Reading is likely to be an essential element of your studies at Edge Hill. This is because reading is a means of discovering information, of expanding your knowledge and understanding of a subject, and is often very enjoyable! There is a general assumption that ‘everyone knows how to read’. Not everyone does, and those who do are often not reading as effectively as they could be. This leaflet will not turn you into an excellent reader overnight – what follow are merely guidelines you may wish to pursue in your quest to be a more effective reader.
STEP 1 – Different types of reading
Think about the various items you may have read today. They might include a newspaper, a lecture handout, a course text, a poster, and now this leaflet. Did you read them all in the same way? At the same speed? In the same detail? Your answer to these questions is probably ‘no’.
We read things in different ways because we are always reading for different purposes. In general, we do not read something without first having reason to do so. We read posters because they catch our eye and awake our interest. We read newspapers for various reasons, from finding out the political situation of the day to seeing what’s on TV. When reading for academic purposes we are often reading because we have to, but we are still doing it for a purpose; to prepare for an essay, to gain an insight into different authors’ opinions, or to help us understand a subject.
Look at the list below and you will probably recognise styles of reading you have used yourself:
Scanning – this is usually a quick search for a specific piece of information.
Skimming – involves looking over a text quite quickly to see what it is about.
Reading in depth – this involves reading a text or passage thoroughly, paying attention to detail.
Reading for leisure and reading for revision are other types of reading you may have used, but this leaflet will concentrate on the above three. Another thing that varies depending upon what/why you are reading is the speed at which you read. Scanning and skimming can be done very quickly, but reading in depth requires more time and concentration. To be an effective reader you will need to use a mixture of the above techniques; varying the type of reading you employ, and the speed at which you do it.
STEP 2 – Deciding what to read
The majority of students are aware of the benefits to be gained from reading around their subjects, but knowing just what to read is not always easy. To start with there are a range of texts available, such as books, journals, periodicals and newspapers. Often, the best place to start is your reading list. Sometimes these can be extensive, and others contain just a couple of essential texts. If you need more ideas about what you should be reading ask your subject tutors and your lecturers.
Another good place to look for titles of relevant books is in bibliographies. These can be particularly useful in set texts. Remember that there is an on-line catalogue of books in the LRC which you can use to search for publications by subject or by author. This can be an invaluable way to find details of potentially useful publications. Do not be put off if a title you require is out. A hold can be placed on the book and you will be notified by the LRC when it is available.
If you are not sure whether a particular text will be useful or not, try using the following approach:
• Decide on what you are looking for from the text.
• Look at the contents page, the preface, the introduction, and the index – do any of the chapters/pages seem relevant?
• Skim read the first and last paragraphs of the chapters/pages you have selected.
• Decide if these chapters/pages really are relevant to you and therefore worth reading.
Once you have done this, you will have a much better idea of the content of the text you are considering. It need not be a book – this approach can apply to any type of text. Simply modify it to suit your needs. This method of approaching a text demonstrates that although a whole book may be recommended by a lecturer or on a reading list, you can be selective in your choice of which parts to read. Indeed, if you are not selective you may well find yourself totally snowed-under with reading. Lecturers will often guide students on specific parts of text to study.
STEP 3 – Getting ready to read
• In order to get the most out of your reading you should not try to start reading something new when you are tired. If you do, you will either take very little in, or you will fall asleep. Neither of these results are very productive!
• Another issue to consider is your reading environment. You are unlikely to be able to concentrate if you do your reading in the pub! Try to find somewhere quiet with few distractions. This is not always easy – but can make a huge difference to your productivity. This point applies to the rest of your studies too.
• Try to avoid subvocalising (saying or mouthing the words) as you read. This can really slow down your reading, and is a bad habit which can be broken with a little perseverance.
• Try to leave yourself plenty time for reading. People often underestimate the amount of time they will need to spend on it, especially when preparing for an essay or assignment. If you rush your reading, you will not get as much out of it as you could. So try and plan ahead to allow yourself time. You are likely to have two or more assignments to complete around the same time so do not spend all your time on the first assignment to the detriment of the others.
• Before you begin reading anything, it is worth considering why it has been written:
o What is the author’s purpose in writing this text/article?
o What are the aims and objectives of the author? Are these met?
o Is the text based on research – if so who was the research funded by?
o Do you think the research methods used were viable?
o Are there any issues missing from the text which you think are relevant – why might they be missing?
o Is the author presenting fact or opinion?
o Who is the text written for?
There is no need to become a total cynic when reading, but it is worth bearing questions like these in mind.
STEP 4 – SQ3R
Once you have decided you are going to read a text or passage one way of going about it is the SQ3R approach. Although this may sound like a character from Star Wars, it is not! It actually stands for:
• Survey : as in step 2 – look at the text to see if it is relevant to your purpose.
• Question : decide on the questions you want answered by the text.
• Read : without making notes, perhaps a section at a time.
• Recall : close the text, and try to write down the answers to your questions.
• Review : go back to the text and check what you have written against the text.
This approach can be helpful, but will not suit everyone. Some people like to take notes as they read, rather than wait until they have finished reading as in the above method. One good thing about the SQ3R approach is that it encourages you to be an active reader – you have to think as well as read. By deciding on questions you want the text to answer, you are more alert whilst reading the text. This can help to stop your mind wandering onto other subjects, such as what you will be having for dinner!
STEP 5 – Taking notes from reading
The purpose of taking notes from your reading is to help you remember what you read, and so you have a record for future reference. Good notes can save you from having to read the text again, and can be used to complement lecture notes and provide material for essays. The physical act of taking notes also keeps you alert, and should make you think about what you are reading. There is no one best way of taking notes, but the following should be of use:
• Always note the reference for the text – include the author’s name, the title, publisher, place and date of publication. Note the library classification number as well, if relevant. This will help should you decide to use the reference later. It could save valuable time and leg work when it comes to completing the bibliography.
• Try and put your notes into your own words – don’t just copy from the text. This will make you think, and help you to know if you understand what you are reading. See 7 Steps to Avoiding Plagiarism
• Summarise the text, and remark on your notes as you make them – write down any questions the text raises in your mind, or jot down references to the texts or lectures.
• Take relevant quotations – always be sure to put quotation marks around them, and note the page of the text you have taken them from.
• Use highlighters, the margins, underlining etc. – but only if the book belongs to you.
Try to remember that you are reading to understand, rather than to simply remember. Your notes should be just that – notes. You can always go back to the text at a later date if you want to remind yourself of the details.
STEP 6 – Problems with reading
• One of the main reading problems encountered by students is that what they are reading is ‘boring’. This can be alleviated by making sure you only read what is relevant to your purpose. Use step two as often as possible to stop you from reading reams of unnecessary text, and always keep your purpose for reading in mind. Unfortunately some authors simply do not write fascinating texts or include lots of interesting pictures. This is a fact of life and we just have to put up with it!
• If you don’t understand what you are reading:
o try and read ahead to see if what comes next sheds any light on it.
o see if reference is made to another publication – perhaps having a look at it may make things clearer.
o if you are still not sure what the author is trying to say, ask your tutor or one of your peers.
• You may well disagree with what you read from time to time. This can be very irritating, but instead should be considered as part of the challenge of reading and learning, in fact, if you can put up a good argument against this should lead to a good assignment. Tutors often complain that students are not critical enough.You do not have to agree with what is being said, but if you can appreciate why the author has said what he/she has, you are gaining insight and an understanding of their ideas. Persevere!
STEP 7 – Continuing to improve your reading
Hopefully you will now have gained a little insight into ways in which you can try to improve your reading technique. However, simply reading this leaflet will not have changed the effectiveness of your reading. Now you need to put what has been said into practice. Experiment a little with fast and slow reading, skimming and scanning, and taking notes. See if there are ways of doing these things that you have not tried before, but feel you may like to try in future.
Each step is likely to improve with practise. You will learn from mistakes, for example, spending time which is ill-afforded in chasing up missing details to include in a bibliography will soon teach you to keep meticulous records.