Kinds of reading
Being a purposeful reader and note-taker
You might read many kinds of text on an academic programme - webpages, newspaper and magazine articles, academic journal papers, textbooks and source documents, for example. How you read this material depends on your purpose.
5.1 Kinds of reading
There are, of course, many kinds of reading, including reading solely for pleasure. When checking your own academic writing you may review your work in different ways prior to developmental editing, copy-editing and proofreading (Chapter 10). This chapter places emphasis on reading as a forerunner to academic writing (see Table 5.1).
As reading plays such a major part in your university programme, finding ways to improve your reading efficiency yields great benefits. If you read for study for some 10 hours a week on average, increasing your efficiency by 25% will save you 2-3 hours a week, giving you more free time or perhaps enabling you to put it to use in further study to gain better grades.
By its very nature, reading for academic purposes normally requires in-depth knowledge and understanding of the material you read. This may only come about through several rereadings over days, weeks, months and even years. What I seek to do in this chapter is bring together flexible, holistic approaches to reading. Practise only half of the ideas presented here and you could radically transform your reading, saving a great deal of time and effort in the long run, and freeing up your time to be more creative and productive.
We are all different, so some reading techniques may not suit you. For example, a few students find they prefer to read slowly line-by-line or even word-by-word. Nevertheless, most students find that they can learn to read more flexibly, varying their reading speed between slow, moderate and fast. They can vary the speed between one document and another, and within different parts of the same document, depending on their purpose.
Of course, if analysing the intent and construction of prose is the focus of your reading - as on a literature or language course - then your style of reading will be rather different from that described in this chapter.
Table 5.1 Some reading techniques in relation to academic writing
Paper or onscreen?
Most tutors and lecturers recommend reading important, detailed written material from a printed copy rather than solely onscreen. Given the current state of technology, most people find it easier and more efficient to read by light reflecting off a paper’s surface than by light emitted from a computer screen. For the moment, the balance of evidence is that most students comprehend material on paper better than they do from a screen (Jabr, 2013; Baron, 2016). If you are concerned about wasting paper, you can always print off electronic material at a size smaller than the original, and print on both sides of the paper. It is easier to highlight, underline and annotate a paper copy than using Adobe Acrobat or other kinds of software to mark up an electronic copy. However, we all work differently. You may find that using an electronic copy is sufficient. Whether using paper or electronic versions, most
people find it essential to interact with what they read, marking it up and/or taking notes to suit their purpose.
Creating the right environment and state of mind
Creating the right environment and getting into the right state of mind and body to read can make a great deal of difference to your efficiency. Incidentally, many of these suggestions apply equally to writing:
-Read under natural daylight, or failing that, use a source of light that is as close to daylight as possible. Position the light to avoid sharp contrasts and deep shadows.
-Normally, your reading material should be laid flat on a horizontal or slightly tilted surface directly in front of you.
-Establish a regular work place that is as uncluttered and attractive as possible.
-Use a high-backed chair to maintain a straight back, with your feet flat on the floor.
-Your eyes should be about 18-20 inches (46-50 cm) from the material you are reading.
-Create or choose an environment where you can avoid interruptions and distractions.
-Use whatever technique is appropriate for you (stretching, slow breathing, visualisation or another approach) to encourage a relaxed but alert state of mind and body.
-The above approaches will also help maintain your health and wellbeing in the longer term.