Reading

  • Reading is a fundamental part of independent study and you’ll probably be doing a lot of it during your course. Reading for study is clearly different to reading a novel for pleasure, but the academic reading process isn’t often explicitly discussed.  

    Our top tips

    Purpose

    Before you start, know what you are reading for, and what you are trying to find out. Then you can locate the information that is most relevant to your purpose. See this tutorial for an introduction to surveying, skimming, and scanning, as well as a lot of good advice on efficient reading: 

    Active reading and note-making

    Just reading and trying to absorb the content of a text, or copying out large chunks, are passive methods and are likely to cause your concentration to wander. Instead use more active approaches that involve you doing something with the information; this is often connected to taking good notes. See our page on note-making for more ideas:

    Not from start to finish

    Academic texts are often not designed to be read in a linear way. Read the first and last lines of each paragraph to get a framework of what the text is about. In a scientific journal article, each section does a different job so you can find the information you need. See this short video on a good order for reading a scientific paper:

    Read critically

    Once you have read to understand the basic concepts, connect the information with other things you have read, and judge the validity of the claims being made by the authors. See this brief overview of questions to ask to be critical when reading: 

    Difficult content

    Academic texts are challenging and it is normal to find them hard to read. If you’re struggling with the content, try reading a more basic overview first to give yourself a framework to hang the detail on. Look at these tips for more ideas:

    Hard to focus on page

    Black text on a white background is the accepted convention, but most people find another colour background easier to read, often light yellows, blues or greens. Experiment with changing the background colour of your screen or using a transparent coloured overlay. Alternatively, try using a screen reader to read out the text.