The purpose of reading at University is to increase your knowledge, enabling you to complete assignments and exams. This module will focus on reading to inform your academic writing, though the strategies will apply to other types of assignments as well. After completing this module you should better understand:
Reading for the purpose of your assignments requires a range of different techniques: speed reading, intensive reading and lateral reading. As you read, you will also need to evaluate the source and the information.
You won’t have time to read every source you find in-depth, so employing speed reading strategies will help you study more efficiently. Speed reading 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 skimming and scanning the article.
Click the hotspots on the image of a journal article below for some tips to help you with your speed reading.
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:
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? Use CTRL + F (or Command + F on a Mac) to find specific words in a text.
To read intensively means to read carefully, ensuring understanding of important information and the author’s argument. Unlike speed reading, 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 speed reading has established its relevance and appropriateness.
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.
One strategy for intensive reading is critical reading, where you critically evaluate and analyse the author’s argument as you read the text. Ahmad (2019, p. 60) describes the process as follows:
“To be a critical reader means to read critically while as well as after reading (Blakesley & Hoogeveen, 2012) in order to synthesize, analyze, and evaluate what is read (Van Blerkom, 2012b). In contrast to literal and mechanic reading whose aim is to obtain knowledge (Ates, 2013), critical reading is to develop an analytical (Van Blerkom, 2012a) neutral comprehension of the text (Mayfield, 2014). It involves: distinguishing fact, opinion, and belief; questioning the author’s intentions, argument, and word choice (Blakesley & Hoogeveen, 2012); and finding the conclusions based on the evidence the writer put forth (Abu Shihab, 2011). Therefore, it requires readers to comprehend not only the content of the text they are reading but also the context in which it was produced (Comber & Nixon, 2011). In brief, critical readers read beyond what was written to how and why it was written (Rog, 2012).”
Watch the following video for 10 tips to help you approach critical 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.