When reading for research the aim is to investigate what you are reading to find out what you need to know. You do not need to read an entire book to find a particular piece of information. You do not need to read an entire website for the same reason. The following method of Active Reading outlines an active and efficient way to both read more productively, at the same time as possibly having to read less.
Why are you reading?
What do you need to know? Make some notes before you access the book or website. Write down the kind of thing you are looking for. Prepare questions.
How much to read?
Less is often more. Read the back of the book for a synopsis. Check the contents to select a particular chapter. Once you find the chapter you want, don’t rush in. Try reading the introduction to the chapter and then check for a conclusion to the chapter. Depending on the detail of the information you require, you may get enough information from the chapter conclusion. If you need more detail, check the chapter for examples or case studies. These can often be found close to quotations or images and diagrams. If all the information is useful, only then would you consider reading an entire chapter.
When you access a book, think about how to efficiently find the information you need.
Perhaps not surprisingly, there is a tendency to start at the beginning when we are reading a book, and yet reading online you would normally select the page or pages you need. If you are reading for research you should prepare before you read, so that you are actively searching for something in particular.
Active reading strategies
- Prepare questions in advance. What are you looking for?
- Photocopy, print or scan texts so that you can add comments and notes as you read.
- Critically appraise the text. Who wrote it? What did they aim to achieve? How does this text differ from others on your topic?
- Check meanings of new vocabulary or unfamiliar terms.
- Identify and note down key themes and topic sentences, usually at the beginning of a paragraph.
- Summarise chapters in a few sentences.
- Write down questions about the text in the margins as you read.
- Map out your experience of the text
Next section: evaluate