Effective reading techniques
Is reading one of your preferred ways of taking in information? If not, look at our Reading technologies section. In particular, Alternative formats has links to video, audiobook, ebook, podcast and website alternatives.
Do you take in information better if you hear it? If so, check out these free text readers.
Where (quiet room, Library, coffee shop etc.) and when (morning, afternoon, evening, night) do you read most effectively? What do you need to have to hand (laptop, phone, highlighters, Post-Its etc.)?
How long can you concentrate for? The Pomodoro Technique involves working in short bursts with breaks, which will improve your comprehension and retention.
Do you have visual stress? This is when words move, blur or distort when you read, which can cause you to lose your place, skip lines or get sore eyes or headaches. Try a coloured overlay or reading ruler. You can buy them from the Campus shop or online at Crossbow Education. There are also free screen tinters and reading rulers on our Assistive Technology page.
Do you learn better with others? Consider discussing your reading with a study buddy or group to help you analyse, review and retain it.
Why are you reading? What do you need to find out? Is it for a written assignment, presentation, exam or just background information? Which sources are required and do you need to read everything or just certain sections? Focus on the most useful texts and use the contents and index to home in on the relevant parts.
What do you know about the subject already? You might want to read a simpler text or watch a video on the subject in order to ‘prime your brain’ before tacking complex reading. Box of Broadcasts has a huge, free, searchable archive of recorded television and radio programmes.
Read actively and critically
Do you tend to jump straight into reading without thinking or preparing? Do you find yourself getting bored and reading whole sections without taking in anything? That’s passive reading. Active reading is about reading with questions in mind and using different reading strategies according to your purpose. It involves making connections between the new information and your existing knowledge and experience. As you read, think critically about the author’s purpose, point of view and credibility. Is s/he biaised? Does s/he back up points with evidence? Is the information up-to-date and from a reliable source? Does it answer your questions? Does it raise new questions? See our Reading Critically section for more on this.
Use these handouts to help you read more critically:
• Reading with a purpose – questions to ask yourself during and after reading.
• Reading matrix and Reading frame – two tables for summarising your reading.
• Critical reading templates – three templates to help you analyse books, journals and arguments.
Experiment with different note making techniques.
SQ3R (or SQ4R – there are many variations) is a useful reading strategy with these stages:
• Survey the book, chapter or article to get an idea of what it’s about and prime your brain.
• Come up with Questions you want answered.
• Read it. You might start off by skim reading (to get an overview) or scanning (looking for specific pieces of information). If the text is complex (and useful) you will need to reread it more carefully, possibly highlighting or making notes.
• Recite. Check to see if it is making sense and answering your questions.
• Review. If you need to memorise this information (e.g. for an exam), put the text away and see how much you can remember.
The University of Sheffield has an excellent interactive Reading Skills section.
Queens University also has extensive advice and information about Reading and note-making.