Reading Tips

Suggestions for getting the most out of your reading time and efforts
Many students struggle with managing the amount of reading they are assigned in their coursework. The question is:

How do I get the most out of my reading assignments in the least amount of time?

Answering this question will allow you to cover more material and be better prepared for class. Unfortunately, the teaching of this skill is often overlooked in classes. Below are some recommended approaches to critical reading for mastery. Feel free to try them all, pick and choose or talk with other students for other hints.

Approach #1:

Ask yourself the following questions:

  1. What is the author's major thesis? What is the basic point of the argument being made?
  2. What are the main assumptions the author makes (and expects you to accept) in arguing that thesis?
  3. What are some important/useful concepts the author presents?
  4. What are the implications for research/practice if the author's thesis and underlying assumptions are valid or true? If they are not valid or true?
  5. How does the article relate to previous readings? Integrate the themes as best as you can.
  6. Critically reflect on and assess the article as a whole: what are its strengths and weaknesses?

Approach #2:

No matter how interesting an article is, often it is difficult to focus on the major concepts. Many find themselves reading the same paragraph over and over and still having no clue what the author had written in that paragraph. Here is one way to stay focused and interested.

  1. Figure out what the author is arguing within the first couple of paragraphs. This is crucial.
  2. After figuring out where the author is coming from and where s/he is going, take a second to think about whether or not you agree.
  3. Grab a red pen. As you read the remainder of the article (with red pen in hand!), try the following:
    1. If you agree with the argument, write comments such as "Good point!" or "Yes!" or "This is a great response to William Henry (another author)"
    2. If you do not agree with the article, write rebuttals throughout the article. Be as obnoxious as possible. This is where the energy comes from to keep you awake while reading.

Clearly, you will never fully disagree or agree with an article. However, taking a stand with or against the author creates a lively environment in which to read. Drawback: Your article is written on so much that it is difficult for others to read.

Approach #3:

  1. What is the question/problem the author addressing?
  2. Was the argument logical to you?
  3. Is enough evidence provided?
  4. Do you agree with the argument?
  5. Ask yourself the "so what" question. Why is it important that the author wrote this article?

Approach #4:

  1. What is the question the work proposes to address?
  2. What method does the work used in addressing this question?
  3. What kind of evidence if any does the work present?
  4. Is there a theory , explicit or implicit, underlying the work?
  5. Is it possible to identify the author's normative/ political stance?
  6. What is the main thesis of the work?
  7. What are the empirical findings if any?
  8. What are the main contributions and strengths of the work?
  9. What are the main limitations of the work?
  10. What are the most important implications -for theory, research, politics and/or policy of the work?
  11. What are your questions or thoughts about the reading?

Approach #5:

If you have a really busy week (midterm in another class etc.), the class depends on you to still come prepared. The following is a suggestion for quick reading when you have very limited time. However, if you rely solely on this method, you will not get as much out of this course as you deserve; nor will you be able to contribute as much as others deserve.

  1. Read the introduction.
  2. Read over the subheadings and/or topic sentences.
  3. Read the conclusion.
  4. Figure out what the basic argument of the article is and the support the author uses.
  5. Go back and read the article. You will be able to read the article much more quickly because you will be able to skim over parts that are not relevant to the main argument of the article.