ECONOMIC & SOCIAL RESEARCH COUNCIL
Productive reading
Why spend time and effort reading a particular text?
Distinguishing between support and ‘front-line’ literature
How can you identify fit-for-purpose support texts to read in full or selectively?
Advance check: suitable support literature for your identified reading purpose
How can you identify fit-for-purpose front-line texts to read in summary or in depth?
Advance check: suitable front-line literature for your identified reading purpose
Scrutinising the efficiency of your academic reading habits
How efficient are you as a reader in your academic studies?
Reading strategies: scanning, skimming and intensive reading
Taking risks with your reading time and effort
Making the most of your reading time and effort: towards an effective compromise
Scanning a short text for specific information
Skimming long texts
Writing effectively
Arguing convincingly
Mapping your field
Literature reviewing
Reviewing the literature systematically
Developing proposals
Why spend time and effort reading a particular text? 

Reading academic texts can be quite hard work. Therefore it is important to invest your time and effort in reading any text only if seems likely to help you achieve your reading purpose. During your academic studies you will probably read for different purposes at different times. But if you read without being clear about your purpose, you are in danger of wasting your time and effort. You will be filling your memory with information that may turn out to be marginally relevant or even irrelevant. Worse, you may be missing the texts that you should be reading to achieve this purpose.

When you are beginning to learn about a new subject, a common reading purpose is simply to get a sense of what the subject is all about. Or you may read part of a course textbook before a class where a set subject will be discussed.

As you continue your study of the subject your purpose will gradually shift towards preparing for the written assessment of your learning. You will be expected to engage more critically with particular texts, and to use some of your learning about a subject through your critical reading to support your own written argument. You will probably want to refer selectively to the literature you have read because it provides evidence required for warranting the claims you make in your writing. Evidence from the literature will help you to make your claims convincing to your assessors, who will then find your argument convincing. Suppose the criteria for assessment include demonstrating clarity of thinking and a strong argument. Then using evidence from the literature in this way will show your assessors that you have fully met this criterion, favouring your chances of a high mark.

Typically you will do some reading before starting on your writing task. If you have access to a library and electronic searching facilities you could easily become overwhelmed by the amount of literature you can quickly gather together. A good way of reducing the chances of wasting time and effort is to prioritise those texts which promise to be most useful. How can you do this before you have read them and know what the authors have written? One way of helping yourself is to make sure that you are clear about your reading purpose so that you can identify which texts are most likely to assist you with achieving it. If you don’t already do so, make a habit of always asking yourself this simple question before you start: Why am I reading this?

·     For maximum productivity, read less but read more!

Read less without a clear purpose underlying what you read and how carefully. Read more that is relevant for your identified purpose. Getting a clear sense of purpose can guide your choice of texts and what you try to learn from them.