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Skills for Learning

Finding Information & Reading

Overview

Effective reading involves much more than reading something from cover to cover. You need to focus on extracting the important or relevant information from a source. There are techniques you can learn for reading academic sources. These will save you time and help you get through more material.  

Try to be an active reader. This means making useful notes. You should also question what you read. Notice how different sources support or contradict each other. This is an important part of developing your critical thinking skills.  

We run interactive workshops to help you develop your academic skills. The critical thinking workshops include reading critically. Find out more on the Skills for Learning Workshops page.

Effective reading

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Keep specific questions in mind as you read. Think about your essay question or particular information you need to find. This approach helps focus your reading on the task at hand.

This method is useful for:  

  • Reading in advance of a seminar 
  • Revising for an exam 
  • Preparing an assignment

Reading in this way helps you concentrate and saves time. Your assignment brief or module handbook will contain useful information to help you get started. Your reading lists in MyBeckett are also a good place to begin.

Pre-reading is a useful skill that helps you find the information you need. Identify the important sections in the source. These sections tell you what an academic text is about. 

  • In a journal article: title and date of publication, abstract, introduction and conclusion. 
  • In a book: table of contents, preface, introductory and concluding chapters, and the index. 

Be an active reader. Rather than passively copying out information, think carefully about what you need to note down. Download the Approaches to Note-Making Worksheet for some methods to try.

The Cornell or column method of note-making is a helpful aid to active, critical reading. Download the Cornell Notes Guide for guidance on using this technique.

Read over your notes regularly to ensure you understand the information from your reading. This is especially important when preparing for an exam. 

Check for key terms and concepts. Are there any that you don’t understand or that you need to clarify? Do your notes point you towards any other reading? Are bibliographic details included in case you need to check anything and for referencing?

Reading techniques

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You probably skim and scan texts all the time without realising it. Doing this in an academic context will help you save time when gathering information. Although they may seem similar, skimming and scanning serve different, though related, purposes. 

  • Skimming means looking quickly through a text to highlight and understand the main ideas. This technique helps you decide whether the source will be useful to you. Look at the following elements to get a sense of the main ideas: the title; abstract, short description or ‘blurb’; contents page and index; preface/introduction. Look at the first sentence or two of each paragraph or section. These tend to be ‘topic sentences’ , which outline the main point(s). 
  • Scanning involves actively searching for specific information. This process is much easier if you know what you need to look for. Make an outline or list based on key words and themes. Think about where the information you want is likely to be. For a book, use the contents page and index to find the correct pages. 

Top tip! Skim or scan a range of articles to select the appropriate ones for a task or assignment. Once you have a selection to use, you can read them more carefully, one by one.

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Many students find the SQ3R technique helps with reading academic material. SQ3R stands for:  

Survey 

Question 

Read 

Recall 

Review 

Download the SQ3R Technique Worksheet to help you.

Reading critically

Reading critically means not taking information at face value. Analyse and evaluate what you read. As you work, ask questions of ('interrogate') the sources. For example: 

  • Who is the author and what is the purpose of the source? 
  • What is the main argument being presented? 
  • When was this written? 
  • Is the source still relevant or has the context changed since it was written? 
  • What evidence has been presented? 
  • Is the evidence persuasive? 
  • Are the conclusions well-reasoned and persuasive? 
  • How does it compare with other sources on the same topic? 
  • What does it contribute to academic debates on this topic? 
  • Are there any limitations to the source – is there something it cannot tell us? 

It can be challenging to answer such questions. However, the more you read about a topic, the easier you will find this process. Download the Critical Analysis Questions Worksheet to help you.

Reading research articles and reports

After searching for and selecting a research article or report, become a questioning (or 'critical') reader. You will probably be most interested in the research topic itself. You should, however, look for information on how the study was conducted, too. This is crucial for students who are conducting their own research investigations. Taking a critical approach to the methods used will help you decide how useful the research is. This will enable you to establish whether the results and conclusions of the research are credible.

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Consider the whole of the article, dissertation or research report.  

Communication and writing style  

Look at the style of writing and language used by the author(s). Decide whether the style seems appropriate for the audience. Ask yourself whether the article or report is well written and presented.

Bias  

Look for information on why the researcher has done the study. Is there an underlying agenda that might bias the whole study?   

Ethics  

Consider whether the report explains and meets appropriate ethical requirements.   

Research question  

This is the core of any research project:  

  • What is the question the researcher was trying to answer?  
  • Is it the right question and is it worth asking?  
  • Has the researcher answered the question?  
  • Has the appropriate approach been chosen for the research question?  
  • Do the approach and the method(s) match?  
  • Has the researcher carried out the method(s) well? 
     

Title and supplementary information  

Does the title tell you what the research is about? Read the information given about the author(s) and decide if they seem qualified to conduct the study.  

Abstract  

The abstract should make you want to read further. A good abstract should give a complete overview of the project and tell you what the researcher(s) did and found.   

Introduction  

This is where the researcher(s) explain why their subject is of interest. Look for the reasons and justification for doing the research.  

Literature review  

This provides background and explains why the subject is worth investigating. For example, to research a gap in existing studies or to update previous research. It should provide insights into current knowledge about the subject.   

  • Try to decide if the literature review seems fair and unbiased.  
  • Look at how it has been structured by the author(s).  
  • Check a sample of the citations and references for accuracy.  
  • See our topic ‘Dissertations and Literature Reviews’ for more information. 

Methodology  

Consider how the research methods have been described. Was this a good approach for the study? Could the research be repeated by someone else using the description given? For a study conducted using people, look at the information on the research participants/subjects. How were they selected? Is the sample representative? Is it large enough? Are any ethical issues clearly addressed?  

For more information on this, see our topic ‘Research Skills’

Analysis and results  

Look at how the results were analysed. Statistical data can seem impressive, but check whether the numbers add up. Is the presentation clear? Did the researcher(s) use a reasonable tool or method for the analysis?  

Discussion  

This is often combined with the recommendations/ conclusions. Decide whether the discussion relates to the results found. Conclusions should be clearly stated. Look again at the literature review and compare the discussion to previous studies.  

Recommendations and conclusions  

Consider whether the recommendations relate to the results. The researcher(s) should have critiqued their study. Most will comment on the limitations of the research and suggest avenues for further study or research. Is what they have suggested reasonable?  

Acknowledgements  

These can provide clues about the real purpose of the study. Note whether a commercial organisation was involved and whether that might lead to bias. Check also for any expert assistance given to the researcher(s), which might add credibility to the work.

References  

The references should be comprehensive, relevant and up to date. They should also be correctly cited in the text. It is probably worth checking a few of them for accuracy.

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