Reading strategies

Reading strategies

Many academic texts are challenging to read: they’re in English, they discuss complex ideas and they’re long. What are good strategies for dealing with these texts? Here is a suggested order for your reading:

  1. Purpose 

Ask yourself the following questions:

  • Why is the main purpose of the text? This can be found in the title of the text, the abstract or the introduction.
  • What is my purpose in reading the text? How does the text’s purpose match your own? Is this an important text for you or are there just a few parts which are relevant?
2. Skimming

This involves getting a quick overview of the whole text. This is done by reading the title / sub titles / the first sentence of each paragraph (the topic sentence) and any information in bold. Also look at the figures / diagrams.

3. Scanning

This involves looking for a specific piece of information in the text. For example, maybe they have used a method that’s interesting for your study.

4. Deep reading

If the text is interesting and relevant for you, it is important to understand the key concepts. In order to do this, make notes as you read. Underline important sentences and look up words you don’t understand.

NB: Even at the deep reading stage, you don’t need to start at page 1 and read to the end. Be selective!

5. Critical reading

It is important that you can take a standpoint to the material you read. Even if it seems to be a well written, academically trustworthy source, there might still be statements that you don’t agree with. Make notes as you read. Think about the following:

  • What is the writer’s main message?
  • What evidence is used to support the argument?
  • Is the writer biased in some way?
  • Do you agree with their arguments?
  • Does the argument contradict other articles you have read? How?

( Questions taken from


  • if a text is difficult to understand, read an easier version first e.g. read a Wikipedia page on the topic and then go back to the more academic source
  • if a text is difficult to understand and seems to be important, discuss it with classmates or your teacher. It will help them and you and you will learn some useful terms on the way!
  • keep track of new terms as you go along. This is a part of learning your field and you will find the same terms will appear in other texts in your area as well.