Reading for your degree

Studying at university requires a lot of reading. Most lecturers will give you a reading list at the beginning of a module. You will not have time to read everything nor will you be expected to; but make sure you read essential texts. In order to read actively and effectively you need to know why you are reading. Are you looking for an overview of a new topic? To understand tricky concepts, debates and theories? To use information in your assignments? Different goals may require different approaches.


Active reading helps you to:
- Develop your ideas
- Add new ideas and information to the knowledge you already have
- Discover new ways of thinking about a topic.


Now listen to a students comment about Reading!



How to survive your reading: QOOQRRR

Reading at university is complex and demanding and you may at times feel overwhelmed by the amount of reading you will have to do.
It helps if you take control of your reading by being an active and critical reader.

Question: Why am I reading? Have a Focus

  • What do I know?
  • What do I need?

Overview: Set the reading in context

  • Check Module Aims & Learning Outcomes – these tell you what to do & learn to pass
  • Check out the Assignment question – use key words to guide your reading.

Overview the text: Check out what you are reading:

  • Note the title and date of the book
  • Read the foreword / authors note / introductory chapter - to gain an understanding of the author's purpose, perspective, approach and his / her ideological orientation
    Check the contents and index for relevant sections or pages
  • Look at headings – and sub-headings
  • Skim what is not useful – read relevant sections in depth
  • Read introductory paragraphs - to find out what issues are covered in the chapter
  • Read concluding paragraphs - to discover the author's conclusions
  • Read the first sentence in each paragraph (this tells you what the paragraph is about).

Question again: So why am I reading this, now?

Read – actively and interactively:

  • In manageable chunks: one chapter – not the whole book. A paragraph at a time…
  • Ask questions as you go: what is the big idea here? What is the evidence? Does it make sense? How does this fit in my assignment? Who would agree or disagree with this?
  • As you answer these questions annotate and mark up the text (NOT a library book!). Write on it, make notes in the margin – be as active and interactive as you can be to take control of the text.

Your own annotations and marginalia. Use these to make your own SHORT, dynamic and memorable notes of the text. If you make notes too soon, they will be too long:

  • Every time you read anything put it in to an online referencing program like Zotero or Mendeley
  • Keep a paper copy on index cards.
  • Always note your sources: Author (date) Title location; Publisher
  • Note the page numbers of anything you might quote in your assignment.

Completing your index cards:

  • On one side of the card always note Author (date) Title location; Publisher
  • Note the page numbers of anything you might quote in your assignment.
  • On the other: note what essay you used the book for; note key aspects of the book – theories, concepts – why it was useful.

    Place published:
    Key quotes (and page numbers):

Review your notes

  • Have you found what you were looking for?
  • Can you answer that bit of the assignment now?
  • What else will you need to read? (And when will you do that reading?)

Activities and reflection
Explore the ideas, activities and links below. See how they help you to understand the reading process and develop your reading strategies. Why not Blog, FB or Twitter your positive thoughts about them to other students?


Make reading fun – and productive

Make your own subject dictionaries: As you study new material put new words, concepts and phrases in a notebook with definitions and examples. Illustrate it.

Play with it: After reading: Sum up what you read in three sentences. Construct a bare bones summary in no more than 25 words. Prepare a one minute presentation upon the text. Select one sentence from the text that you have found meaningful – say why you chose it. Highlight key points whilst your friend blacks out everything that is NOT necessary – discuss. Make an Xtranormal movie of the main ideas in the texts:

Be visual: Instead of writing about your reading, draw a diagram or picture of the text – using as few words as possible. As you struggle to capture the ideas in pictures you will find that you are really struggling to understand and learn what you are reading. See these online examples:

fixiefoo link   Sketchbook link


Make a Reading Dossier:

Keep a record of your reading over the whole of your degree programme. Each week write about what you have read, why you read it, what it made you think about, what you now know about your subject, how you now feel about your progress, knowledge, assignments… Vary your reading entries by sometimes drawing what you think – or adding pictures from newspapers or magazines. Make this space as creative as possible. Make it a place or thing that you want to use. When you have to write assignments, your reading dossier should provide plenty of source material – and it should be easy to use because you have invested feelings in it as well as thoughts. This can be a really creative, reflective process, see link (click on book):

  visual-directions link


Try textmapping:

Start reading difficult texts by taking a relevant chapter or journal article, enlarge it, turn it into a scroll that you explore with another person. See


Download the Bradford workbook:
Six steps link


Information, further research and reflection

Pinterest related link

Check out this wonderful Pinterest site...



Use the Leeds University tutorial on academic reading (60 mins):

Our interactive desk shows how to organise yourself for study – and reading

Our writing space: Links reading and writing, explore it and see how useful it can be:

Critical reading towards critical writing

How to read an academic article

How to read a research article:

Internet Detective: tutorial on finding & evaluating information

For Summarising information:


Harvard system:

Avoiding plagiarism: Tutorial (also available via writing site):


This allows for a messy, private on-line notemaking space:

Or try CORNELL notes:

Or visual notes:

Have you thought about making notes on a Prezi website?

Here’s one on reading & notemaking:

Copy of 'Reading' and 'Notemaking from reading' on Prezi


And (with thanks to Alice Gray): If you want to develop speed reading skills:

a. Short Burst Learning (accessed August 2011): to find your current reading speed

b. Doyle, D (2010) Glendale Community College: Self Pacing Methods: for five useful methods (accessed August 2011).