3.7 Reading effectively

Although you may have a preferred reading approach that's worked for you so far, investing time in learning how to read effectively for university is worth considering. But what does an effective reader do? Effective reading involves reading actively, purposefully and criticallyWatch the following video to learn more.

Reading and writing sit at the heart of all academic enterprise. They’re key tools you need to succeed at university. And while most people take time to work at improving their writing, it’s easy to forget that reading also is a skill that can be, and perhaps should be, improved. Most of us already know how to read – we’ve done it since we were children. But few of us ask questions of why we read, or how we read. I think that’s probably because the act of reading comes naturally, we do it all the time, text lives everywhere. Of course, reading can also be joyful, an experience that opens up fictional and non-fictional worlds.

So it's often harder, but not always harder, to enjoy academic writing. It might be dense, it might be long, it might be filled with all sorts of unfamiliar words and phrases, and it’s really tempting to give up on such readings. So to read for comprehension at university level, actually requires you to take time and effort to do the reading.

To read something effectively means that you have to focus carefully on comprehension. That is working out what the text means. How does it fit with what you already know, what you already understand of the topic? It also means you have to be active in your reading. Effective reading means that you don’t just read a text. You actually have to do something with it.

So in essence, to do something while you read, so to read for purpose, there are some really basic things that you can utilise. Firstly, you need to set aside some time and some quiet space without distractions. Academic reading can’t be rushed. And you should set aside time to do it well.

Secondly, you also need to be prepared to work at your reading. While highlighting bits of text might be a really useful way of making sense or at least notifying yourself of things that you might want to go back to, that might be important, it’s not enoughYou need to make a note as to why you have highlighted that segment for you to remember so for when you return to it. The act of writing something down can turn a fleeting thought, or a moment of learning or a moment of understanding into a working thought. And you really are more likely to retain working thoughts than fleeting thoughts.

Thirdly, to read with purpose, and to read with an aim of learning something or understanding something, it does require you to be strategic about your reading. So be prepared to read something twice, maybe the first time you just scan the text, you look for unfamiliar words which you can then look up, you look for key ideas or topic sentences. The second time through you might want to work on thinking about a set of questions that accompany the text, that make you make sense of the content.

If you can master the art of reading and comprehension and understanding, your achievements in your courses will improve, for that is where you learn, for that is where learning occurs.

Video under copyright. © The University of Auckland 2017. All rights reserved. 

Reading and genre awareness

An effective reader is also able to recognise different genres in academic writing. While you may be familiar with genres in music and film, (e.g., rock'n'roll or science fiction), you may know less about genres of assigned readings in university courses (e.g., research articles, reviews or reports).

Genre awareness involves identifying the features most commonly associated with the type of text you're reading or writing. This knowledge will assist you in reading comprehension; it will "prepare you to approach the text with a set of expectations and make intelligent predictions." (Kennedy & Kennedy 2012, p.18).

Within specific genres there are some organisational patterns that you can learn to recognise. For example, a scientific research article generally has four sections: Introduction, Methods, Results and Discussion. The more familiar you become with a text's genre, the easier you'll find it to anticipate and understand what the writer is saying.



Knowledge of text genre “is indispensable if you want to become a skilled critical reader and a proficient academic writer.” 

Kennedy & Kennedy 2012, p.18.

To learn more about genre awareness and how to develop reading sub-skills explore the links below.

Further reading

Reading effectively (University of Auckland)
• Reading strategies (University of Sussex)
Reading efficiently (University of Wollongong)
• Building reading speed (University of Exeter)
• Understanding genre awareness (University of Hong Kong)

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