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Reading strategies: A short guide

Introduction to different kinds of reading

There are different kinds of reading depending on what you are trying to achieve:

  • Browsing websites, journal articles, books to find information quickly
  • Reading instructions so you know what to do
  • Reading text messages and emails so that you can reply
  • Reading a chapter of a novel for enjoyment. 
  • Reading a chapter or an article very carefully to make sure you understand it

You can scan, skim read or you can read slowly and critically. You might need to read the same text in all three ways. 

This guide will show you how to choose the right kind of reading and how to engage with the material you are reading. You should gain a greater understanding of:   

  • Why you are reading something
  • Where to look for key information
  • How to  understand and recall what you are reading 
  • How to create the best conditions in which to read
  • What works for you

Effective reading relates to good note taking and also to time management skills so you might like to visit the Academic Skills Gateway for online resources, workshops on these topics.


You might like to begin with the section of the checklist section of this guide to reflect on how you already read and identify areas you could improve, or you might like to use it at the end  when you have read as much of this guide as,you need to as a way of engaging with what you have just read.

Managing your academic reading

Academic reading is an intensive activity that requires your full attention! Highlighting is probably not enough. At any time when you are reading for academic purpose always ask yourself  ‘Why am I reading this?’

  • To further inform my background understanding of a subject?
  • To understand how a particular idea/theory has evolved?
  • To find different, challenging view points?
  • To provide specific data or evidence?

This will influence the way you read a particular text.  Find out more at Scanning and skim reading and Engaging with the text

Last but not least check out Creating the right environment in which to read.


How to find scholarly sources

One way to manage your academic reading is to use FindIt@Bham and subject specific bibliographic databases to find good quality sources and thereby filter out a lot of the irrelevant and dubious sources you come across when searching Google and other search engines. You can use sophisticated  keyword searching AND, OR, NOT and set limits on language, publication date range and format to filter out even more. Take a look at the relevant Subject Guide for your area to find a list of recommended databases and other resources.. 


Content provided by Helen Williams, Polly Harper, Stephen Griffin and presented in this Guide by David Pulford.

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