Reading is one of the essential activities of studying - it's not called reading for a degree for nothing! However it can be daunting when you're faced with an extensive reading list. How do you know which ones to read? Or which bits of the text to read? What can you do to make reading complex texts more manageable? And how can you avoid it taking all of your time?
This guide will suggest ways for you to improve your reading skills and to read in a more focused and selective manner.
Before starting to read you need to consider why you are reading and what you are trying to learn. You will need to vary the way you read accordingly.
Below is an excellent short video tutorial on reading and notemaking developed by the Learning Development team at the University of Leicester.
It is unlikely that you will be able - or be expected - to read all the books and articles on your reading list. You will be limited by time and by the availability of the material.
To decide whether a book is relevant and useful:
To select useful articles from journals or research papers:
If there is no reading list...
|Tip: If you have a smartphone, you can download a free app called BookMyne which you can use to search the Library catalogue, place a hold, renew your loans and generally keep on top of your Library activity while on the move. You can even set it up to tell you when your books are due back!|
It is impossible to give a figure for the number of sources you should read when researching an assignment. It is more important to think about the quality of the sources and how well you use and interpret them, than the number you read.
It is not a good idea to rely on 1 or 2 sources very heavily as this shows a lack of wider reading, and can mean you just get a limited view without thinking of an argument of your own.
Nor is it useful (or possible) to read everything on the reading list and try to fit it all into your assignment. This usually leads to losing your own thoughts under a mass of reading.
The best way is to be strategic about your reading and identify what you need to find out and what the best sources to use to find this information.
It can be better to read less and try to think about, and understand, the issues more clearly - take time to make sure you really get the ideas rather than reading more and more which can increase your confusion.
Keep focused on your reading goals. One way to do this is to ask questions as you read and try to read actively and creatively. It is a good idea to think of your own subject related questions but the following may be generally useful
Questioning the writing
Forming your own opinion
Your reading speed is generally limited by your thinking speed. If ideas or information requires lots of understanding then it is necessary to read slowly. Choosing a reading technique must depend upon why you are reading:
It is important to keep your aims in mind. Most reading will require a mixture of techniques e.g. scanning to find the critical passages followed by reflective reading.
Good for searching for particular information or to see if a passage is relevant:
Good to quickly gain an overview, familiarise yourself with a chapter or an article or to understand the structure for later note-taking
Reflective or critical reading
Good for building your understanding and knowledge.
Good for scanning and skim-reading, but remember that it is usually more important to understand what you read than to read quickly. Reading at speed is unlikely to work for reflective, critical reading.
If you are concerned that you are really slow:
If you still have concerns about your reading speed, book an individual advice session with a Study Adviser.
Below is a really useful handout on techniques to get you through your reading from Emma Coonan at the University of Cambridge Library: How to read 10 books in an hour. Note that the title is not meant to be take literally!
You may also find journal titles abbreviated. You will often find a list in your Course Handbook of the most often used in your discipline. Or ask the Academic Liaison Librarian for your subject.