What Is a Common Text?

Something you may see when you get to campus is information on a “common text” for the semester. And unless there were common texts at your high school (which isn’t very common), you probably won’t have any idea what that means. So today, we will give you a quick primer on what common texts are, why colleges use them, and what it means to you.


What common texts are?

A common text is any text (read: “book”) that all sections of a certain class will read. It’s usually used by freshman English classes, but may also extend to upper-level courses and classes in other departments. All of the classes read the same book at the same time.

The common text is selected by a panel of professors and administrators from different areas of the school, and is the membership of this panel is often considered to be secret, as the selection of a book can be a controversial issue. Which can be a lot of fun for students!

Books chosen usually explore some sort of deep issue, often a cultural, moral, sociological, or spiritual one. To give you an idea, some of the common texts that were used during my undergraduate career were AbengHeading South, Looking North, and The Handmaid’s Tale.

Why colleges use them?

This type of text is selected to give students something to reflect on—you’ll often find that the book can be interpreted in many different ways, and different students and professors will have very different ideas of what the author is trying to get across.

Colleges take advantage of this to generate a lot of conversations around the ideas in the book. This discussion is very insightful, and can get pretty heated (which, of course, makes it all the more interesting).

Because of the large number of people teaching and reading the book, there are a great deal of opinions being thrown around, and you can learn a lot from other people if you’re paying attention.

Even if you don’t like the book, or how your professor is presenting it, be sure to be open-minded about other interpretations of it, and be ready to defend your ideas, as they will almost certainly be challenged.

So what does this mean for you?

In short, it means that you’ll be spending a pretty significant amount of time on this book, so be ready for it. You probably don’t want to skip out on reading this one, because you can be almost certain that you’ll have to discuss it or write a paper about it at some point. You can also count on attending some out-of-class events related to the book.

You may not be real stoked on the idea of spending even more time on this text, but, again, it can be pretty interesting when you get that number of people together to talk about the same book.