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Reading, understanding and using theory

Advice for how to understand theoretical texts and engage with them in your academic work.


Whilst studying for your degree, you may be required to read and engage with theory. The academic study of all disciplines requires thinking about a topic in deep and complex ways, and some subjects draw on theoretical or even philosophical approaches in order to do so. You may find you are expected to engage with theory if you are studying an arts, humanities or social sciences degree in particular.

Reading theoretical texts is quite unique to academia; it's unlikely that you will have had to engage with this type of content at school or college for instance. It can therefore be very challenging. This guide aims to help you with the following:

  • Understanding why we use theory in academia
  • Getting to grips with theory, and understanding why it can be so difficult
  • Ways to read and understand theoretical texts
  • How to use theory in your assignments
  • How to use theory alongside your research

If you would like more support on reading other types of academic text, head to our Reading Strategies guide. 

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