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Top tips for academic reading

Home / Student blogs / Katherine Simpson / Top tips for academic reading

Published: June 12, 2018

As a self-proclaimed bookworm and avid reader of fiction, I found it extremely complicated learning to read and comprehend academic texts. It can be mind-boggling attempting to wade through each and every chapter looking for a particular section that may only be one or two paragraphs long. However, throughout my time at university, I have increased my capability of selecting and interpreting academic texts in order to have control over my resources. Here are my top tips.

Students studying with books

Start small - If you are a beginner when it comes to interpreting academic books then starting small will be a good way to gradually introduce yourself to the concepts, topics, and structures that are often used specifically to your degree course in academia. Introductory texts are much more accessible than seminal texts in most cases. Anecdotally, one mistake I made in my first year was attempting to read ‘The Communist Manifesto’ over Christmas to get a good grip of Marxism which, with my basic understanding of Sociology at the time, led to more distress than learning. 

Make use of the Index - It took me more than a year to figure out this handy little tip that can be used for some, but not all, of the books you may come across. If you are looking for a particular concept, author or theory, skip to the back of your chosen book and have a scan down for what you’re looking for. The index will tell you what page numbers that particular section is mentioned on, or in what chapter it can be found. This can cut down time wasted looking through irrelevant chapters.

Dont limit your choice of books - The University Library Service has an immense range of books available to students from both St Peter’s and Murray Library, including a huge number of eBooks and physical copies. You will often find that looking for one specific topic only can limit the amount and types of books available to you - when looking for texts to use in assignments or for supportive, background reading finding books unrelated to that topic can be a major advantage. For example, if information on women in employment was the topic at hand, one may think to look for books only about women, although other areas from social policy, Marxism, economics, and politics may also shed light on the issues. 

Look at the bigger picture - When reading any academic texts it may be helpful to scribble down a few questions before you read the text and answer them once you've finished. Ask yourself, what is the phenomenon being explained in this text? What concepts or theories are present? What explanation is the author offering for this/these phenomenons? Can these be applied to everyday life or current ideas? How is it relevant now and does it differ from other explanations of this topic?

If you can find yourself answering these questions, it may help you look at the overall picture of the text which is being painted by the author, allowing you to get a grip of what their argument is and why it is relevant to you.

These are my most useful tips for approaching academic readings and texts to help you get the most out of your sources. I hope you find them useful. 

Topic: Advice and tips