our everyday life

Reading Interpretation Skills

by Diane Kampf, studioD

Reading interpretation skills are important for success in academics, business and personal life. It's not enough to simply understand the words on the page. Interpretation skills allow the reader to understand main ideas, discern facts from opinions and make inferences and predictions.


Reading requires some preparation. It is important to get the mind ready to receive information. Good readers use a variety of pre-reading techniques. Scanning is a technique in which the reader quickly glances through the text and notices key words. These words give clues as to what the reading material is about. Another good strategy is to take note of the title of the piece -- it often helps in understanding context and main idea. This is especially true with poetry. Another technique is to read the introduction and conclusion or first and last paragraphs. This gives the reader a sense of the the author's purpose in writing the passage.

Grasping the Main Idea

Understanding the main idea of a text includes comprehension of the topic, the theme -- what the author is saying about the topic -- and the author's purpose in writing the text. One strategy for understanding the main idea is to identify the thesis statement of the piece. Most informational and persuasive passages will contain a thesis statement. It is often the last sentence in the introduction, but not always. Look for a sentence that states an overall idea and is supported by other sentences in the passage. Here's an example: Goran Kropp's arduous journey to the top of Mount Everest earned him the nickname Crazy Swede because he pushed his physical and mental endurance to the limit, proving to himself and the world that mankind is capable of far more than we can imagine. This sentence gives the reader the topic of the passage -- Goran Kropp, the theme of the passage -- that mankind is capable of far more than we can imagine, and the author's purpose -- to show the reader how Kropp pushed his mental and physical endurance to the the limit.

Facts and Opinions

Facts are statements that can be verified as true. They may be scientific, historical, or physical. Examples are: The ocean is full of water. Research has shown that sleep deprivation is a major cause of many automobile accidents. Another way to think of facts is that they answer the questions who, what, where, when, and how. Opinions are statements that indicate personal beliefs. There are no scientific, historical or physical confirmations of these statements, or that confirmation is disputed or tenuous. Another way to think of opinions is that they answer the question: What does the author think or feel about the topic? Unfortunately, not all opinion statements start with an obvious tag, like “In my opinion,” or “I think.” More sophisticated writers are skilled at disguising sentences that are really opinions to look like facts. Look for words that show comparatives or superlatives: good, better, best, bad, worse, worst, always, never or statements that are controversial: College students are snobby.

Inference and Prediction

Inference and prediction skills are among the most difficult to master because they require readers to understand the deeper meanings of a text. The key to both inference and prediction is to use the context of the written piece and common sense to figure out the unstated meanings. To make a correct inference a reader must figure out the deeper meaning of a scene by looking at the facts given in the text and using his common sense about what meaning those facts would support in a similar situation. If an article about a campaigning politician states that he is visiting a lot of blue-collar job sites, a reader can infer that the politician is trying to get the workers' votes. Prediction works much the same way except that the reader must figure out what will happen next. In the above example a reader may predict that the politician may also visit some union offices.

About the Author

Diane Kampf has more than 20 years of teaching experience ranging from middle school to college freshmen. She holds a Master of Arts degree in creative writing and English literature and a New York State Secondary Teacher Certificate. She has written educational materials for Learning Express, LLC, Kaplan and Pearson.

Photo Credits

  • Creatas Images/Creatas/Getty Images