Reading Skills for Academic Study
When you start a university course in the United Kingdom, you will have the same problem as every other student: how to get through the vast amount of reading given for each course. There is not enough time to read everything line by line. You need to be able to read efficiently. The way you read something will depend on your purpose. You need to read quickly to find relevant sections, then read carefully when you have found what you want. General efficient reading strategies such as scanning to find the book or chapter, skimming to get the gist and careful reading of important passages (Wallace, 1980, pp. 9-51) are necessary as well as vocabulary building exercises in your own area. Learning about how texts are structured can also help you to read more efficiently.
When you pick up a book for the first time, use the index, the preface, the blurb (publisher's comments on the cover), the table of contents and glance through it rapidly in order to identify the relevant sections. Look at the chapter titles. If the chapter seems useful, look at the headings and sub-headings. Quickly survey any useful chapters by reading the first few lines of each paragraph or by reading the first and last paragraphs.
When you think you have identified relevant sections, skim through them, read the conclusion perhaps, to be sure they are relevant.
Many students still rely on painstakingly slow word by word reading. It soon becomes clear to them, however, that they cannot read every word in the library.
You will need to practise:
- Understanding meaning: deducing the meaning of unfamiliar words and word groups; relations within the sentence/complex sentences; implications - information not explicitly stated, conceptual meaning, e.g. comparison, purpose, cause, effect.
- Understanding relationships in the text: - text structure; the communicative value of sentences; relations between the parts of a text through lexical and grammatical cohesion devices and indicators in discourse.
- Understanding important points; distinguishing the main ideas from supporting detail; recognising unsupported claims and claims supported by evidence - fact from opinion; extracting salient points to summarise; following an argument; reading critically/evaluating the text.
- Reading efficiently: surveying the text, chapter/article, paragraphs, skimming for gist/general impression; scanning to locate specifically required information; reading quickly.
- Note taking.
Try this exercise.
Reading to write
For most people involved in the academic world, reading will be strongly connected to your writing. Most of what you write will be linked to what you read.
You will need to:
- Make notes on what you read; Reading: Note-Taking
- Paraphrase, summarise and synthesise what you read - Reading: Summarising
- Cite what you read; - Citation Introduction
- Comment on and evaluate what you read; Writing Functions 12: Evaluating
- Compare what you read; - Writing Functions 13: Comparing
- Use what you read to support your own writing; Writing Functions 18: Supporting
- Differentiate your views from those of the texts you read; - Writing Functions 20: Voice
It is difficult to write anything about reading without acknowledging the many text books that I have used during the last 25 years. The first book that influenced me with regard to academic reading was probably the reading section of Richard Yorkey's Study Skills for Students of English (McGraw-Hill, 1982). More generally, Catherine Walter's Authentic Reading (Cambridge University Press, 1982) and Simon Greenall and Michael Swan's Effective Reading have been important.