You would think that reading comprehension and decent writing skills would be fairly important to people in todays world of social media and the internet. Unfortunately, that doesn’t seem to be what has happened. People are still skimming through things, not getting all the details, but yet still acting on what they think they’ve read. When writing, they’re being careless, but still expecting others to understand them clearly.
As someone who pays great attention to detail, whenever I am capable and have the opportunity, this is frustrating. When I communicate with loved ones through messaging, it can be frustrating when people don’t take the time to pay attention to the details of what I’ve messaged or emailed. It’s also frustrating as a blogger because people will skim the piece, and not get the true meaning of my words.
We spend so much of our time texting and scrolling social media that, especially where texting is considered, our reading comprehension and writing can actually impact our lives. This is something we really don’t consider much beyond the basic ability to read and understand things like street signs, basic instructions, etc., and the ability to write well enough to take tests. With many students, as long as they can read well enough to pass a class and graduate, we consider their reading and writing acceptable. It needs to be a bigger deal these days because so many activities in our lives involve some aspect of one of these two things, or both.
My “solution” to this is to write this refresher in hopes of improving the reading and writing skills of the world. Yes, I am aware of how unlikely that is, but I’m doing it anyway. The following tips are things we all need to remember to do when reading to make sure we understand. After the reading tips, I’ve also included some for when you are the one writing.
- Slow down. “I can’t slow down. I’ll never have time to read anything.” If you’re someone who needs these tips, you’ve likely had an experience where your misunderstanding of something you read ended up costing you more time than if you had just slowed down. Just think about it for a minute. Probably a text you misread making you miss an event, or arrive late, or at the wrong location, etc. By slowing down, you catch more details, and it gives you time to consider both the information and tone.
- Stop the skimming. Kind of the same as slow down to some of you, but there’s another aspect here. Not only do people like to skim when they’re reading, they like to react to only the headlines they’ve skimmed. Read the entire article. Come back to it later if you have to, but make sure you’ve considered all the information before reacting. Headlines are sometimes only a small part of the story meant to draw you in. You should read the article so you know all the information before you go commenting in a public forum or getting into an argument. I see comments ALL the time where it’s clear the person didn’t even open the article. Don’t be that person.
- Consider tone. Tone is very important, even though most people act like you can’t tell the tone of writing. You really can if you just pay attention and consider the author as well as what you’re reading. When speaking, you have the bonus of being able to hear the emotion in someone’s voice and which words they are choosing to put emphasis on. Apply that conversational tone when you’re reading. This process is even easier if you know the person well because you know how they usually say things. When you know them, it’s easier to know if they are being sarcastic, angry, happy, or anything else. If you don’t know the author, try putting different tones to the piece to figure out which they intended. Paying attention to comma placement and formatting can help you determine the tone. Commas usually mean some sort of pause, or break in the speaking of the sentence. Formatting such as italics, or using bold font, can tell you that emphasis should be put on a word, or it should somehow otherwise be catching your attention. If you can hear, you know how people speak. Use that knowledge while reading instead of reading in a monotone voice in your head.
- Don’t assume. We all know the cliché about assuming, and it can be true. This one applies more so to text messaging and emails, than anything else, because that’s usually where the problems with assuming impact things the most. First of all, don’t assume the worst of people. It seems like everyone wants to jump to the worst meaning behind the words they’re reading. Secondly, don’t assume the person completely understands how you are taking their words. There are times one person will be very upset and the other person doesn’t even have a clue why. This is because the one upset assumes the other should know. That isn’t reasonable. Clarify things. Ask how things are meant. At least then you know you’re reacting to something real.
- Context matters. This kind of relates to the tone and not assuming, but warrants it’s own tip because I just don’t understand why everyone doesn’t already take this into consideration. To me, this is basic. You can’t pull one sentence out of something and expect everyone who reads it to know exactly what it means, and you shouldn’t. Context matters. At least read the entire paragraph around the sentence, but it’s better to consider the whole piece.
These reading tips can help increase your comprehension, leading to less misunderstandings in your life. If you’re thinking this isn’t a problem for you, it’s probably either because you are like me, and pay attention to details, OR you just aren’t recognizing when you’re missing things. Start really paying attention when reading text messages and see how often things start making a little more sense.
The writing aspect of this is just as important. If you aren’t being clear with your texting or emails, it creates the same issues as the lack of reading comprehension, and makes it even harder for those trying to read. Here are some tips for writing to make your interactions better.
- Use the FULL word. I know this is not a popular thing these days because texting has created an odd shorthand that uses shortened versions of words and emojis, but doing things the fast way can lead to quite a bit of confusion. Shortened words and emojis may be fine when just chitchatting, but you need to be precise when you’re giving someone information, so using those things can cause problems.
- Use ALL the words. Another issue besides shortening the words is that people leave out words they don’t consider important. The trouble is that leaving out words can change the way your message is perceived when read, leading to a misunderstanding. Accuracy is something we’ve gotten worse at doing rather than better, like it should be. People like to be vague. Whether it’s intentional so they can talk their way out of whatever situation may be, or whether they just don’t realize what they’re doing, it still creates misunderstandings that can lead to unnecessary drama. Avoid it by being more accurate and using all the words.
- Read what you typed before sending. I’ve made this mistake myself many times, but I’ve mostly gotten into the habit of always reading before sending to check for typos, and to see if what I wrote makes sense. When reading it to yourself, remember, don’t assume the other person knows all the same information you do. We often make the mistake of forgetting to think about the other person’s perspective. When writing for a general audience, it’s a bit harder to do, but when you personally know the receiver, you should be able to think “Now how is this going to come across to them?” and have a pretty good idea of what they’ll think. Re-reading, at the very least, lets you see if you left out words you meant to put in, or typed something in a way that it meant something differently than you intended.
All of these things are fairly simple to put into practice, and should help anyone improve their written communication. They can only help if you actually take the time to use them. Slow down and save yourself the time and drama that misunderstandings can cause.