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Reading and note taking

Ways of reading

  1. Skimming is where you read to gain a general idea of the written material. When skimming you would not read every word, but look at the table of contents or section headings. You may follow up by reading first and last paragraphs, or key sections of the written material.
  2. Scanning is where you look for specific information. Often you will be searching for specific material related to an assignment topic or scanning pages looking for mention of the topic.
  3. Detailed reading is where you focus on the written material to gather specific facts or information, views or positions on a topic.
  4. Critical reading is where you actively engage with the written material by questioning. This approach to reading is extremely important at university as you weigh an author’s evidence, analyse strategies and methods, and comprehend applications.

Critical reading

In critical reading you must scrutinize the reading text in detail in order to engage with it. The following are examples of some of the issues to consider as part of this process.

  • Are there any contradictions?
  • Is there an argument developed? Is it logical?
  • Is the text biased?
  • Is there an alternative conclusion than the one given?
  • What supporting evidence is given and how valid is that evidence?
  • Are there any ‘hidden’ assumptions?
  • What alternative perspectives are available in the wider literature?

Improve your reading

  1. Have a question in mind while reading and then scan the text for the answers. This improves your reading speed and focus.
  2. Read the material that’s important early in the day.
  3. Make notes as you go.
  4. In courses with heavy reading loads include reading time in your weekly schedule.
  5. Prop your book or magazine using a bookstand – angling your reading material at 45 degrees improves your reading speed and reduces eye-strain.
  6. Avoid reading difficult or important material in bed, where your mind and body tend to relax. You’ll stay alert if you sit at a desk instead.
  7. Ensure that you have a general and a subject specific dictionary when you read to check any words you do not understand.

Note taking

By logically organising your notes, you save yourself a lot of time later on. When taking notes, remember to:

  1. Record the bibliographical details of your information source
  2. Use headings and subheadings to keep ideas together
  3. Look up words you don’t understand and write them in a way that makes sense to you

It’s also useful to structure your lecture notes (PDF 267KB) effectively.