In a perfect world, everyone would happily read the latest John Grisham novel and never worry about the need to concentrate on reading material such as "The Environmental Application of Nano-particles," or "The Morphagenetic Approach to Social Theory." Nevertheless, such reading is necessary to the pursuit of knowledge and acceptable grades. Whether you're bogged down in a high-school history book or mired in a stack of esoteric research papers, focusing techniques can help your comprehension of even the most sleep-inducing material.
Make a list of questions you'd like to have answered by the material. If you're reading for a class, look at the questions at the end of the chapter and try to answer them as you read. Ask yourself "Why, how and what?" recommends the Center for Teaching and Learning at Brigham Young University. Try to determine what is so fascinating about the material that other people have devoted time to studying it and writing about it. Once you've started to read, periodically look away from the text and ask yourself a question about what you've just read.
Writing as you read can help you to maintain your focus. Create an outline and take notes as you read, or create a mind-map type of diagram around the main idea, advises the "Study Guides and Strategies" website. Keep a highlighter on hand to underscore important points in the reading. Use different colors to help you keep your attention. For example, you could use a yellow highlighter to emphasize facts that might be on an exam, and a green one to highlight ideas that you have questions about. Even if you never use the highlighted areas, you'll be better able to focus on what you're reading.
Staring at a page of text dealing with the intricacies of photosynthesis might be more of a recipe for insomnia than comprehension if you're already bored. Make your task more manageable by blocking out portions of text and focusing on one paragraph at a time, writes William Harkey for the University of Houston-Victoria Academic Center. Use index cards or folded paper to cover up the text you're not currently reading.
Harkey also recommends reading the boring text aloud. While this won't work if you're studying in a quiet library, it is very effective when you're alone in your room. You'll be forced to pay attention to what you're reading, and your comprehension may increase, because you're now also hearing the words you're reading. If you're still bored, read the text in the voice of Al Capone or Donald Duck. Doing so might not increase your comprehension, but at least you'll stay awake.
Elise Wile has been a writer since 2003. Holding a master's degree in curriculum and Instruction, she has written training materials for three school districts. Her expertise includes mentoring, serving at-risk students and corporate training.