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Reasons for reading

Watch Jonathan discuss how to approach reading in order to answer an academic essay question.
In most academic writing you need to show that you understand the topic you are writing about and that you have understood the literature relating to that topic. You therefore need to read widely about your topic and to refer to the literature in your essay. This literature could include books, articles or websites.
But where do you start? How do you decide what to read? How do you read? The question “How do you read?” may seem strange, but in fact there are several different ways in which people read, depending on their purpose for reading, and these different ways of reading will be discussed during the following Steps. If you are studying on a degree programme in a university, a reading list is generally provided by your department, and this contains essential and recommended reading for your essay. A reading list will refer to texts, which may be in print or online format, and may include books, e-books, journal articles and webpages.
These will be available from (or through) your university library but you can also search for other sources of information which are not on your reading list. If you do not have a reading list you can find a general textbook on the subject, or use the internet. You will not have the time to read all the books and articles on the topic. You must therefore be selective. And that is to say, you need to decide which books or articles are relevant for your writing purpose. This is a very important skill to develop. A good strategy is to help you select relevant reading material is to remind yourself of the purpose for reading by asking, “What am I trying to find out?”.
This helps you focus on the most useful texts to read for your writing task.
Let’s consider our essay title again. “Evaluate the success or failure of the World Bank’s approach to promoting water privatisation in the global south”. Think about some of the focussing questions which you wrote about earlier in the course. What are you trying to find out? You need to keep some of these questions in mind to help you to decide what to read. This will help you identify some texts which might be useful. There are different ways of reading a text to get the information you need for your essay. In the next video we’ll look at one way of reading which is called surveying.

When writing an academic essay, you need to show that you have understood both the topic you are writing about and the related literature. To do this you need to read widely around the topic and then refer to these readings in your essay, but where do you start?

In this video, you will learn how to approach reading around a subject for an essay using the example essay question for this course.

“Evaluate the success or failure of the World Bank’s approach to promoting water privatisation in the global south.”

If you want to find out if a particular text is relevant for your essay or not, you will have to survey a text. In the next Step, find out what this means and how you can quickly identify if a text is useful or not. You may find it helpful to remember the ‘focusing questions’ you identified last week.

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An Intermediate Guide to Writing in English for University Study

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