Get automatic updates delivered straight to your inbox.

Connect with Steve Sipress


Howard Stephen Berg: Improving Reading Comprehension Part 1 – The Problem Created By Generalization


Reading comprehension is a crucial part of both professional and academic success. Yet, many people experience confusion while reading text. Even when they put a lot of focus and effort into their work. Generalization can cause this problem.

Generalization occurs when a writer presents information that is vague and non-specific.  This article will focus on how verbs contribute to this problem.

Generally verbs represent the actions taking place in a text. They vibrantly move things along. However, this is not the case when verbs lack specificity. Let’s look at an example where confusion is caused by the generalization of non-specific verbs.

“Look at what they are doing. I certainly would not want to do that in public. In fact, why would anyone want to do that?”

The problem verb here is the verb, “do.” Do what? It is very general and hard to define. Let’s look at the same sentence again, but this time using more specific verbs.

“Look at them undressing. I certainly would not want to undress in public. In fact, why would anyone undress like that?”

Suddenly, you are aware of the action taking place. It is no longer confusing. Unfortunately, many writers fail to provide verbs that make it easy to understand what is taking place.

Fortunately, there is a solution to this problem.

When I am reading text that is too general because of the misuse of verbs, I take action. The first thing I do is scan the entire text surrounding the problem area. I am looking for other verbs, nouns, or a description that can help me identify or isolate potential meanings for the vaguely written verbs. Next, I try substituting the different potential words to see which ones make the most sense. It this still leaves me confused I go to another level.

I now scan the contents page of the book. I look at the index, and the table of contents. I am looking for the main themes or ideas that the text is covering. Sometimes the contextual clue I need to make a confusing passage meaningful can not be found within that same chapter.

By expanding my search to the entire text as I have just described, I typically can find the answer.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *