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How to read at university

Deciding what to read

when you've finished this page you will be able to...

Sorry to labour the point, but you really will do an awful lot of reading at university - there'll be things you have to read, and things that fall under the heading of 'extra' reading.

Top tip...

Extra reading is not really optional: you will be expected to know more than just the things you're told in lectures. The only things which are optional about extra reading are what you read and how much you read.

So how do you decide which of the journal articles in the pile in front of you is worth reading more carefully, or which chapters in the textbook are most relevant to you? You need to work on your skimming skills. Skim-reading text gives you a useful idea of what the text is about, whether it's worth investing more time reading it carefully, and, if it does look interesting, how much time you'll probably need to read it (this will depend on things like the length and complexity of the text).

Activity: skimming - 15 minutes

1. Find a journal article or a textbook chapter that you think might be worth reading in more depth.

2. Examine the text, looking at the following things:

  • Does the title suggests the text will be relevant and useful?
  • Is there an abstract? (a 100-200 word summary of the text that is usually found at the beginning of journal articles). Does the abstract help you decide whether the article is worth reading?
  • Is there a contents page, a glossary, or an index, which gives more detail about the content?
  • Are there subheadings that give a clue to the content?
  • Do the opening and concluding paragraphs give you an idea of the content?
  • Try reading the first couple of sentences of each paragraph to get rough idea of what the text is about.

3. If you feel that this text is worth reading more closely, try some of the strategies suggested on the pages that follow to help you get the most out of what you read.

On the next page, we explore strategies you can use to tackle tricky texts.

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