Whether you are a pupil or student preparing an assignment, a professional preparing a summary report, or simply reading for pleasure, you will find it useful to develop a number of reading techniques. This article will focus on reading in preparation for writing a report or assignment.
WHAT TO READ
Deciding what to read can be difficult.
Having chosen your books, it is not necessary to read each book in its entirety. There is no point reading an entire book if only a few of the chapters are relevant to your line of enquiry.
Scanning is the technique you use when looking up a word in a dictionary or telephone directory. Because you know the word(s) or phrases you are searching for, you can move your eyes at speed down the page knowing that your brain will recognise the searchwords. By identifying keywords before you start reading, it is possible to scan large quantities of text at speed.
Scanning is made easier if the keywords you identify are names, places, dates, etc. - which are identified by capital letters or numbers. Similarly useful; some texts may utilise paragraph headings or even show key ideas in the margin. Occasionally, scanning may be made even easier if certain words are emboldened, italicised, or in a different font size or style.
Scanning can be used to determine whether a particular piece of text will be useful in your research. Having scanned the document, you might go back and skim it.
Skimming is a useful technique for reading through lots of material in a limited amount of time. It is the technique to use when you merely want to identify the main ideas of a text and is done at a speed three to four times faster than normal reading. Skimming is a preliminary reading technique to help you check whether an article or chapter is relevant to your research. It can also help you identify the most relevant paragraphs of a chapter or text.
There are various skimming strategies.
Whatever approach you use, bear in mind that the purpose of skimming is to get a "rough idea" of what the text is about. Having identified particularly relevant passages, you can return to these later in order to more fully understand them.
It may be worthwhile developing speed-reading skills. There are various techniques. Some of these depend on reducing the randomness of the eyes' focus - by concentrating on just two or three focal points on each line of text. Others depend on reducing subvocalisation (the tendency to "say" the words - even if only "in your mind"). There is some debate about whether comprehension can be maintained at a suitably high level as reading speed increases. See links below for further information.
It is useful to make notes as you read. It is not necessary - nor is it a good idea - to copy out whole sections of what you are reading, but it is recommended that you summarise in your own words each major argument or piece of information that you encounter. If something is summarised so succinctly by an author that you cannot reduce it any further, consider using it as a quotation.
If it is your intention to write an academic assignment then you will need to make a note of where you found out each piece of information (Author, book title, publisher, place and date of publication - as required by Harvard referencing conventions - see link below.) It is useful to have this information on each section of your notes. Keeping a bibliography of the books you have consulted is also recommended - especially if you need to go back to them to clarify an issue.