Preview Quiz 3

As a preview to what will be discussed in Part Two, try to answer this question:

Duncan can read faster than Charlie, but Charlie seems to understand more from his slower reading. Who is the more effective reader?

  1. Charlie is the more effective reader.
  2. Since one has speed and the other has greater comprehension, they are equally effective readers.
  3. Duncan is the more effective reader.

Begin reading Part Two to discover the correct answer.

This lesson will use and develop the information presented in Part One. Specifically, we will discuss how generalizations are made through retaining concepts and organizing facts.

In recent years some people have placed great emphasis on reading for speed. What some speed reading advocates fail to mention is that effective reading is based on understanding, not on speed. Thus, rapid reading is not necessarily good reading. A person may gain greater insight and understanding from reading more slowly than the rapid reader. Ideally, we all would like to read everything at a high rate of speed and achieve 100 percent comprehension. For most of us, however, this is impossible. Since some material is easy to read while other material is difficult, speed must be adjusted accordingly. Technical material full of facts and details must be read at a much slower pace than a favorite novel.

Whether material is easy or difficult depends on the amount of mental activity needed for good understanding. The more difficult the material, the harder the mind must work to retain specific details and general ideas. Some people may skip over facts, figures, and particulars, thinking that speed will suffer if they slow down to make mental notes. Other readers may stop at facts and try to memorize them. Neither method produces good comprehension. A good reader slows down to absorb the meaning of facts and figures. Certainly his speed may suffer, but his comprehension will be good.

Remembering specifics is made easier through the process of making generalizations. When we wish to keep certain details in mind or perceive their relationships, we should mentally combine the details to form broader, more meaningful ideas.

The combining process is made easier if we understand how facts and ideas are organized in writing.

An important point to remember is that writers organize their supporting details according to some particular pattern. Their thoughts do not wander aimlessly; instead they are developed logically.

So that you will recognize the six methods of organizing details, they are listed below:

  1. simple listing
  2. order-of-importance
  3. time order
  4. spatial development
  5. cause and effect
  6. comparison and contrast

Preview Quiz 4

As a preview to what will be discussed next, try to answer this question:

If a writer simply lists supporting details, following no special order or arrangement, which one of the six methods of organizing details (above) is he using?

  1. Simple listing
  2. Time order
  3. Comparison and contrast

Continue reading to discover the correct answer.

Simple Listing

Simple listing of supporting details is the easiest pattern to recognize, but the details are not always the easiest to remember. It is the least structured pattern. The author uses this order of presentation when no other pattern seems to fit the flow of his ideas. He simply mentions one fact or detail after another as they support the main idea without any apparent attempt to arrange them in any certain order. All the details appear to be of equal importance.


When a writer wishes to place more emphasis on a particular supporting detail, he will use this organizational pattern. Important ideas naturally need more emphasis than minor ideas. The most important detail is usually presented first with less significant details following it. Sometimes, however, a writer builds to his most important detail. In this case, it would appear last. The most important detail should never be presented in the middle of a selection because it could go unnoticed.

Time Order

Time order, often called chronological order, is used often by historians, fiction writers, and journalists. In fact, any writer who writes to tell "what happened when" uses the time order method of presenting details and events. Events are reported in the same order in which they occurred. This arrangement is very easy to identify. Being aware of the order in which events occur helps you to remember them.

Spatial Development

The word "spatial" relates to space. This is the order most frequently used in description. The writer wishes to present details the way they are seen from a particular vantage point. For example, a writer may first mention the most distant object he sees and proceed to the nearest one. Or he may move from right to left, or he may follow any other progression which is logical and orderly. His purpose is to arrange his description so that the reader may follow it easily.

Spatial development can also be based on the shape of something. A writer, for example, might wish to describe the shape of the Pentagon Building near Washington, D.C.

Spatial order may be used to describe a person. The author might begin with some striking physical detail such as bright blue eyes, a large nose, or some other obvious feature and then work around to lesser details.

Preview Quiz 5

As a preview to what will be discussed next, try to answer this question:

Which one of the following sentences is an example of cause and effect organization?

  1. Because of the rain, the game was canceled.
  2. I had to stop at the store on my way to classes.
  3. The apartment door was slammed with great force.

Continue reading to discover the correct answer.

Cause and Effect

When one thing is the result of something else, a writer uses cause and effect development. An effect is a result which shows "what happened". A cause is something that brings about the effect.

An example of cause and effect can be seen clearly in the sentence, "Because of the rain, the game was canceled." This simple sentence shows only one cause and one effect, and it is difficult to miss the relationship because it is expressed simply and directly. Often this pattern, is more complex with more than one cause and more than one effect, and often the two parts may be separated—the cause stated early in the paragraph and the effect not mentioned until the conclusion. Also the pattern is sometimes found in reverse: the effect stated first and the cause or causes mentioned later.

Comparison and Contrast

Facts which are compared or contrasted are often easier to remember than those which are simply listed.

A comparison shows how things are similar.

A contrast shows how things are different.

The facts or details being compared or contrasted are often shown together and clue words like either—or, some—others, not only—but also, both—and, are used.

Both comparison and contrast are sometimes used in the same passage. A writer explaining solar energy might begin by showing how solar energy is like other sources of energy. He may then go on to point out the differences between solar energy and other energy sources.

Comparison is especially suited to writing about the unfamiliar or the complicated. For example, a historian could explain the French Revolution to Americans in terms of the American Revolution.

If a writer wanted to show how men differ from women, he would concentrate on contrasting their differences; comparison would play little or no part in the discussion.


Sometimes an author will use several methods to develop his ideas. One paragraph may even have two or three organizational patterns working harmoniously to create the desired effects. The paragraph on the next page illustrates a combination method. See if you can make generalizations and recognize the order of details as you read.

Preview Quiz 6

As a preview to what will be discussed next, try to answer this question:

The paragraph on the next page contains the dates on which certain events occurred. This is a clue to which method of organizing details?

  1. Simple listing.
  2. Time order.
  3. Spatial development.

Continue reading to discover the correct answer.

In 1608 Captain John Smith wrote a description of his capture by Powhatan. He made it clear that the Indian Chief had treated him with unusual courtesy and friendliness. In 1624 Smith repeated the story in his General History of Virginia, but his life had changed. He described himself as having "a prince's mind imprisoned in a poor man's purse". He wanted his book to be profitable so he decided to write a new version of his now-famous encounter with Chief Powhatan and his daughter, Pocahontas. In the new version, the once-friendly Powhatan would have had Smith's head cut off if Pocahontas had not saved his life at the last moment.

Remembering isolated details and specific facts is not easy, but combining them and making associations to form generalizations makes the job easier. For example, 1608 is given as the date John Smith first wrote about his capture by Powhatan. You should generalize immediately that this event occurred more than 350 years ago. If you then connect this date with 1624, the date of the story revision, you can generalize that Smith did not change the story for 16 years or until necessity forced him to. You can assume that Smith became poor some time during those 16 years and wrote the new version of the story to make money. You can make the generalization that Smith did not like living without the money and luxury to which he had been accustomed. The phrase, "a prince's mind imprisoned in a poor man's purse" supports this point. We can make the general statement that Smith was a romantic because he turned a factual incident into a romantic drama. We can generalize also that Smith was willing to sacrifice historical accuracy for financial gain.

We can go even one step further and assume that many interesting legends are perhaps nothing more than exaggerations or distortions of the truth.

The paragraph is organized through a combination of time order and cause and effect. The events surrounding the famous story are mentioned in the order of their occurrence. The cause and effect development can be seen in Smith's need for money (cause) and the change he made to suit his needs (effect). Using both methods of presenting facts creates a more interesting selection.

You can improve your reading ability by making generalizations because generalizations make remembering easier. The following four steps can help you make generalizations in your reading:

  1. Find the main idea.
  2. Discover the supporting details (facts, events, ideas).
  3. Decide which pattern the details fit best.
  4. Notice associations and relationships and combine details and characteristics.

As a reader who is interested in good comprehension, you must read carefully enough to make generalizations. When this happens, you are retaining concepts and organizing facts.

This lesson was designed to help you understand how to make generalizations in your reading. Keep in mind that you must do more than remember facts and details when you read; you need to relate these facts and details to each other and associate them to things which are meaningful to you. This will facilitate understanding.

The sample exercise which follows this lesson is designed to illustrate what has been discussed here. Read it carefully and refer back to these pages if you find it necessary.