So – you’ve used the library catalogue to discover what the library has relating to the subject you want to research and have made a list of those you want to look at. You’ve found the books and journals on the library shelves and now have a pile of several items to start ploughing through. Though it is probably best not to jump in with detailed reading just yet.
Remember that reading a book or journal article for information is different from reading a novel for leisure.
The following tips may help:
1. SCANNING – this technique is used for example when looking up a name in a telephone directory
- used when you roughly know what you are looking for anyway
- look for specific words or phrases (terms that you probably have already used when doing your initial library catalogue search)
- scan parts of the book to see whether it is going to be useful to you, in descending order:
2. SKIMMING – this technique is used for example when you are reading a newspaper
- you read quickly to get the main points
- your eyes don’t move along the line of text from left to right as they would when reading the whole page
- useful to preview the text before reading it in detail
- can also be used to refresh your understanding after
3. ACTIVE READING – this is reading purposely rather than just browsing.
- approach the text with questions you want answering in mind
- always take notes to aid your understanding, and to refer back to at a later date
- if the book is your own (and you are comfortable doing so) underline and highlight relevant passages
- if it is a library book (or you don’t want to mark your own copy) note relevant keywords, and write out significant parts of the text
- summarise what you’ve just read in your own words
Don’t worry too much about your reading speed. It is more important to understand what you have read.
Generally your reading speed is limited by your thinking speed and so if a subject and its terminology is new to you, you will out of necessity read slowly. It can be useful to have a dictionary to hand to look up unfamiliar words to aid your understanding.
Why not try one of the tips mentioned above?
Remember, like anything else – you can improve your reading skills with practise.