in high school. The quantity and quality of work increases. The table below some major differences between high school and college assignments.

High School College
Teachers may set aside class time for reading and reviewing the material. You are expected to come to class with a basic understanding of the material.
Teachers often provide study guides and other aids to help you prepare for exams. Reviewing for exams is primarily your responsibility.
Your grade is determined by a wide variety of assessments, both minor and major. Many assessments are not writing-based. Your grade may depend on just a few major assessments. Most are writing-based.
Writing assignments include personal and creative writing in addition to writing. Except in creative writing courses, most writing assignments are expository.
The structure and of writing assignments is generally familiar. You may be asked to master new formats or follow standards within a particular professional field.
Teachers try to help students who are performing poorly, missing classes, or not turning in work. Often students get many “second chances.” Although teachers want students to succeed, they expect you to take steps to help yourself. “Second chances” are less common.

Exercise 1

Think about your college experience so far. In your class notebook, briefly respond to the following questions. (See instructions above on how to set up your notebook page.)

  • Do you think college will be more rewarding than high school?
  • What parts of college do you expect to find most challenging?
  • What changes do you think you might have to make in your life to ensure your success in college?

Reading Strategies

Most writing assignments–from brief responses to in-depth research papers–will depend on your ability to understand what you read. Following are some strategies for getting the most out of assigned readings.


To handle college reading successfully, you need to manage your time and know your purpose. “Time management” means setting aside enough time to complete work and breaking assignments into manageable chunks. If you are assigned a fifty-page chapter for next week’s class, don’t wait until the night before to start. Give yourself a few days and tackle one section at a time.

Knowing what you want to get out of a reading assignment–your purpose–helps you determine how much time to spend on it and helps you stay focused when tired or distracted. Sometimes your purpose is simple: to understand the reading well enough to discuss it intelligently in class. However, your purpose will often go beyond that. For example, you might read to compare two texts, to write a personal response, or to gather ideas for research.

When you start a reading assignment, identify your purpose and write it down somewhere: on a sticky that you put on your computer screen, on the first page of the book, or in your notes. Keep that information nearby as you read.

Improving Comprehension

In college, you will read a wide variety of materials, including textbooks, articles, and scholarly journals. Your primary goal is to identify the main point, the idea the writer wants to communicate. Finding the main point helps you understand the details–the facts and explanations that develop and clarify the main point–and relate the reading to things you learned in class or in other assignments.


As you read, stop occasionally and assess how well you understand what you are reading.  If you aren’t confident, go back and read the section again.  Don’t just push ahead.

Sometimes that task is relatively easy. Textbooks include headings that identify main concepts. Diagrams and charts help you understand complex information. Textbooks often include comprehension questions at the end of a section. Non-fiction books and articles may have an introduction that presents the writer’s main ideas and purpose. In long works, chapter titles give a sense of what is covered.

A good way to review and reinforce what you’ve learned is to discuss the reading with classmates, either in person or online.  Discussions can help you determine whether your understanding is the same as theirs and perhaps introduce you to new ideas.

Active Reading

The most successful students in college are active readers: students who engage in purposeful activities as they read. The best way to remember the information you read is to do something physical with it, something beyond just letting your eyes scan the page.  For example, use a highlighter, write notes, or discuss it with someone.

Exercise 2

Print out and read the essay “How to Mark a Book” by Mortimer Adler. It is listed in Ch. 7, “Readings,” and you can also find it online at https://www.unz.com/print/SaturdayRev-1940jul06-00011/

Then use the process Adler explains to mark his essay up as you read it a second time. Put the marked-up essay in your notebook.

Then respond to these questions in your notebook:

  • What did you learn the second time through that you missed on the first read?
  • Is there anything you still don’t understand? (For example, the essay was written a long time ago so has some words that may be unfamiliar.) What is your to ensure you understand everything?
  • On a scale of 1 to 10, how useful did you find marking up this essay? Explain why.

College Resources

If you try to handle every challenge alone, you may become frustrated and overwhelmed. Let people help. Following are some resources available at Mt. Hood Community College (MHCC):

  • Your instructors can clarify information that is confusing or give you strategies to succeed. It’s easy to contact a teacher using MyMHCC email.
  • Tutors can help you manage college-level writing assignments. They will not write or your paper for you, but they can help you understand and fix problems before you submit work for grading: https://www.mhcc.edu/lsc/
  • Librarians can quickly guide you to exactly the information or resource you need. https://www.mhcc.edu/library/
  • Free, confidential counseling services are available for students who need help coping with a difficult personal situation or managing academic problems. https://www.mhcc.edu/Personal-Counseling/

Many students are reluctant to seek help. They feel like doing so marks them as slow, weak, or demanding. The truth is, every learner occasionally struggles. If you are sincerely trying to keep up but feel over your head, ask for help as early as you can. Most instructors will work hard to help students who make the effort to help themselves.


  • College reading and writing assignments differ from high school assignments in quantity and quality.
  • Managing college successfully requires you to plan ahead, divide work into smaller, manageable tasks, and set aside sufficient time.
  • Many resources are available to help with writing and other aspects of college life. Ask for help if you need it.


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