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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.




Deciding what to read can be difficult.

  • You may have little choice if there are set books.

  • There may be a number of recognised proponents of a particular theory or practice.  If so, then their publications can form a starting point.

  • The bibliographies of these key texts can help to identify other useful texts on a topic.

  • Use library search facilities.  (Ask library staff for help with this if you are unsure.)

  • Search the Internet.  Use a search engine (such as Google, Yahoo, Altavista, Lycos, Ask, etc.).

  • Wikipedia (an online encyclopaedia) can also be a useful starting point.  A search of the Internet can often turn up useful synopses of main theories (as well as being a useful way of bringing very recent ideas to light).  Such a search can help you identify relevant text-books.  (Bear in mind that you need to form a judgement about the reliability of anything you encounter on the worldwide web.)

  • Read the blurbs on the covers and fly-leaves of books you think may be useful.

  • Read the abstract of each book - if there is one.

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.

  • Check out the chapter headings - there may even be an abstract at the beginning of each chapter.

  • Check out key words in the book's index to help decide which are the most relevant chapters.



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.

  • If they are present in the text, you may choose to read only the title, sub-titles and sub-headings - or any marginal summaries that may be included.

  • You may decide to read the first and last paragraphs of each chapter - as these may provide introductions and summaries.

  • You could read the first (and maybe also the last) sentence of each paragraph.

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.




For more information click here


... and here ...


Click here an interactive speed-reading exercise


Harvard referencing guide