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Academic reading

Getting through all of the available information for a research project can seem overwhelming. Watch Chris Fuller discuss academic reading skills.
CHRIS: So, by this stage of the research process, you’ve hopefully managed to find a whole load of sources and material to begin extracting the information you need for your project. The only problem is, you may have found so much that you actually feel like you’re drowning under all of that material. How are you possibly going to read all of those books in time? How are you going to get through all of this material? How are you going to process all of this information that you’ve found? Well, that’s where the skill of academic reading comes in. An academic reading is actually quite different from reading for pleasure or leisure.
Academic reading is actually a very practical way of dealing with books and materials. So instead of reading through every single piece of the material, you would begin by going straight to the sign posts that you’ll find in a book. Now, an academic book isn’t written in a way that it needs to be read from page one to the last page. It’s actually written to allow you to dip in and find the relevant information. So the obvious sign posts, the chapters at the beginning, or the index at the back where you’d look for those key words.
So if you find a chapter that you think is relevant, you’d skip to that chapter and just read the opening paragraphs, read the concluding paragraphs, and then think, “is this relevant?” If it is, you might choose to photocopy that chapter so that you can make your own notes on it. Or you might just sit and read through that. The other sign posting words can be a little bit more subtle within the actual text themselves. So as you’re reading through, you’ll find that authors use signal words. So those will be things like - they might say something like “therefore,” which lets you know there’s going to be a consequence.
Or “on the other hand,” which alerts you as a reader that you’re about to get the counterargument. Now as well as those, it’s important to understand that there’s more than one way of reading. Most academic reading, we can break down to three main approaches. The first is scanning. Scanning is when you just look at the page and you just don’t even really pay attention to it. You just very closely look at the key terms within it. You’re looking for any statistics, any details, any particular names or keywords. The second kind is skimming. Now in skim reading, you read the first couple lines of paragraphs and the last couple of lines just to get the general gist of the material.
The third kind of academic reading is the more detailed, close reading of the text, sometimes referred to as critical reading. It’s very, very important in the research process to understand the difference between these three and to know when you use each one. I’m going to use an example of some song lyrics to explain why that’s so important. Now I don’t know these words off by heart. I’m not actually a ginormous fan of The Police - sorry Sting. But there’s a very famous song, “Every Breath You Take” by The Police written by Sting, which a lot of people really misunderstand.
And it serves as a good example of why it’s important to know when to skim but when to read in a little bit more detail. So with this word - with this song, most people take it as a sweet love song. It has lyrics like “Every single day, every word you say, every game you play, every night you stay, I’ll be watching you.” And lots of couples take this is as a very, very sweet sign of dedication between a loving pair. In fact, it’s actually been played at countless first dances at weddings. The reality is though, it’s actually a much darker song.
It was written by Sting during his divorce and it actually is all about the feeling of wanting to keep track of your ex-partner. So it’s actually about a stalking, jealous ex. If you looked a little bit more closely at the lyrics, you’d see that it actually goes on to say “Since you’ve been gone, I’ve been lost without a trace.” So with this in mind, later lyrics like “every vow you break” and “every smile you fake, I’ll be watching you” starts to make a lot more sense. And this song goes from a sweet love song to a much darker song about stalking.
So this week, we’re going to look through how to select sources, what different reading techniques to use, and how to know when to skim, scan, and when to make sure you use a critical close reading of the text.

Getting through all of the available information for a research project can seem overwhelming.

In this video Chris illustrates, using the the example of ambiguous song lyrics, the importance of knowing when you can skim over something, and when you need to give it a closer, critical read.

Through this week’s activities we encourage you to:

  • develop your academic reading skills by practicing scanning a text for specific information and skim reading a text to get the gist

  • practice deconstructing and understanding an academic argument when reading in order to create an argument in your own writing

  • join the discussion on how you can become proficient at note taking

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