Reading for Essential Information Help

Updated on Sep 21, 2011

Reading For Essential Information

The first step in increasing your reading comprehension is to learn how to get the basic information. Like a good detective, start with the basic facts. To get the facts, be an active reader and look for clues as you read.

Imagine, for a moment, that you are a detective. You have just been called to the scene of a crime; a house has been robbed. What's the first thing you should do when you arrive?

  1. See what's on the TV.
  2. Check what's in the fridge.
  3. Get the basic facts of the case.

The answer, of course, is c, get the basic facts of the case: the who, what, when, where, and how. What happened? To whom? When? Where? How did it happen?

As a reader faced with a text, you go through a similar process. The first thing you should do is establish the facts. What does this piece of writing tell you? What happens? To whom? When, where, and how? If you can answer these basic questions, you're on your way to really comprehending what you read. 

What Are the Facts?

Let's start with a definition. A fact is

  • something that we know for certain to have happened.
  • something that we know for certain to be true.
  • something that we know for certain to exist.

Much of what you read, especially today in this "Information Age," is designed to provide you with facts. You may read, for example, about a new office procedure that you must follow; about how the new computer system works; or about what happened at the staff meeting. If you're taking a standardized test, you'll probably have to answer reading comprehension questions that ask about the facts in a reading passage. These facts are not always easy to determine, especially if the writing is dense or complicated. To make it simpler, ask yourself these questions as you read: What facts am I expected to know? What am I to learn or be aware of? What happened? What is true? What exists?

Reading Facts Practice and Answers


Jump right into the task of finding facts. The following brief passage is similar to something you might see in a newspaper. Read the passage carefully, and then answer the questions that follow. Remember, careful reading is active reading (see the Introduction), so mark up the text as you go. Underline key words and ideas; circle and define any unfamiliar words or phrases; and record your reactions and questions in the margins.

On Friday, October 21, at approximately 8:30 a.m., Judith Reynolds, owner of The Cupcake Factory, arrived at her establishment to find that it had been robbed and vandalized overnight. The front window of the shop at 128 Broad Street was broken, and chairs and tables were overturned throughout the café area. Additionally, the cash register had been pried open and emptied of money. The thieves attempted to open the safe as well, but were unsuccessful. Ms. Reynolds used her cell phone to report the crime to the police. She also phoned the proprietor of Primo Pizza, located at 130 Broad Street, as she noticed that the door of that restaurant showed signs of forced entry. The police department is asking anyone with information to call 555-2323.

  1. What happened to The Cupcake Factory?
  2. When was the crime discovered?
  3. Where did it happen?
  4. What was stolen?
  5. Who called the police?
  6. What other businesses were affected?

Remember, good reading is active reading. Did you mark up the passage? If so, it may have looked something like this:

What Are the Facts?

You'll notice that the answers to the questions have all been underlined, because these are the key words and ideas in this passage. But here are the answers in a more conventional form.

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