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How to Read Well

Reading is a vital skill, and something we often take for granted once we learn how to read as a child. But reading is more than just reading words off a page or curling up with a good book.  How you read something however, makes a big difference in understanding what you reading and what you ultimately get from it. This applies as much if you’re reading for pleasure, as it does if you are reading for study or research purposes. Often how you read, depends on why you read. If you think about some of the things you might have read in the last week for example – a newspaper, a blog post, a magazine, a textbook and so it becomes clear that you don’t read everything you read in the same way.

As a student, this is important because it can sometimes mean that we might approach our reading in a way that is perhaps more appropriate to other types of reading, but inappropriate to the purpose at hand. In the case of academic reading and research particularly, the key to getting the most out of your academic reading is to set a purpose consciously and with intent. Here are some steps you can take to find your purpose.

1. Have a strategy for reading.

This might sound a bit strange – don’t you just pick up a text and  read? but think about whether you need to read every word. Often our mind naturally fills in gaps in understanding but just absorbing the key information rather than reading every single detail.

2. Prepare for reading

Prepare yourself for reading by anticipating the content and the structure of the text. Look at the title of the text – what does that tell you about content and audience. Think about the author – are they an expert in their field, is there possibility for bias? Also, look at the contents page for clues as to what’s in the text.

3.Look at it how the text is organised.

Look for patterns in the way the text is structured. Is it descriptive? Informational? Does it hypothesise? Persuade? Recognising these patterns will enable you to read the text more effectively

4.Use what you already know

Sometimes academic texts can be difficult to read if you are just starting to learn and not all that familiar with the subject matter. It can sometimes be helpful to gather more background information from other people or simpler texts first.

5.Anticipate and evaluate

Anticipating what comes next in a body of text can be valuable for processing and understanding information, irrespective of whether you anticipate correctly or incorrectly. Anticipate and then evaluate meaning is an important part of the process.

6.Skim and scan

Don’t try and read every word of every text or article when your researching. Give a body of text a quick oncwe over to see if its worth reading in more detail. Similarly scanning, can be used in the same way but to root more specific information, e.g a supporting statistic or specific concept to support an argument.

7.Get the detail

Once you have scanned and skimmed the text, you will have a general idea of what it is about and are now ready to consider the text in more detail.

Reading well is an important skill to learn, but ultimately the best way to do that is to do it often. Read as much as you can and from a diverse array of sources, and consider what you’re reading within the framework we've provided. If you want to learn more about how to improve you reading and other communication skills, why not check out the book Communicating at University – instore now.


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