my-cumbria-logo, my-cumbria-logo Toggle navigation

COVID-19 (Coronavirus)

Important information and guidance

Academic reading is very different to everyday reading. Whilst studying at University you will have a higher quantity of reading and you will need to be able to grasp the main ideas, theories, key themes and arguments. Academic reading introduces you to new ideas and enables you to think in a different way.  To help you to focus and make your reading more active, identify what you want to find out from your reading before you start. Depending at what stage you are at, you may be reading to find out: 

• Wide background information or context
• Previous or most recent research on a defined area
• Theories or methods to underpin your work
• Evidence to support your ideas

Academic reading is all about being selective, you are not expected to read every book on your reading list – but choose the texts you do read carefully. 

  • What should I be reading?

    Reading lists are usually given to students as useful reading suggestions for a subject or essay. Think of your reading list as a small library of texts that you should dip into at regular intervals throughout your course. Some items may be marked as essential reading; other material may be useful for background reading. 

    It is important that while you are a student at the University of Cumbria you develop your information literacy skills to enable you to make carefully considered judgements about the quality and suitability of information that you find. You are strongly encouraged to research your topic beyond your reading list and to demonstrate independent learning in the sources you choose to support your work. 

    Use the library catalogue, OneSearch, to look up keywords related to your topic to find books and ebooks. Journals and ejournals are an excellent resource for finding high quality and up-to-date information. The best way to start is to use your subject resources page that recommends and links to a wide range of appropriate academic journals and databases.

    There’s also a great YouTube video called Managing your Reading: Being Selective to get you started.

  • How do I find books from my reading lists?


    Use the reading list for the module that you are studying (search for your Reading List in OneList and your module handbook will provide a link to your Reading List) and consider the following:

    • Use OneSearch to search for the books. The catalogue will give you the classmark number which will tell you exactly where the book is in the library collections. Help on using OneSearch. 
    • If a book on your list is on loan to another user you can reserve a copy so that when it comes back you will be emailed.
    • If the book you are looking for isn’t on the shelf check to see if an electronic version (ebook) is available.
    • If you can’t get hold of the exact book on the list, the library will have other titles that cover similar topics in both print and electronic versions. Another good alternative is to use journals.
    • Your knowledge and understanding will be enhanced if you use your independent learning skills to search beyond the books on the reading lists and use a good combination of books, journals and websites.


  • Questions to ask about your reading.

    Critical or reflective reading is to read with a questioning mind; to identify arguments made by the author and analyse other concepts and theories. Look at what the author has written – how credible is it? Is the work biased? Is there sufficient evidence? 

    You may find the Critical Reading Workbook useful to help you to start thinking critically whilst you are reading. 

    Another useful resource is the University of Leicester’s ‘What is critical reading’ website.

  • What strategies can I use for effective reading?

    The texts you are expected to read at University are often complex and may contain challenging ideas, so it is likely that reading will take you longer than when you read for pleasure. Your reading speed will increase as you become more familiar with the subject. Try these tips:

    • Skim read through quickly without making notes to get a basic understanding, and then read through again to get a deeper understanding.
    • Use a ruler or pencil to keep your eyes moving at a good pace down the page. Move it slightly faster than your normal reading speed. The YouTube video Speedreading: using guides shows how to do this.
    • Read the first and last lines of each paragraph to get a basic framework of the text (these often signpost the main points).
    • Read a chunk of text (a paragraph or a page) before taking notes.
    • Take regular breaks.
    • Read in a quiet environment without distractions or noise

    There are a number of useful resources available on how to read effectively at University. Brunel University have created a document called Reading Effectively which includes using the SQ3R method (Rowntree, 1976); Survey, Question, Recall & Review, a strategy which you may find useful when you need to study a topic in depth or when you are revising. 

  • How do I take notes?

    Firstly - why you should take notes

    • Record what you are learning 
    • Recall and understand at a later date 
    • Make connections between different texts. 
    • Be active (actually do it) … you will remember more this way 
    • Keep track of your references!! 
    • Read this overview from University of Reading

    Now -  how do you do it?

    • Think about what you need out of your reading before you start 
    • Set your notes in context by relating to what you already know, been asked to discuss or heard about in lectures 
    • Be critical of what you are reading as you progress. 
    • Use strategies for effective reading to start  
    • Note down the core arguments 
    • Work out which notetaking style suits you best (see below). 
    • Review your notes regularly 
    • Look at this Top Tips diagram for ideas  
    • Consider using an e-version to record notes eg Notes Plus for iPad - watch this you tube video: 
    • Share and compare notes with a friend


    • Try out one of these 4 styles (linear, tables, flowcharts and mindmaps) nicely outlined on Napier University’s website 
    • Mindmaps – a short video about mindmapping for note taking  
    • Use a template, for example the Cornell template


    • Use keywords, capitals, underlining, subtitles, coloured/highlighter pens 
    • Use Abbreviations eg as listed by the University of Portsmouth.
    • Use your own words to describe what you are reading. Avoid copying out great chunks of text 
    • Develop your own shorthand 
    • Do it in short bursts. Give it time to sink in.



Edit page