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In this guide we shall examine your starting points, the skills you use and the way in which you go about research reading for academic purposes. We look at strategies and systems to improve your efficiency and effectiveness. We explore how you can improve your reading skills to become more critical. The chapter will help you to interact more effectively with texts and articles.
Identify what reading skills you currently use.
Develop your understanding of how to develop critical reading skills .
Introduce you to a system (Quasar Method) for greater interactivity with texts and articles.
Develop strategies for monitoring your reading styles.
Introduction to the QUASAR method - an explanation of a method to increase interactivity and develop critical reading skills
Am I an interactive reader? A self audit of how reading is tackled.
Characteristics of 'surface and deep' approaches to reading
Reflecting on your reading style now
Find out if you need to increase your efficiency
Find out how to improve interactivity with text
Find out how to improve critical reading skills
Being an efficient reader
How fast do I read?
Getting information from text quickly
Finding your way around texts
Is the text suitable for my purposes?
Being an active reader
Developing reading strategies
Reading journal articles
5.0 Being a critical reader
6.0 Taking reading skills forward
1.0 Introduction to the QUASAR Method
Reading for academic and research purposes is very different from leisure reading. It is important that you develop and improve your skills for reading academically so that you are more efficient and can pick out relevant information more effectively. All your tutors will emphasise the need to READ CRITICALLY. In other words they want you to consider what you are reading and weigh up what is being said with what other people have written.
The key to success is being an ACTIVE reader rather than someone who passively lets the information flow over them!
If you wish to improve your academic reading skills, you will first need to take stock of how you go about reading now. This section will introduce a system for improving your skills, called the QUASAR ATTACK method.
QUASAR is a method which will help you to improve/increase your critical reading skills and stands for:
A (be) Active
How will it help?
To find out more and to see if any part of the Quasar Method would help you, you might like to fill in the questionnaires to find out what skills you already use.
1.1 Am I an interactive reader?
This is a self audit of how you tackle your reading.
Answer the following questions:
I tend to read very little beyond what is actually required to pass the assignment
I concentrate on memorising a good deal of what I read
I try to relate ideas I come across in other topics to what I read
When I read an article or book, I try to find out exactly what the author means
Often I find myself questioning what I read
When I read I concentrate on learning just those bits of information
I need to pass the assignment.
When I am reading, I stop from time to time to reflect on what I'm trying to learn from it
When I read, I examine the details carefully to see how they fit in with what's being said
I like books which challenge me and provide explanations which go beyond the lectures and seminars
I like books which give definite facts and information which can be easily understood
I read an article straight through from start to finish
I note down all the facts and figures
I note the author's main arguments
I think about whether the facts supported these arguments
I make summary notes to use later
Based upon the ASSIST Approaches to Studying Inventory by Noel Entwistle.
If you have answered 'yes' to all or most of questions: 1,2,6,10,11,12,15 you are adopting a SURFACE APPROACH to your learning. You are organising your learning in order to be able to remember facts and figures to use in written assignments or dissertation work.
If you have answered 'yes' to all or most of questions: 3, 4, 5, 7, 8, 9, 13, 14 you are adopting a DEEP APPROACH to your learning. You are thinking critically about the information you read and trying to make sense of it in the wider context of your studies. This approach to learning and studying shows initiative and understanding.
1.2 Characteristics of surface and deep approaches to reading
Can you see the difference between the two approaches?
Surface approach MEMORISATION
Deep approach UNDERSTANDING
All students use both approaches at some time. If you understand your subject material fully you will be able to apply it successfully in your reading approach and your written work.
Characteristics of a Surface Approach to Reading
Intention to complete task requirements
Memorise information needed for assessments
Failure to distinguish principles from examples
Treats task as an external imposition
Focus on discrete elements without integration
Un-reflectiveness about purpose or strategies
Characteristics of a Deep Approach to Reading
Intention to understand
Vigorous interaction with content
Relate new ideas to previous knowledge
Relate concepts to everyday experience
Relate evidence to conclusions
Examine the logic of the argument
Undergraduate as well as postgraduate students are expected to become critical readers and develop a 'deep' approach to reading.
If you want to become a 'deep' reader or improve these skills you might like to look at Section 4.O to find out how to improve interactivity with text and Section 5.0 to find out how to improve your critical reading skills
2.0 Reflecting on your Reading Style Now
You are expected to do a considerable amount of reading at University. No one questions your ability to read at University but you may be using techniques and strategies that, although they have been successful in the past, are not the most appropriate or the most efficient for reading now.
In this section you will be asked to reflect on how efficient you are when reading and the degree of interactivity you have with the text you read. You can then find out more about improving these aspects of your reading by consulting the other sections.
2.1 Find out if you need to improve your efficiency.
Look at these questions to find out more about the way you tackle background reading, reading for assignments, reading for literature reviews and reading to increase knowledge and understanding. Tick those questions to which you answer Yes.
Do you read a chapter or journal article from start to finish and have a fuzzy idea of what was said?
Does it take you a long time to do the necessary reading for your
Do you find that the chapters or books or articles seem to go above your head?
Do you read word by word?
Do you 'say' the words silently to yourself in your head as you read?
Do you have to read and re-read sections?
Do you read advanced texts and journal articles infrequently?
Do you vary the pace of your reading?
If you have ticked four or more of these boxes, you need to improve your reading efficiency. Go to Section 3.0 Being an efficient reader.
2.2 Find out if you need to improve how you are interacting with text
Tick the boxes which apply to you:
Do you know exactly what you are looking for?
Can you select important and/or relevant information for your purpose?
Can you pick out key words and/or information?
Do you vary your style of reading depending on the nature of the task?
When you absorb information do you know what to do with it?
Do you regularly monitor your own understanding of the texts you are reading?
Do you know how to improve your reading comprehension?
Do you try to anticipate what is coming next?
If you have ticked four or less of these boxes, you need to be a more active reader. Go to Section 4.0 Being an Active Reader and/or section 3.0 Being an Efficient Reader.
2.3 Find out if you need to improve your critical reading skills
Tick the boxes which apply to you:
Do you think about what you are reading and question what the author has written?
Do you try to assess the stance of the author?
Do you challenge the ideas as you are reading?
Are you able to distinguish different kinds of reasoning used?
Are you able to synthesise the key information and make connections between what one author and others are saying?
Can you make judgements about how the text is argued?
Can you evaluate how the information could be better or differently supported?
Can you spot assumptions which have not been well argued?
If you have ticked four or less of these boxes, you need to improve your critical reading skills. Go to Section 5.0 Critical Reading.
3.0 Efficient Reading
To help you to be more efficient and effective as an academic reader, you might need to consider one or all of the following:
Increasing your reading speed
Finding your way around texts - i.e. gaining knowledge of how the text for your subject is put together - the hidden rules for writing in your subject
Making decisions about suitability of text
A (Be) Active
URBAN MYTHS ABOUT READING
" If I read more slowly it will help me to understand difficult concepts and texts which seem inaccessible because of the way they are written."
Sometimes reading slowly can impair your understanding. Slow readers are more likely to miss the point or get bogged down with minute detail.
" If I read a chapter/article/section of text over and over again I will be able to understand the concepts."
Perhaps you are tackling a text which is too difficult initially for you or that you have no clear idea of what it is that you want to get out of the text and are simply reading as a large sponge!
3.1 How fast do I read?
The Speed Test
Choose a passage to read which is unfamiliar to you.
Time yourself for ten minutes.
Count how many words your have read in this time.
Divide your total by 10.
Your answer will tell you how many words per minute you can read comfortably.
IF IT IS LESS THAN 200 WORDS PER MINUTE YOU NEED TO WORK ON THIS SKILL.
Try this piece of software online that can assess your reading speed: http://www.uvreader.com/test.php
Increasing Reading Speed
If you are determined and prepared to practise, then you should be able to train yourself to read faster and improve your concentration and level of comprehension.
Our eyes move, pause and recognise characters. Every time the eye stops it is called a fixation. (The period in which reading matter is recognised, understood and stored in memory.) The size and length of the fixation is the important factor.
The slower reader reads the text word by word. The average reader links together unimportant words with key words so that there are fewer fixations - this increases reading speed. The fast reader is the most efficient and reads whole phrases at a time.
You can train yourself to read larger chunks of text at each fixation but you will need to practise this skill.
Avoid backtracking when reading. Backtracking is when you read a few words and then go back over them because you have not understood the point properly. By doing this you are interrupting the flow of reading and confusing your understanding rather than clarifying it. It is far better to get to the end of a section by reading it straight through and then re-reading it if necessary. A difficult section is often better read quickly twice than once slowly!
Avoid 'sounding out' words in your head as you read. This slows you down.
You need to vary your reading style and speed according to the material you are reading.
Remember reading improves with practice, and the more you are familiar with advanced reading texts the more quickly you will be able to get access to the information.
There are some web sites which you can visit which will help you to improve and increase your reading speed. www.mindtools.com/pages/article/newISS_03.htm
3.2 Getting information from text
Skimming is a particular style of reading. It is a way of gathering as much information as possible from text in the shortest time possible. Skimming is a visual activity and is used for getting the gist or impression of a chapter/section of text. You are not reading the whole page and your eyes do not move from left to right along the line as they do when reading a whole text.
Scanning is another style of reading. This is most useful when you are searching for something specific in the text - like a word or phrase. An example of use is when you are looking in a telephone directory for a particular person's name or when you look in the index of a book to see which page contains the information you want.
How to skim text
(Example of eye movements during skimming)
3.3 Finding your way around texts
A (Be) Active
You can increase your reading speed and improve your comprehension by being familiar with the way text is written for your subject. This is called 'genre' or the style of the text. You might also examine how the text is organized; and how the author has analysed (broken down) the material in order to set up an argument. Be aware that different disciplines (e.g., sociology, philosophy, psychology, neurology etc.) will have different ways of arguing so the text may be set out in a different format and adhere to different 'conventions'.
Here are some things for you to think about when examining text to find your way around more efficiently. Finding the answers to the above points will mean that you have to examine the way text is put together for your subject, and this will help with comprehension and speed of access to information.
Where are chapter summaries usually found - at the beginning or the end of a chapter?
Are the chapters broken down into appropriate sub-headings?
Do the sub-headings give me an overview of the structure of the chapter?
Is there are revision section at the end of a chapter?
How is key terminology presented - bold, underlined, separate glossary?
Does each section contain a summary statement at the beginning or the end?
Does each section have subsidiary and supporting material or evidence or examples after summary statements?
Are diagrammatic features used to explain prose text?
Are tables and graphs used to explain prose text?
Is the sequencing of the information obvious in the text layout
Does the text rely upon fairly simple or complex sentences? (If the latter you will need to practise un-picking these to make sense of them quickly).
3.4 Is this text suitable for my purposes?
A (Be) Active
Question & Analyse
Is this suitable for ME?
Suitability of text is not just about choosing the right book for the assignment; it is also about choosing the right book for you at your stage in the learning process or your conceptualisation of ideas. Books placed by your tutor in the Reserve Collection or on Short Term Loan are clearly important for your studies, but make sure that you are ready to access that particular reading resource before doing so. Some students forget that one of the elements of successful reading is the knack of matching your level of understanding with the relevant resources for the activity in which you are involved.
Some students become disheartened when they cannot understand a text on the 'book list'. This may be because you are still grappling at an early stage of understanding, both of the new concepts and the new terminology. Some books are, therefore, at too high a level at this stage and are more like reading a second language where you have to look up all the new terminology to help you link the vocabulary with the meaning! If this applies to you, you should begin with a text which gives you more help and briefer, more broad-stroke, explanations. If the subject is new to you, the Idiot's Guides on the market are a 'must'! However, there may be some excellent 'A' level text books which serve this purpose as a bridge to exploring more complex journal articles, for example. It is important that you seek advice from your departments, tutors, post-graduate students about what is available.
Is this text suitable for my studies?
The question you need to ask yourself is 'Does this book or chapter or article contain the information or evidence I need for my assignment or task?' If it does then it is worth using; if some of it is useful, use those sections in particular; if not, then it may not be what you need for your particular work and may be useful only for background information or interest or developing your concepts.
Remember the books or chapters or articles have not been written especially so that you can answer the question posed by your tutor. They may go into a lot of complicated depth which is not relevant to your current needs. (See Section 4.0 Being an Active Reader)
Is it suitable and credible?
You should consider the date when the book or article was written and ask yourself if this is the latest information and research or is it now out-of-date. That said, books published many years ago can still be extremely valuable. Ultimately, it is the content not the date of publication which is crucial.
It is very important to be an ACTIVE reader as this will help you retain information in a text and help you make the right kind of notes - it is essentially reading for a purpose rather than just browsing.
4.1 Being an active reader
A (Be) Active
Question & (Be ) ACTIVE
Have you ever considered doing things to ensure that your reading is effective and that you become more efficient in the process?
BEFORE READING Ask yourself some questions.
Before you launch into reading a chapter or section or journal article, you may need to ask yourself to Preview and Predict. Do this by asking yourself the following:
Why Am I Reading This?
What do I Want to Find?
What information do I already know and will the text 'fill in the gaps' for me?
Is this the most appropriate text for my purpose?
When you start to read you should be asking yourself what type of information you need/want. This can fall into three categories: Literal, Inferential or Critical.
Literal For example:-
Who was responsible for making Laws?
Inferential For example:-
Can you find evidence in your reading that a specific Law is effective?
What do different people say? Whose arguments are stronger?
Critical For example:-
Has the author given enough evidence to be convincing? (think of your own reading of a topic)
Are the results reliable and valid?
Is the author's interpretation sound?
DURING READING Use colour effectively
Many students find that it is useful to colour code information. To do this most effectively you will need to photocopy sections of text which you think are most relevant and crucial to your work. As you are reading you will have to make decisions about what sort of information it is in order to code it. This means that you will be interacting more with the text rather than being a surface reader.
Decisions about colour coding can only be made effectively if you know your purpose for reading and what it is that you are looking for. For example, you may want to code the main ideas in one colour in a section or paragraph and the evidence or examples or subsidiary information in another colour.
You may want to pick out key references and names and use codes to categorise these.
Some students find that they like to code the author's opinions in one colour and the inferred information in another.
As you can see there are many ways in which you can be creative to make you question what you are reading and to help you make more effective notes.
You will need a range of coloured highlighters and photocopies of the texts.
4.2 Developing reading strategies - the SQ3R Reading Strategy
Some of you may have heard of this but are not sure what it is or how it works.
SQ3R stands for:
SURVEY the text
Skim the text to see if it is suitable for your needs and to get a general idea of what it is about.
Ask yourself why you are reading the text and what you want to get out of it so that you read with a specific focus. Your comprehension improves if your mind is actively searching for answers to questions.
Read carefully, breaking up your reading into small sections, looking for main ideas.
Mentally go through the ideas you have just read and pick out the main points. Check that you can answer your initial questions. Check that you have assimilated and gathered the information you need.
Look back to see if the passage has answered everything you wanted. How much can you remember?
4.3 Reading journal articles
Many students find reading journal articles more difficult than text books and are daunted by the fact that journal articles are written by current experts in their field of study and sometimes their own lecturers.
It is useful to adopt a two-fold approach to reading an article:
Get a quick overview
Read the abstract which contains a summary of the article and should contain the rationale for the study as well as the main results and an interpretation of the results.
Read the summary and conclusions. If the article does not have a summary, skim through the discussion section of the article. As you read ask yourself whether the information is relevant to your own reading purpose or research. Will it be useful for your assignment?
Go back and get the details
Ask yourself questions and search for the answers in order to focus your reading.
Read the article critically and analyse and evaluate the findings.
5.0 Being a Critical Reader
Critical approaches to study at University are vital. Much of this is to do with the way you interact with text - your own and others'. It is also about the sort of questions you ask yourself. Reading Critically is usually achieved when students have a working knowledge and understanding of the issues or theories or topics which they are studying.
Critical Reading: What is it?
To read critically is to make judgements about how a text is argued. This is a highly reflective skill requiring you to "stand back" and gain some distance from the text you are reading. You might have to read a text through once to get a basic grasp of content before you launch into an intensive critical reading.
These are the keys:
Don't read only for information (Surface Approach)
Do read for ways of thinking about subject matter (Deep Approach)
Getting Started - Ask yourself the following:
Can I believe everything I read?
Are experts always right?
What makes me take more notice of one academic writer and less of another?
What makes a scholarly, rigorous piece of research, and what makes research findings weak or strong?
Try this for yourself
Choose a chapter or an article and find out answers to the following questions?
Who is the author's audience?
What are the central claims of the text?
What is the main evidence?
How has the author analysed the material to set up an argument?
How is this substantiated?
What assumptions lie behind the evidence or arguments?
Do you think the assumptions are founded on adequate proof?
What methodology was used?
What are the general weaknesses or strengths?
What do other leading thinkers or writers have to say about this?
The kinds of evidence used
You ought to be considering the kinds of evidence used:
Primary or Secondary sources - these could be different for different subject disciplines
Is the evidence statistical?
Is it anecdotal?
How does the author use this evidence to develop the argument?
How is it connected with central ideas and themes?
What is your evaluation ?
You need to consider/decide if the arguments/evidence are strong or weak.
Do you think it could have been done differently or differently supported?
Can you spot any gaps, un-argued assumptions or inconsistencies?
Look at the conclusions and ask yourself if the evidence supports the conclusions.
6.0 Taking your Reading Skills Forward - Over to You
Take time now to reflect on what you have read and how you can take it forward. After this you may want to look at the Writing Effectively Guide and Preparing Effectively for Examinations Guide.
The QUASAR Method will help you do this. How will you take the QUASAR method forward?
Becoming and active and efficient reader
What do you have to do to become an active and efficient reader?
Identifying your current reading style
Check back at your answers in section 2. Make a note of your current style and the changes you want to make.
Changes I need to make