Types of academic reading

You’re expected to read widely, and to a large extent independently, on university courses. You’ll be faced with extensive reading lists, and will have to make decisions about which material to read, and which to ignore. This will depend largely on your purpose for reading.

Depending on your subject you may be reading journal articles, reports, and case studies as well as books. Journal articles have the advantage of being more up to date, as journals are published more frequently than books.

Reading widely helps to develop your thinking, and your ideas. You may come across contradictory views on the same topic, and demonstrating this breadth of knowledge in your seminar discussions and writing assignments is considered important. The approach to reading academically is very different to reading for pleasure, as academic texts usually require active engagement, and may take considerable time and effort to understand, especially in the beginning.

It’s important that you learn to manage your reading early on, and key to this is reading with a purpose. Your purpose for reading will vary, and may include those outlined below.

  1. You might read for general information, to inform yourself about the topic, through expanding your knowledge base.

    It may be that you don’t know much about the topic, and you need to start with a general textbook, to understand the basic concepts and ideas, and to become familiar with the vocabulary in your field. This familiarity is essential before you can begin to engage with academic texts at a deeper level. Sometimes you’ll be asked to do some general background reading before a lecture.

  2. You may be asked to read an article in preparation for a seminar, where you’d be expected to read the article critically, with a view to evaluating the ideas it presents, and to deciding whether these ideas are supported with evidence in the text.

    Depending on the level at which you’re studying, you could be asked to find another article with a contradictory viewpoint, and need to be able to summarise the article as well as critically evaluate it.

    Seminar discussions are a forum for you to express your own ideas and views. This will help you to clarify your thinking and develop your understanding at a deeper level, one of the key aspects of university study. Your reading helps you to achieve this goal.

  3. Frequently, your reading will be focused on an assignment title. It’s common for students to be given an essay title, and a suggested reading list to go along with this. Some of the books will be recommended by your lecturer, but you will need to make decisions about which of the others to read. This will depend on how you develop the argument in your essay, as you will need supporting evidence from your reading, to convince your reader of the validity of the opinion you’re expressing. In this case, you’re reading with the specific aim of using the information in your writing.

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