Reading: Understanding Introduction

Reading Skills for Academic Study

Understanding texts


Reading is purposeful. The way you read something will depend on your purpose. You read different texts in different ways. In everyday life, you usually know why you are reading, you have a a question and you read to find the answer. You usually know your way around your favourite newspaper, so if you want to know the sports results, you go straight to the correct page, or if you want to know what is on television tonight, you go straight to the television page. You do not start on the first page. When you read a novel, it is different. You start at the beginning and slowly move towards the end. In academic reading, you need to be flexible when you read – you may 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 are necessary as well as learning about how texts are structured in your subject.


Reading is an interactive process – it is a two-way process. As a reader you are not passive but active. This means you have to work at constructing the meaning from the marks on the paper, which you use as necessary. You construct the meaning using your knowledge of the language, your subject and the world, continually predicting and assessing. MacLachlan & Reid (1994) talk about interpretive framing, which influences your understanding. They discuss four types of framing:

  • Extratextual framing – using your background knowledge and experience to understand texts.
  • Intratextual framing – making use of cues from the text, such as headings and sub-headings and referential words such as “this” and “that” to understand texts.
  • Circumtextual farming – using information from the cover of the book, title, abstract etc. to understand the text.
  • Intertextual framing – making connections with other texts you are reading to help to understand your text.

You need to be active all the time when you are reading and use all the information that is available. It is useful, therefore, before you start reading to try to actively remember what you know, and do not know, about the subject and as you are reading to formulate questions based on the information you have. All the information given above can be used to help you formulate question to keep you interacting.

Useful skills are:

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