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Tips from UoC students about getting the most from your reading, notetaking and making the most of these in your writing:

Reading video thumbnail image,

Notetaking video thumbnail image,

Writing video thumbnail image,

(Note: These videos may require you to login to Microsoft Stream using your university email and password) 

In addition to the information and resources on this page, you can also find out more about using your reading in your writing via our Library and Academic Skills webinars:

Academic Writing Webinars

Academic reading is very different to everyday reading because it is more of an active process. 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. To help you to focus and make your reading more active, identify what you want to find out from your reading before you start.

You may be reading to discover:

• Background information or context
• Previous or most recent research on a defined area
• Theories or methods to underpin your work
• A range of perspectives to gain a balanced view before you start writing

Reading through the levels provides an idea of what and how much you should be reading at different stages of your course:

Reading Levels, Reading at different levels of your course

  • Where should I start with my reading?

    Reading lists are available online via OneList and are the starting point for finding useful reading suggestions for a subject or essay.  Think of your reading lists as a small library of texts that you should dip into at regular intervals throughout your course. 

    To broaden your reading, use the library discovery tool, OneSearch, to look up keywords related to your topic to find books and ebooks.

    Journals 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.

    For more help with searching access our Finding Information page.

  • Questions to ask about your reading.

    reasons to read tutorial button,

    For critical reading, you need a questioning mind. Try to identify and analyse the arguments in your reading. Are there any other concepts or theories which might be relevant?  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 get you started.  

    For more on reading with an analytical eye, have a look at the tutorials on the Being Critical pages.  

    You are strongly encouraged to research your topic beyond your reading list and to demonstrate independent learning by finding your own sources to support your work. However, all texts must be carefully evaluatedto check that they are suitable for an academic assignment.  


  • Getting the most out of your reading

    This section and the following one on note taking will look at how to get the best from your reading.

    You have your list of possible texts to use. How do you choose the most important ones and how do you gain that in-depth knowledge of these texts?

    Reading environment 

    • Read in an environment that enables you to focus on your reading. You might need to experiment to find the best for you.
    • Take regular breaks and exercise.
    • Revisit your previous reading after a break to check your understanding.
    • Park your thoughts overnight to ‘mature’ in your mind

    Do not initially read cover to cover

    Scan key sections of the item to get an idea of content. 

    In books – check contents lists, chapter headings, chapter summaries and subheadings.  Use the index to find keywords or use the ‘search within’ option in ebooks 

    For articles – read the summary or abstract and the conclusion to decide if it is worth reading the rest.

    Then once you have decided it is worth reading it in more depth

    • Skim read through quickly without making notes to get a basic understanding. 
    • Read more of the text to deepen that understanding. 
    • Use a ruler or pencil to keep your eyes moving at a good pace down the page.  
    • 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 starting to take notes. 
    • As you read think how you might use this in your writing and how it compares with other texts. See our next section for tips on notetaking to help you with this.

    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.

    Reading journal articles

    Most journal articles begin with an abstract that gives you a summary of the article, followed by headed sections as follows:

    • Introduction - Outlines the context and purpose of the research
    • Literature Review - An overview of previous relevant research on the topic
    • Methodology - The methods and data collection tools used in the study
    • Results - The main findings and data obtained as part of the research
    • Discussion - Considers the significance of the findings in relation to existing literature
    • Conclusion - Restates the key outcomes of the research and makes suggestions for future studies

    You may find it easier to read a journal article by beginning with the abstract and then reading the introduction and conclusion. This will give you an overview of the aims and findings of the research before you dive into the detail. The video below contains more tips for reading journal articles:

    how to read a journal article,

    Keep track of your reading

    It's easy to get lost in the literature and so it's important to develop a system that allows you to keep tabs on what you've read and what you found within. A Literature matrix is a table that allows you to capture key information from each source and helps you gain an overview of the research on your topic. 

    Our tutorial below provides a little more detail about getting the most from your reading.

    reading strategies tutorial button,

  • Taking notes from your reading

    Note-taking is an often overlooked skill but it forms an important bridge between reading and using literature in your assignments. 

    Taking notes from sources allows you to:

    • Remember and recall information more effectively
    • Employ critical thinking as you read
    • Pinpoint most important parts of a text
    • Compare different perspectives
    • Keep track of your references

    There are many note-making techniques beyond straight-forward transcription of text. The table below details a selection of different methods. Try some of these approaches and see if they work for you. 

    Ways to take notes

    Cornell Notes A note-taking template developed by Cornell University that has a space to capture details from a text but also has a column to add critical comments and questions as you read. A summary section at the bottom allows you to take an overview and consolidate what you've read. Download our Cornell template.
    Note-taking apps Make use of OneNote (provided with Office 365) to take notes and organise them into folders. You can also include photos of written notes, book pages etc. Download the app to record thoughts on the go. Evernote is a good alternative. 
    Mind-mapping Mind-mapping is a visual alternative to linear, text-based notes that helps you draw connections between ideas. Instead of writing notes line by line, organise themes in branches and include pertinant points relating to those themes as sub-branches. This video from MindTools explains the technique. When on campus you will find software such as Mind View 7 on university PCs and laptops. Free tools area available to use on your own devices such as Mindmaps.
    Colour-coding and visual cues Use colour in hand-written and typed notes to create a code in your notes. You can colour-code by theme or aspect of a topic, or you can use colour to highlight quotes and key names. Use visual cues to break up your notes such as arrows, symbols and diagrams - you don't need to be an artist!
    Literature Matrix Summarise your sources in a table such as a Literature matrix. You should then be able to pick out similarities between sources and where there are contrasting ideas which will help with your critical evaluation.  It should also help with identifying emerging themes. 
    Annotated bibliography An annotated bibliography is a way of bringing together an overview of your reading about a topic. Each entry should include reference information; a summary; evaluation of the work and ideas about how the source could contribute to your assignment. Keeping an annotated bibliography is especially useful to manage large quantities of literature. Students undertaking research projects or dissertations and those working at higher levels will find it especially beneficial. Annotated bibliography templates are available to guide you thought the process: Annotated bibliography template (word) and Annotated bibliography template .pfd

    Taking notes from ebooks

    When using ebooks you can choose to take notes using the tools in the table above.  

    In addition the ebook readers (either when reading online or downloaded) also give opportunities for bookmarking, notetaking and highlighting on your screen. You can even export your notes too.  

    Depending on the ebook supplier you may also be able to take advantage of read aloud functions if it helps you to listen rather than read the text.

    More information on this functionality and other accessibility features can be found via our Ebooks page and our Eresources and Assistive Technology page.

    Level up your notetaking

    Our tutorial prompts you to reflect on how you take notes already and how you might change or adapt your approach.

     notetaking tutorial button,


  • Taking notes from ebooks

    When using ebooks you can choose to take notes using the tools in the section above.  

    In addition, the ebook readers (either when reading online or downloaded) also give opportunities for bookmarking, notetaking and highlighting on your screen. You can even export your notes too.  

    Depending on the ebook supplier you may also be able to take advantage of read aloud functions if it helps you to listen rather than read the text.

    More information on this functionality and other accessibility features can be found via our Ebooks page and our Eresources and Assistive Technology page.



  • Taking notes in lectures

    Taking notes in class involves a variety of skills. You will need to listen, watch, process and write - all at the same time! This is one reason why students sometimes find it challenging to take effective notes in lectures, seminars and tutorials. 

    There are various ways you can make this form of notetaking easier: 

    • Print out or have the powerpoint open on your device before the lecture to get a sense of the content and structure. You can also use the notes or handout function to make notes along with the slides. 
    • Record the lecture or tutorial on your phone so you can listen back later and fill in any gaps in your notes (remember to ask permission beforehand). 
    • Make use of speech-to-text software such as Otter or Audio Notetaker. This will essentially create a transcript which you can save and use later. 
    • Use abbreviations/ shorthand to save writing everything out in full. Make sure you create a key if you do this, as it’s easy to forget what you originally meant! You may find this note taking list useful for getting started. 
    • Exchange notes with course mates to fill in gaps for each other.
  • Using your reading

    Reading and notetaking are the building blocks of writing any assignment. Once you have a good understanding of the literature around a topic, your notes can form the starting point for your writing.

    But between note-making and planning your assignment, there is an intermediate stage that involves digesting, analysing and synthesising your notes. This stage enables you to build an overview of the literature you have read and apply critical thinking to the various perspectives you have encountered, before you consider how this is conveyed in your writing. The tutorial below unpacks this process so you can make the most of the notes you have made.


    Demonstrating your understanding of literature in your writing puts you on track to gaining marks. One way to do this is to move from direct quotation of your sources and to summarising and paraphrase instead. The table below outlines the differences between those skills.

    Direct quotation  Reporting the literature that is relevant to your work. Copied words are enclosed within quotation marks and a citation is included. This indicates you are aware that the literature is relevant, but you will need to follow the quotation with a sentence to explain your understanding and why this quote is relevant to your work.
    Paraphrase A rephrasing of a short part of the original author's ideas into your own words and phrases, possibly a sentence or two. A citation is included to credit the original author. This demonstrates your understanding of this part of a text and fits within the tone and language of the rest of your work. To get the most out of your reading you should still provide some analysis, critique or application to your work.
    Summarise Demonstrating an overview of a text you have read, e.g. a section of a text, a chapter of a book or a journal article. A citation is included to illustrate where these ideas originated. This demonstrates your understanding of what you have read and fits nicely into your writing. This can show a surface level understanding of the source. As with all references to the literature you must demonstrate to your reader why this example is relevant to your work.

    Paraphrasing is a useful ability to master. Access our tutorial by clicking on the image below to find out more and practise this skill.


    Explore our Using Your Literature tutorial to find out more about those skills. 


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