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Study Skills

Reading strategies

Academic reading is different from normal everyday reading. It requires concentration and understanding, and you are often required to read a large number of texts and publications. Here are some reading strategies for getting the most out of your time reading.

Before you start to read, consider what information you require and determine what reading technique you need to use. This will depend on why you are reading. You might be reading:

  • To get some specific information or idea.
  • To discover the scope of a subject.
  • To identify and understand the writer’s attitudes, beliefs and arguments.
  • To understand and appreciate a writer’s use of language.

If you are collecting information on a topic you might want to consider:

  • What do I want to know about?
  • What is the main idea of the writing?
  • What conclusions can be drawn from the evidence?

If you are wanting to form your own opinion on a piece of writing consider:

  • How does this fit or not fit with my own theories and beliefs?
  • Am I surprised?
  • Do I agree?

If you are wanting to question the reading you might want to consider:

  • What are the limitations of the evidence?
  • Is the theory too general?
  • What would I like to ask the author?

Skim reading

Skimming is reading something quickly to get the main ideas. You should skim at least twice as fast as you usually read and make sure to not read every word. It is a great way to gain an overview of material and familiarise yourself with a chapter/article or understand the structure of it. Consider the following when skim reading:

  • Don’t read every word.
  • Do read summaries, headings and sub headings.
  • Look at tables, diagrams and illustrations.
  • Read first sentences or paragraphs to see what they are about.

If the material is useful, decide which sections are most relevant or whether you need to read it at all.

Try this easy four-step technique when skim reading for your next assignment:

  1. Read the first 2-3 sentences of the first paragraph at your usual speed and ask yourself “What is this about?”
  2. As soon as you understand the main idea, go to the next paragraph. Remember that you don’t have to know the details. You only have to learn the main idea about the passage. Make sure to read as quickly as possible.
  3. Read only a few words in each paragraph after that. You should look for words that tell you about the main idea. Often they are at the beginning of the paragraph, but they may also be at the end.
  4. Read the last paragraph of the passage at your usual speed and ask yourself "What does the author think about this topic?"

Scan reading

Scanning means reading a subject more carefully and slowly. You want to be scanning for specific information, keywords, essential details, and quotes or supporting facts in an argument. Restrict scanning to about 20% of the text. Identify topic sentences and evidence in each section.
Scanning together with a sense of context gained from skimming, and careful thinking will make you see the text more clearly.

Try this three-step technique when scan reading for your next assignment:

  1. Take a few minutes to preview the material and see how it is organised. Look for clues that might help, such as keywords, bullet points, numbers, underlining, bolding, italics, headings and font sizes.
  2. Move your eyes quickly down the page to find specific words and phrases. Avoid reading every word. Only focus on finding the information that answers your questions.
  3. After you find the keywords and phrases, slow down and read the section carefully to answer your questions.

Critical reading

Critical or reflective reading involves analysing what you're reading and actively thinking about the content. It means you move beyond understanding what the text says and identify its strengths and weaknesses and how it fits into the larger context of the topic area.   

When you read critically or reflectively, you can be actively thinking about the questions you want to answer while also thinking about:

  • Structure: main points; sub points; reasons, evidence, examples and qualifications.
  • Signpost: sentences or phrases to indicate structure (“There are 3 main reasons; firstly; to emphasise; to summarise).
  • Connecting words: which indicate separate steps in the argument (But; however; furthermore).