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Reading strategies: A short guide

Engaging with the text

Skim reading is useful to get an overview of the whole article or chapter but in order to really understand the text you must read actively. Some texts are easier to understand than others. You might have to read a text several times in order to fully understand it. It is very tempting to stick to easy to read sources such as websites and textbooks, especially if you prefer to see information presented in a visual way, but your academic work will improve if you read scholarly material such as journal articles and specialist books. 

Here are some tips for active reading:

  • Read through once to get an overall impression
  • Read difficult passages a couple of times
  • Change the speed at which you read according to the difficulty of the text. Read quickly through the easy sections and invest your time in the more difficult sections.
  • Make sure you really understand key words and phrases: Use a glossary or dictionary or look up the topic in another book to see if it is explained in a way that is easier to understand.
  • Summarise or paraphrase the passages in your own words. This will not only help you understand what you have read, it will help you demonstrate that you understand it when you come to write your essay.
  • Talk to your friends about what it means.
  • Take a break and come back to it later.

Do not only read only for content and meaning but read also to see how the chapter/article has been structured. Is the choice of words appropriate? Is the argument clearly laid out? What words and phrases are used to connect different paragraphs?   


Reading critically

Reading critically means questioning everything you read and looking for connections, for example, how do the ideas in one article relate to another?  Here are some tips for reading critically:

  • Consider strengths and weaknesses.
  • Are there any controversial/alternative perspectives you could explore further?

  • You can criticise the critics! Remember you are reading to interpret and analyse.

  • How does this relate to existing knowledge/other things you’ve read?

  • Are there any obvious gaps/issues/assumptions?


Look at the section on Note taking to make sure you don't forget any important details from all you have read! 

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