Section Introduction

Chapter Vocabulary



also referred to in this text as “engaged reading,” a set of strategies and concepts to interrupt projection and focus on a text. See Appendix B: Engaged Reading Strategies.

the process of consuming rhetoric to create meaning. “An interpretation” refers to a specific meaning we build as we encounter a text, focusing on certain ideas, language, or patterns.

any artifact through which a message is communicated. Can be written or spoken; digital, printed, or undocumented; video, image, or language. Every text is rhetorical in nature. See rhetoric.

a rhetorical mode in which an author analyzes a text using close reading, then presents an interpretation supported by evidence from the text.

Along the way to this point of your educational career, you’ve probably encountered the term critical reading or active reading more than a few times. Teachers tell students of all ages that using active reading skills is important for reading comprehension, critical thinking, and even effective writing. But what exactly does it mean to read critically or actively?

Perhaps it would serve us to step back and first consider what is being read.

Photograph: a uniformed military person reading in a library
“CSAF releases 2009 reading list” by Master Sgt. Steven Goetsch is in the Public Domain

Most often, we think of a text as a written piece—an essay, a poem, a newspaper article, a novel. While this is often the case, a text can be anything: it is an articulation of rhetoric, bearing in mind that we are constantly surrounded by rhetoric. An advertisement is a text; a series of tweets is a text; a TV show is a text; an improvised dance number is a text.

Every text, in turn, is subject to interpretation. Interpretation refers to the process of consuming rhetoric to create meaning. A text by itself does not actually mean anything; rather, we build meaning as we engage with a text. This is an important distinction to make because

  • As a reader, your interpretation is unique, informed by your lived experiences, your education, your mood(s), your purpose, and your posture. To an extent, no two readers will interpret a text exactly the same way.
  • As an author, you must be cognizant that your writing only impacts your audience when they encounter it from their unique interpretive position. You may carefully construct a piece of writing to capture meaning, but that meaning only exists when a reader engages with what you’ve written.

Because texts can come in such diverse and complex forms, the strategies entailed in “critical” and “active reading” are only the first step: they are tools in our toolkits that lay the groundwork for interpretation. In other words, engaged reading strategies (like those in the so-titled Appendix A) prepare us for text wrestling.

Text wrestling refers to an analytical encounter with a text during which you, the reader, make observations and informed arguments about the text as a method of creating meaning and cultivating unique insight. Most often, this encounter will eventually lead to an essay that shares your analysis with your classmates, your teacher, or a broader audience.

The following section explores the cognitive and rhetorical techniques that support text wrestling. While your teacher may ask you to focus on a particular medium or genre of text for a text wrestling essay, this section will explore analytical processes that can be applied to many different kinds of texts. First, in Chapter Four, we will review the ideas and skills for thinking analytically. After that, we will turn to ideas and skills for writing about that analytical thinking, including summary, note-taking, and synthesis.