This is the 2007 version. Click here for the 2017 chapter 07 table of contents.

Reconstructing the Author's Meaning

Good readers try to decipher the intended meaning of an author. There are cases in which a reader is not expected to understand the author, such as James Joyce's Ulysses, written in a stream-of-thought style. But in most cases, the re-constitution of mental states is the whole point of reading. The reader attempts to re-create the meanings which the author "had in mind" when writing the passage.

What did Marton discover about the reading habits of A students?

Ference Marton (1975) found that top performing students put all their effort into reconstructing an author's intended meanings. They did not necessarily use fancy study systems. They simply tried to understand what they read. When Marton asked successful students what they looked for in a lecture or a written passage, the students reported concentrating on...

"the central point..."

"the point of the whole thing"

"what the basic idea was"

"basic concepts"

"what lies behind it"

"the whole thing"

"the total picture"

"what it boils down to"

"what the author actually means"

"what's at the bottom of it"

Poor students, by contrast, reported concentrating on vocabulary words, or trying to memorize answers to questions. They could study for hours without grasping the main ideas in a passage.

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