Effective Reading - University of Kent

mumpsimuspreviousAI and Robotics

Oct 25, 2013 (3 years and 5 months ago)



Effective Reading











Defining your purpose

Selecting your sources

Raising preliminary questions

Surveying your text



Reading for detail

Taking clear notes

Avoiding accidental plagiarism

Referencing your


Define your purpose

at the start

Always know why you’re reading
something. Ask yourself two basic questions:

Why am I reading this? What do I hope to gain from it?

This approach is an integrated aspect of successful study in other areas, such
as assignment writing. Preparing for an assignment involves careful research
that really does give you the ideas and information you need from

research material. In sho
rt, if you’ve thought clearly about your assignment,
then you should easily be able to answer the two questions above.

You also need to be aware that successful academic reading involves reading
for different purposes. In other words, it’s fine to flick through something briefly
to form a general impression and find some core information; it’s fine to
glance through a text

looking for one or two specific things only; it’s a good
idea to read some things carefully so you retain the information, spending time
on particular passages and making some careful notes. It’s also fine to carry
out an

exploration by ‘jumping i
n’ at any point to sample a text.

In fact, the combination of rapid retrieval of surface information and deeper,
more considered, reading will deliver the ultimate goal of the reading process:
a sound understanding of reading material. ‘Everyday’ reading

(starting at the
beginning; reading everything with equal concentration; reading the whole
text) is not effective for academic reading.


Select your sources

carefully. Always take a structured approach to your
reading. Use reading lists carefully an
d selectively, identifying core material,
less important material, and material that is specialised but relevant


short journal articles on relatively narrow topics. You should aim to start with
core reading to build up your confidence and knowled
ge. Once you have a
good grasp of the subject, move on to more specialised material. In other
words, take a strategic approach to your reading selection:

Reading sequence

Type of material

Proportion of reading
material used in
preparing for an

Initial reading

Core texts e.g. text books for university
study; essential reading identified on
reading lists. Probably book
material, but may well include some
journal articles.


Secondary reading

Important reading, probably a
mixture of
books and journal articles.

20 ►30%

Further reading

Specialised but relevant. Probably
journal articles, both hard copy and
electronic, and individual WWW

20 ►30%

One mistake that many students make is to feel that they must
stick to ‘official’
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but a starting point only
), there’s
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use a source like Wikipedia as a formal reference!

Try and break your reading into manageable ‘chunks’ of texts
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NR page猠


Raise preliminary questions.

Before you carry out any significant
period of reading, spend a little time thinking ahead. What particular issues do
you expect to find? What are you looking for? Try and be specific. Think about
precise issues that, for example, your assignment requires;

think about issues
that were not really covered in earlier reading, or issues that still remain
unclear despite earlier reading. The important thing is to have a definite
‘agenda’ for your reading.

This doesn’t prevent you finding other areas of interes
琬⁲ 楳inge眠wue獴楯n猠

issues. On the
contrary, adopting a methodical approach of noting preliminary questions in
advance is likely to give your reading greater focus and ‘depth’: you’ll read in a

re fluent and perceptive manner; you’ll be more responsive to the text in


Noting questions in advance has two advantages. Firstly, it’s a good way of
an獷e物ng⁴he⁴wo yⁱue獴楯n猠sbove㨠
Why do I want to read this? What
do I hope to find out?

If you really think about the questions you want
answered your selection of reading material will be improved. Secondly, your
receptivity to information will be enhanced. Anticipating what’s coming up in a
瑥x琠步ep猠sou 景捵sed⁡nd⁢u楬d猠sead楮i⁳ eed.


Survey your text

efore you start your reading. Look at the surrounding
information. For example, if you need to read one particular chapter of a book,
make sure you skim
read (see below for skim reading) the introduction to the
book. The introduct
ion will give you an account of the concepts and underlying
argument of the whole book and an account of the surrounding chapters. The
introduction will probably be fairly succinct; skim reading it shouldn’t take more
15 minutes, but it will ‘set y
ou up’ for your actual reading task.

It’s surprising how much you can gain from an overview of a text, but it needs
to be as rapid as possible otherwise you’ll get bogged down in what feels like
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WWW resources

Title + series

Year of publication









Chapter headings

Early sections of chapters

Editorial comments

Titles of other papers


(+Abstracts for other papers)



Opening section +
closure/conclusion (skim

Site map


Sponsoring organisation

Information about the author

Date produced

Date revised

No. of ‘hits’ (if available)

Visual material

Links to other sites

The net result of a good survey
approach is that when you turn to read the
exact section/text you need to, you’re already ‘hard
wired’ with a sense of
what you’ll find, and will read more effectively, retaining more of what you’ve



your text before you start reading more carefully, and after the survey
stage. Skim reading is a technique where you deliberately try and take in the
gist of what you are reading without bothering about the detail. You might
think of it as a kind of constr
uctive superficiality!

Skim Reading

i. Read as quickly and as smoothly as possible, letting your eye travel from left to right and
then from top to bottom of a page of text. Use a ruler, a pencil, a folded sheet of paper

your finger

to ‘pull’ yo
ur eyes across and down the page.


ii. Keep going! Set aside the time (10 minutes, say, for 10 pages) to make sure you skim
read the whole text in one go.

iii. If you’re blocked on a particular word or phrase that you don’t quite get, disobey your

instinct to stop and wrestle with the concept. Keep reading forwards all the time and
understanding will follow.

iv. Think ahead about any particular words or terms that are either new to you, or you don’t
quite understand. Anticipate any terms that
might be ‘blockers’ in your text by learning them
in advance.

v. Look for the key sentences in any one paragraph. Often an academic paragraph will be
based on a key topic sentence and the evidence that supports it. Try and isolate these from
the rest of t
he paragraph.

vi. Some students find that quickly reading the first and last sentence of each paragraph is
a good way to skim read a text.

vii. If you do feel you really can’t read without taking notes, take the briefest possible notes,
or a few very, ve
ry brief annotations. Don’t be tempted into making detailed notes that
summarise the whole of a passage in sequence. A few bullet
points will be fine!

The aim of skim reading is have a
general sense

of what the text is saying (a
kind of sketch
map of the territory, as it were). This general understanding will
allow you to absorb

information more effectively on a subsequent
reading. Moreover, when you absorb more information

by⁲ ad楮i ah

you may well be able to make ‘retrospective sense’ of earlier content. So, read
lightly, read quickly and keep it going… until you’re ready for the second



a few pages or sections of your text, reading slowly (but still with
forward momentum.) As you read at the skim stage, you’ll probably have put
brief pencil marks/annotations on a few passages you were ‘blocked’ on. In
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text. In scan reading you’re trying to read more carefully, so make sure you
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as well, but keep them brief and purposeful. Although you’re working in detail
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Now you’re ready to
read for detai

The preliminary strategies outlined
above, steps 3
6, will now put you in a position where your detailed reading
will proceed efficiently and effectively. You will be able to focus on the
passage concerned, aware of its underlying meaning and purpose. O
f course,
your understanding won’t be instantaneous. There’ll be the need to engage
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that supports them. But you have a ‘platform’ on which to build!


In reading for detail, g
o to the start of the text

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; or, if it’s a question of
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go楮in⁴o 瑨e⁳e捯nd.


Reading alone won’t deliver all that you’re really looking for: to

information you need from the text. It’s essential to
take clear notes
where the process of selecting, paraphrasing and summarising information
from the text really builds understanding. Only when you take the words and
meaning of the text and conver
t it into your own language will you begin to
truly understand!

This is especially the case where you are seeking to embed some of your
reading in an assignment, and need to draw from your reading over a period
of time. You will need a series of purposef
ul notes that allow you to integrate
seamlessly your reading material into your assignment.

A common mistake that many students make, especially those new to
university study, is to start taking notes at their first reading! This is a very
difficult, inde
ed almost impossible, task! The key to good reading and note
taking is context and anticipation

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Six Stages of Effective Note

i. Always read effectively in advance.

ii. Take the text passage by passage, using the sequential approach outlined in section 8

use your own words
, except if there’s a really strong reason for retaining the
language of the original.

iv. If you really do need to use the original words make sure you separate the words you
copy from your source material from your own words. See secti
on 9 below.

v. Make sure your notes are
. Aim to capture the essential points. Don’t make your
notes a shortened version of the

text. See section 3 above.

vii. The purpose of taking notes is not just to shrink the original text, but to
work creatively
with the information in the original, extracting it, re
processing it and re
arranging it so that
you really understand it.


In taking notes from reading material, it’s also essential to
accidental plagiarism

This is often the result of using notes that don’t

clearly distinguish between the student’s paraphrases and summaries and the
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quotations from the source material in such a way that it’s impossible to
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Any notes you take from your reading must allow you to
reference your
, hence the bibliographical information in the template above and
the record of page numbers for text
based sources. This information is
essential for avoiding unintentional plag
iarism, as it allows you to use a proper
referencing technique.

Every piece of work you submit for assessment must be fully and correctly
referenced, so you must understand fully how to provide in
text citations, and
a reference list and/or bibliography.

Specific and different methods of referencing are used within different
faculties and academic departments

Chicago, Vancouver, etc. So, it’s vital that you know exactly what your module
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