What you will learn

The purpose of reading at university is to increase your knowledge, enabling you to complete your course work and assessments. This module will focus on reading to inform your academic writing, and the strategies will apply to other types of assessments. After completing this module you should better understand:

  • Different techniques for reading and when to employ them
  • Strategies for evaluating information you read
  • The purpose of taking notes and how-to
  • The use of mind maps to help you organise the information you have read and prepare you to write your assignment.

Reading for the purpose of your assignments requires a range of different techniques: skimming and scanning and intensive reading. As you read, you will also need to evaluate the source and the information through various techniques, including lateral reading.

Skimming and scanning

You won’t have time to read every source you find in-depth, so employing various strategies will help you study more efficiently. Skimming is the stage at which you establish that the source you have found is suitable and relevant for your assignment. The first thing that you need to ask yourself is whether it meets the requirements included in your assignment brief.

Once you’re certain that the source meets your assignment’s minimum requirements, you can delve a little deeper by scanning the article.

To skim means to take a quick glance, reading something quickly and superficially. It’s a technique used in speed reading which requires the reader to focus on the main message of the article, rather than closely reading the whole thing. When skimming, pay particular attention to:

  • The abstract or summary
  • The introduction
  • Any headings or subheadings
  • Any lists or words in bold.

These elements of the reading should give you a good sense of what the article is about.

To scan means to look for something specific. When you’re using this technique, you seek out the key words or concepts from your assignment question, concentrating only on the information that’s most relevant to you.

What’s the best way to do this? Focus on the:

  • Thesis statement - found in the last sentences of the introduction
  • Introduction
  • Conclusion
  • Summary (if it has one)
  • Sub-heading and first sentence of every paragraph

Hint:Use CTRL + F (or Command + F on a Mac) to find specific words in a text.

When skimming and scanning, make sure that the source is at an appropriate level for your assignment. If you find it difficult to understand and wouldn’t be able to describe the content in your own words, it may be aimed at a more advanced audience.

Intensive reading

To read intensively means to read carefully, ensuring understanding of important information and the author’s argument. Unlike skimming and scanning, when you’re reading intensively you should carefully read the source in its entirety to ensure that you get the full picture. It is at this stage that you would make notes from the text, as your skimming and scanning has established its relevance and appropriateness. To explore various note taking techniques see the next page of this module.

As you read, you should be actively thinking about what you are reading, keeping your assignment question and thesis statement at the forefront of your mind.

Critical reading

One strategy for intensive reading is critical reading, where you critically evaluate and analyse the author’s argument as you read the text. As you read ask yourself the following questions:

Watch the following video for 10 tips to help you approach critical reading.

Evaluating sources and lateral reading

A key consideration when deciding whether to include a source in your argument is whether the author and the information is credible. As you critically read a text, ask yourself the following questions:

Perform an assessment of the author or organisation responsible for the information. Are they suitably qualified to be writing on the topic? Is there evidence of any bias or a conflict of interest?

Why was the content created? Is its purpose to inform, persuade, entertain or sell a product? Only giving one side of the story or using emotive or incendiary language could suggest a goal to persuade or manipulate a reader.

For some research areas, the timeliness of the information will be important and many assignment briefs will note a timeframe of publication that is acceptable. You need to know when the information was published or updated.

When you’re evaluating a source you may need to validate the author’s claims and conclusions by looking for confirmation or support elsewhere on the Internet, a technique known as lateral reading. Watch the video below to learn more about using lateral reading to evaluate information.

More information

Want to explore how to evaluate sources in more depth? Check out our Critical Thinking module for more information.