Reading & Writing to Apply

Writing to apply means that you bring a theory or concept to an experience, to see how that theory or concept “works” in that context.  Writing to apply moves in the opposite direction from writing to react:

  • Reaction brings your experience to the text.
  • Application brings the text to your own experience.


College study often deals with learning about theories (e.g., management theories in business, personality theories in psychology) and abstract ideas (e.g., capitalism, cultural universals, adaptation).  You may be asked to explain and show how a theory or idea works in actual experience.

For example, if you’re studying business communication, you may read about the communication accommodation theory, which asserts that people tend to adapt their words, tone, gestures, and all aspects of verbal and non-verbal communication to the particular communication situation.  People may adapt to other people, the situation, or both. Adaptation may take one of two forms: 1) convergence, in which participants take on others’ communication characteristics to reduce social differences, or 2) divergence, in which participants highlight different communication characteristics to maintain social differences. You may be asked to observe a series of group meetings at work and apply communication accommodation theory to explain how it works in this real experience. Sometimes you may be asked to evaluate the validity of a theory as a next step, based on a random sampling of meetings and a much stricter research protocol.

In addition to applying a theory or concept to lived experience, you can also apply a theory or concept to a text.  For example, you may be asked to apply the concept of inference or point of view to a text, to explain how an author creates meaning through manipulating what the words imply. Again, you’d be bringing an abstract concept to an experience (your experience of reading the text) to explain how that concept works. You may be asked to read and write with the purpose of applying a theory or concept in the fields of sociology, psychology, health, human services, nursing, business, history, and literature, among others.

You may want to think of reading and writing to apply in terms of looking through a microscope, since this form of critical thinking asks you to look at experience through the lens of the theory or concept, a lens that will highlight certain aspects of both the theory and the experience, and add to your understanding.


Here’s a brief video that offers a theory about reading.  The video refers to literary texts, but the ideas can be applied to any type of text.

try it

Consider your experience reading the article “Getting All Your Duckling in a Row: A Look Inside the Animal Mind.

Apply the theory explained in the video above to your reading experience – how does the theory work in terms of your own experience?

Extra insight: theory & application

The following video contains an excellent definition of the concept of theory, and discusses different health behavior theories.  Make sure to view the first (beginning –> 1:05) and last (11:05 –> end) few minutes for the definition and a brief discussion of the importance of applying theories.

You may find the entire discussion of health behavior theories interesting within the context of this course, to see how professionals apply theories–and health is a topic that interests most of us. You also may find the entire discussion interesting if you’re interested in health, human services, sociology, psychology, or nursing.