The volume of reading that you’ll need to do at University is often a surprise to new students.  You might need to read a lot right from the beginning, or find that some modules require more than others.  Because reading is such a big part of your academic work, it may be worthwhile exploring ideas to enhance the depth and effectiveness of your reading.

This post looks at Text Mapping, a technique that is particularly good when you need to understand a piece of writing in detail.  Text Mapping is a practical, tactile reading technique which allows you to dissect a piece of writing from beginning to end.  This technique tends to work best for journal articles, chapters of books and shorter documents; whole books are probably not suited to this method.

Let’s look at how Text Mapping works in practice:

  1. Firstly you’ll need to print your document. It’s important that you print it out one sided.
  2. Next take the sheets and lay them out side by side in order from start to finish.
  3. Now you can either sick them together with tape, or work with them as they are.
  4. Finally, choose some coloured pens and annotate different parts of the text. For example, you might pick out any information on methods used in purple, interesting references to follow up in green etc.  Think about which aspects of the writing are important for you to understand and create your own system for doing this.  Avoid using highlighter pens on your text maps, as highlighting alone isn’t enough to get the most out of this technique.
Image shows white paper rolled into a scroll and held together with an elastic band.
Example of a text which has pages taped together and rolled up into a scroll.

If you’ve taped your papers together you can roll them up to create a portable scroll that you could stick on a wall or take to a seminar or tutorial.

“[With a scroll]… It is easier to understand the text. You can see it quicker than flipping pages.” ESL College Student, Los Angeles County, CA.  (Middlebrook, 2015, p.23)


What are the benefits of Text Mapping?

  • You can see the whole piece of writing at once.
  • By reading actively, you will improve your comprehension.
  • It’s easier to navigate to different parts of the work.
  • The structure of the writing is easier to see than if you were reading individual pages.
  • Scanning through the text happens automatically.
  • Two or more people can look at and comment on the text at once.

We’d recommend that you keep your text maps or scrolls once you’ve created them.  They may come in useful for revision or assessments, and you should find that you remember more about the texts than you would from an ordinary print out.

Have we convinced you?  Give Text Mapping a go next time you’re reading something for deep understanding, we think you’ll find it helpful!


Image shows the first page of a journal article that has been printed out. This is a close-up of the article used at the top of this blog post. Parts of the text are annotated and underlined with red, purple, grey and yellow pens. In some unprinted space on the left hand side, writing in red pen reads "main point or theme"; writing in purple pen reads "methods used", and in grey it says "other literature and sources". The date of the article (2005) is highlighted in yellow, and another handwritten note reads "Quite an old paper, look for something more recent in policy"
Close up example of annotation on a journal article.

Middlebrook, D. 2015. Unrolling the book. [Online]. [Accessed 07/02/20].  Available from: