Studying at university means a lot of reading – no matter what your degree. You’ll often find that you’re rushing through individual chapters or key readings, looking for specific pieces of information.
When you need to really understand something in greater depth however, it’s worth having a few different techniques up your sleeve for achieving this.
In this blog post when we use the word ‘text’ we are referring to books, journal articles or other types of written information such as reports.
- Scan the text first.
This might not seem like a very natural thing to do, but rather than flinging yourself into an immediate close reading of the text, scanning through will give you a visual overview of what it includes, and you can look at any headings or subheadings which will signpost the way for you. If you’re trying to get to grips with a whole book, you could use this technique chapter by chapter – don’t try to scan a 300 page novel in one sitting!
- Reading a journal article?
Print it out one sided and lay each sheet next to one another to show the layout of the whole article. You could even sellotape each page together and stick it on a wall. This is a technique known as text mapping. Read your article through once at this stage. Don’t annotate or highlight anything right now.
- What do you think about the text?
Now you’ve read the text through once, you can start to dissect it and find out what you think about it. To really benefit from text mapping, get some coloured pens to help you to break it down into individual parts or learning points. Mark these up with your pens to highlight or comment on the key points. Read each section of the article going through with your coloured pens. Try to resist just highlighting sections – make comments and write down questions, as these will be more useful and informative.
- Review your annotations
When you’ve re-read the whole text and marked it up with your pens, take another look at your annotations to see what your comments, questions and summaries are. If you have further questions, or points that you haven’t quite understood, think about how you can pursue these to ensure that you have a full understanding.
Now put the article to one side and write a summary of it in your own words. Don’t forget to include a sentence or two about what’s important about the text, why it is significant or particularly relevant to your work.
- Compare and review
Compare your summary to your annotations and comments on the printed out text, and look at the abstract (if there is one), to see whether your summary has captured the essence of the piece. Also check to make sure that you haven’t inadvertently copied any phrases directly without quotation marks.
- Take care with quotes
If you want to add specific quotes to your summary from the text, do this carefully, noting down the page numbers of quotes, and put them in “double quotation marks”.
This technique for reading in depth helps to build confidence because you’re not trying to digest the whole text in one go. Breaking your reading down into stages, and checking your understanding of key points can help you to digest the information more effectively, and to get more out of the text.