Helpful Resources When Reading

Instructor: Christopher Sailus

Chris has an M.A. in history and taught university and high school history.

This lesson will explore resources that can be helpful for a student who is reading a particularly difficult text. Each resource description will include commentary on how it can assist students during the reading process.


Not every book is an easy read. For example, read any line of John Milton's epic poem, Paradise Lost and you might think you might need a few different Ph.Ds and a translator to understand it! Even some books written today, especially books set in a particular time or setting, require prior knowledge and reading skills to understand properly.

In this lesson, we will familiarize you with some of those resources that are helpful and important to anyone struggling to understand a work of literature or non-fiction.


Perhaps the most basic of all resources, the dictionary is an excellent source of information for anyone reading a book. After all, you are reading mainly words; what better source is there to have but another book which tells you what each of those words mean? Looking up words in the dictionary that you don't know the meaning of or can't understand through context alone can greatly enhance your comprehension of the material.

Dictionaries also provide a wealth of information other than the definition of a word. Some also provide words that have a similar meanings, or synonyms, and many provide the word's origin. Understanding the language that the word originates from can often help you learn how to spell or use the word correctly in the future.

Reading Guides

Many books, especially works of literature, have accompanying reading guides. Some are attached directly to the book or provided in an appendix, while other guides can be purchased in addition to the book itself. These reading guides tend to be more in-depth and can offer insight and analysis that others cannot. Most offer a character guide, chapter summaries, explanations of unfamiliar terms or concepts, important themes, and a glossary that acts as a miniature dictionary that contains only words that appear in that book.

Reading guides can be immensely valuable and can enrich your understanding of the text. However, they should not, and cannot, replace the reading of the actual text itself.

Related Books

It may seem like adding a lot of extra work to read another book, but sometimes reading another book that is related to the topic can enrich your understanding of the text. For example, when reading Geoffrey Chaucer's Canterbury Tales, it can be a huge help to read about the history of Medieval England or the Medieval church. After all, many books are reflective of the time in which they were written. Canterbury Tales, for instance, caricatures many characters which a person may have encountered in Medieval England.

Understanding the historical circumstances in which a book was written can be immensely helpful in understanding the author's purpose in how certain characters act or the impetus in creating them at all.

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