Establishing a purpose - Being a purposeful reader and note-taker

Success in Academic Writing - Trevor Day 2018

Establishing a purpose
Being a purposeful reader and note-taker

The argument in this chapter is that knowing why you are reading something helps you, in many cases, to read it more efficiently. That is where purpose comes in.

Purpose, applied to reading, concerns what you’re going to be able to do as a result of having done the reading. What will you now have, or be able to do, that you couldn’t do before?

Consciously setting a purpose gives you reason and motivation for reading. It also enables you to devise an effective strategy for carrying out the reading. Without purpose, your reading runs a greater risk of being carried out aimlessly and inefficiently.

Reminder: You may need to survey a document, i.e. skim it, scan it, or both, before you can establish a purpose in reading it.

Examples of ’purpose’ applied to reading

It helps if your purpose is about action. Here are three examples:

I am reading this 2,000-word article to find out whether it adds anything to my previous knowledge of critical academic reading. If it does, I will highlight or make notes about the new material, and will

consider how I can use this new information to help fine-tune my strategy for reading sources for assignments.

I am reading these three articles to compare and contrast the ideas of their authors for the ’Current models ’ section of the essay I’m writing.

I am reading this 5,000-word report so that I can present its key findings in a 5-minute slide presentation at my next tutorial meeting.

So, a purpose is best framed in terms of what you will now be able to do as a result of reading a document. In some cases, however, reading may simply involve checking that you are up to date in a topic or that you have considered a topic from all angles. Even in such cases, your purpose can be framed so that it is still about action. For example:

After reading this latest review article I can be confident that I am up to date on this topic and that I have gathered and reviewed the material I need, whether to:

answer relevant questions from my tutor at our next meeting

write about this topic in my forthcoming essay

use the material as the basis for preparing revision notes for the forthcoming

module exam.


Purpose in reading

For an assignment you are about to carry out, choose some source material you intend to read. Decide what your purpose is in reading it. The statement ’To complete the assignment’ will almost certainly not be sufficiently precise. What will you gain from reading the source material that you can apply to completing the assignment? Working out what this might be may require you to survey (skim and/or scan) the material first.