Reading for university work isn’t quite the same as “everyday” reading.  Reading long and challenging academic texts is a skill that you can learn, practise, and improve. Here are few ideas to get you started. 

Selecting your readings

Your reading lists are a selection of texts that your teachers recommend.  Usually, there are some texts that are "required reading", but you are not usually expected to read all the texts on the list.  Check with your teacher, then prioritise the texts that interest you most. 

  • Be selective!  There is simply too much information and you cannot read it all.  One important academic and professional skill you’ll need is to be able choose a set of resources that are best adapted for your particular aims (e.g. discovering a topic, understanding something in-depth, finding examples, conducting research for an essay or dissertation). Think about what you want to accomplish at any given moment and choose accordingly. 
  • Introductory academic texts–like handbooks, dictionaries, or encyclopaedia–are a good place to start if you are discovering a topic or a specialist vocabulary in English for the first time.  Use the Library catalogue or ask a librarian to help you find good reference texts in your subject.
  • Learn to recognise different types of texts by their bibliographic information.  For example, can you distinguish a journal articles from chapters in a book?  Or a section of an edited book compared to a monograph?  Academic journal articles, textbooks, governmental publications, private sector reports, theses, conference papers all have different qualities.  Be aware of the different types of texts available and their various strengths and weakness so you can make informed choices. 
  • If you have a doubt, ask your course lecturers for advice on how to approach the reading lists they have prepared.   Your academic support librarian can also guide you as you search for texts.

Exploring and engaging in texts actively

Reading actively involves constantly questioning the text, questioning yourself, checking and testing your understanding.  You'll also need to make notes and write down the questions you have.  It's not simply a matter of running your eyes across every line!

  • Read in different “phases”. Before you even pick up a text, take time to reflect on what you’d like to learn from the text, based on your own goals and reasons for reading the text.  Write this down.
  • With your goals in mind, discover the text:

    Scan the text (look at the headings, sub-titles, first sentences in each paragraph) to find out what you can expect to find. Write this down, in your own words.

    Read the abstract/introduction and conclusion to identify the author’s main argument. Write this down, again using your own words.

    Map out the structure of the text. Draw or write out the various elements of the text.
  • Using what you’ve discovered by scanning, reading, and mapping out the text, reconsider what you set out to find from the text.  Write about what you've learned and note some questions you'd like to ask your classmates and teachers.  Then make an informed decision about which parts you will read in more detail.  
  • You don't have to read the text in the order the author wrote it!  Prioritise what you’d like to gain from the text - read the parts that are important to you first, then give attention to other parts in the order you choose.

Want to learn more about writing at university? Check out LSE LIFE's Moodle page.  Moodle is an online platform where many of the resources from your courses can be found. If you don't have your LSE user account set up yet, select the Login as Guest option. 

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