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Effective reading

Do you start reading an academic journal article, plough through a few paragraphs and realise you have lost your focus? Try this technique to gain a quick overview and identify the sections you need to read in depth.[1]

1 Reading order

Read the abstract to check the article is relevant to your topic. Then scan the introduction and the conclusion. You will see what the article covers and the author’s main findings. Afterwards, go to the most relevant sections and read them carefully.

student reading
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2 Scan for main points

To find out what the writer is arguing, search for the topic sentence in each paragraph—where they make their point. This is often the first sentence. It’s also useful to read the final sentence, where they conclude the point. Make a note of what the author is saying in your own words.

Then, once you have scanned a section of the article, read through your notes. You should be able to follow the line of argument. My note for the above paragraph might be:

To find the main points, look for the topic sentence and final sentence in each paragraph and note what the author says.

3 Read in-depth

Once you’ve identified the most relevant sections, read them to gain a general understanding. Read again and note down questions or ideas that occur to you. Now evaluate the article against others you have read on the topic. Does this author agree or disagree with them? What are the strengths and weaknesses of their argument? Think about how you can use this source for your assignment.

Cath Senker
16 December 2021

[1] Based on original research by Trevor Day: https://rlfconsultants.com/how-to-read-a-scientific-research-paper and the Effective Reading Model, developed by Cath Senker, Dr Chris Brown and Ruth Bowles, University of Sussex – see https://activelearningnetwork.com/2018/09/03/effective-reading/

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