Reading Skills for Academic Study
Efficient reading skills
Surveying the text
Most of the time you will be reading serious academic texts books, journal articles and other academic texts. And often you will need to read your texts closely and carefully in order to understand specific information. However, you cannot read every word in every book in the library. It is useful therefore to learn reading techniques to help you quickly assess new material, decide if it is useful and which parts need to be read more carefully. It is also much easier to read the texts in detail when you have a rough idea of what a text is about – roughly what the author’s purpose is, what is at the beginning of the text and what is at the end.
Surveying the text
Whatever you need to read, it is useful to have a quick look at it all first to get an idea of the layout of the text and what is included.
So first, skim through the text to see what is included and how it is organized. Your text might not contain all the following parts, but you can expect to find many of them. Look especially at the following parts.
- Title (plus maybe a sub-title).
- Sometimes, perhaps when you are in the library or when you are searching through a catalogue, you need to make quick decisions on the basis of the title, maybe including a sub-title, alone. You need to ask yourself whether the text is relevant for your purpose and what sort of information you expect to get from it.
- Details about the author.
- It can be helpful to know about the author, what the author’s academic position is, what experience the author has had, etc.
- Date of publication and edition.
- This helps you to decide whether or not the book is up to date. It is worth checking whether or not there is a more recent edition.
- An abstract is usually a single paragraph at the beginning of the text. It normally summarises the different sections of the text and draws attention to the main conclusions. Reading the abstract will help you to decide whether or not the text is relevant for your purpose.
- Preface, Foreword or Introduction.
- In the preface, the author explains the purpose, organisation, method of presentation, and whatever particular features of the book you should especially notice. Read it carefully. The author is explaining how to get the most out of the book.
- Table of Contents.
- The contents will give you an overall view of the material in the book. Looking at this is a quick and easy way to survey the book to see if it includes the information you need.
- The layout of the text can help you. Textbooks are organised into chapter and chapters have titles and section headings.Very often each chapter will start with an introduction of what is in the chapter and a summary at the end.
- References list or Bibliography.
- An alphabetical list of books and articles which have been referred to is included either at the end of each chapter or at the end of the book or article. Looking through the list of references will give you some idea of the author’s background.
- One of the most important sections of any textbook is the index at the end. This is a fairly detailed alphabetical listing of all the major people, places, ideas, facts, or topics that the book contains, with page references. The index can give you information about the topics covered in the book and the amount of attention paid to them.
- The blurb is the publisher’s description of what the book is about, usually on the back cover. But remember that the main purpose is to sell the book.
- Reviewers’ comments.
- These are usually on the back cover, but remember they are chosen by the publisher and therefore will probably be good.