Reading Strategies Introduction

Reading Skills for Academic Study

Strategies for reading academic texts

Try this with any text you need to read:

Before reading

1. Think about your reasons for reading the text:

  • you are interested because it is about your subject, or it is related to your subject
  • you want background information, or detailed information
  • you want to know what the writer’s views are
  • you are going to have a discussion
  • you are going to write an essay on this subject later
  • Each reason will influence the way you read e.g. quickly or slowly, looking for fact or opinion.

    2. Look at the title, headline, any sub-headings, photos or illustrations. Use these to predict what the text will be about – the topic.

    3. Think about what you already know on this topic.

    4. Write down what you would like to find out from the text. You could write actual questions you would like answers to.

    5. Make a note of words or phrases connected with the topic that you may find in the text.


    1. Survey the text: read the first and last paragraphs and the beginning and final sentences of the other paragraphs.

    How close were your predictions?

    Do you have a very general idea of the structure of the text, what the different parts are about?

    2. Identify your purpose for reading.

    1. If you are looking for specific information, read the part where you think the information will be.
    2. If you want a general idea of the whole text, read the whole text.

    In both cases ignore words or sections you don’t immediately understand.

    You should now have a general idea of what the text is about and if it is going to be useful for you. Does it answer the question(s) you asked?

    3. Write down in 1 or 2 sentences:

    • what you think the main ideas are
    • what your first reaction to the text is. Do you find it interesting, informative, well-argued, boring, illogical, inaccurate?

    4. Do a second more careful reading, marking any new words that are important for your understanding.

    Check on the main idea and revise what you wrote if necessary.

    Decide what the subsidiary ideas are. How do they relate to the main idea? Put all the ideas together in linear notes, or as a mind map.


    With the new words which you think are important:

    if an approximate meaning is enough,

    • try to guess the meaning using word function, context (immediate and wider) and word form

    if the exact meaning is needed,

    • use a dictionary
    • ask another student, or your tutor

    Difficult sentences

    Divide the sentences where there are connectives or markers.

    • What do the connectives mean?
    • Underline reference words. What do they refer to?
    • Identify complex noun phrases.
    • Expand them using verbs and/or relative clauses so that they are easy to understand.
    • Find the subjects, verbs and objects which go together, and, if necessary, write the whole sentence out in several sentences to show the meaning.

    After reading

    1. Make a list of the new words which you think will be useful for you in the future. Give:

    • definitions of the words
    • indication of whether they are nouns, verbs, adjectives etc.
    • phrases in which the word occurs
    • other words with the same meaning
    • other forms of the words

    e.g. counsellor (noun)=a person who gives help and support to people who have problems, an adviser [counsel (noun), to counsel]

    2. Evaluate what you have read:

    • How does it fit into what you already think and know?
    • Does it confirm your ideas, add to them, conflict with them?
    • If there are opinions, do you agree or disagree with them?

    Thanks to the English Language Centre, University of Exeter for this exercise.

    Print Friendly, PDF & Email