Reading at postgraduate level
Sara Steinke
[email protected]
Aims of the session
• To extend your reading and note making skills
- to cope with the large amount of reading
expected at postgraduate level
- to deal with the more complex reading
expected at postgraduate level
• To understand the link between critical
reading and note making skills and higher
order critical thinking skills for postgraduate
• Common problems
students encounter
when reading for
academic purposes
• Are you a smart
• Reading skills for
Writers are not
postgraduate study
authorities. They are
participants in a public • Importance of reading
skills for critical
exchange of views. Be
critical of their work.
Common difficulties with reading for
academic purposes
Which of them apply to you?
1. I read the words on the page but am not taking them in.
2. I spend too much or too little time on the reading.
3. I have difficulty expressing what I have read in my own
4. I simply do not understand the material.
5. I find the language used too complicated.
6. I can not remember everything I read.
7. I find the amount of reading overwhelming.
• Selective
• Mapped
• Achievable
• Relevant
• Time-limited
Retain more
Read less
Read more
Active Reading
Academic reading
Reader is:
Non academic
Reader is:
• active
• passive
• selective and
interacts with the
reading material
• reads from page one
till the end
• has a particular
question in mind
• re-reads with a
• does not ask
• expects the author to
guide them through
the narrative
How to organise your reading
Five stage reading process: the SQ3R technique
• Survey, Scan and Skim your sources in order to
select the most relevant ones
• Question: ask yourself what you want to get
from the book
• Read: analyse the argument
• Recall: fully understand the author’s argument
• Review: pause and take notes
• Aim: to get an overall idea of what the text is
• How to survey a book:
– read the title; look at the book’s contents and index
– search the author’s institutional affiliation; who they
cite in their bibliographies
– bibliographies/reference pages are shortcuts/cues in
making literature choices; scan the bibliography/
– bibliography: includes all work consulted whether
actually cited or not
– references: includes only cited/paraphrased work
• Aim: to read quickly a text to get particular
• How to scan a book: 7 steps to follow (Levin,
2004: 49)
– ‘Remind yourself of your key terms’
– ‘Scan the contents page’
– ‘Scan the index page’
– ‘More bookmarks’
– ‘Scan the whole book’
– ‘Photocopy the most important bits’
– ‘Organise and apply your results’
• Aim: to quickly go through the text to get a
general idea
• How to skim an article/book:
– read the abstract/summary (typically only
available for journal articles, some book chapters)
– read the introduction and conclusion
– read the text according to subheadings and
first/last paragraphs
– look at the first and last sentence of each
• Aim: to frame queries about the book/article;
ask what are the key concepts to understand;
how they relate to each other; which are the
central arguments that need to be mastered
• How to question a book/article:
– what do I want to know?
– where can I find it in the book?
• Aim: to work through part of the text
methodologically from beginning to end
without making notes; concentrate on
understanding what the author is saying;
essential to critical thinking
• How to read a book/article:
does the book contain the information I need?
use critical reading strategy
• Aim: to ask what have I learned?; essential for
memory skills
• How to recall a book/article:
– pause in your reading to summarise your
– make notes of the author’s main points
• Aim: to ask have I found what I wanted? What
are the next steps I should take? What further
texts should I look at?
• How to review a book/article:
– compare what you have recalled with the text
itself, look for important points you missed
check whether you now have answers to
queries defined at the question stage
ensure your notes accurately capture what the
author says
Reading skills – reading decelerators
• Sub-vocalisation
• Finger-pointing
• Back-tracking
• Interruptions
• Low light and discomfort
• Fatigue
• Poor vocabulary or comprehension
• Reading session too long
Reading skills – reading accelerators
• Eye movement : from left to right and from
top to down
Our eyes move, pause and recognise characters.
Every time the eye stops it is called fixation, the
period in which reading matter is recognised,
understood and stored in memory.
• If you have the habit of fixing your eye on
every word, try to fix on every other word or
every third or fourth word
Reading skills –
speed and comprehension tips
• Read at a speed that is comfortable for you
• If you can read extremely fast, you might read
more slowly to enjoy the text (novels) or
understand it better (academic sources)
• Practice using different reading speeds
• Practice reading to improve your reading speed
• Focus on attention and concentration
• Grasp overall concepts, rather than attempting to
understand every detail
Reading – recap
Can you:
select and use different reading strategies
(e.g. skim, scan, in-depth)?
think about what you need to find out before
you start reading (are you reading to verify
facts, to understand a subject in general or to
analyse a particular argument)?
critically evaluate reading?
deal with new vocabulary?
Useful sources (for reading)
Cottrell, S. (2008) The Study Skills Handbook, 3rd
ed., (London, Macmillan) Chapter 6 ‘Research
skills’ pp.111-136
Northedge, A. (2005) The Good Study Guide
(Milton Keynes, Open University Press) chapter 5
‘Reading’ pp.101-128
Wallace, M. & Wray, A. (2011) Critical Reading and
Writing for Postgraduates, 2nd ed., (London, Sage)
• Common problems
students encounter
when note making for
academic purposes
• Note making skills for
postgraduate study linear notes, mind
• Importance of note
Active reading (SQ3R) and
making for critical
effective note making go
Common difficulties with notes
Which of them apply to you?
I try to take down everything that is said/on the
PowerPoint presentation in lectures.
I am unsure what the purpose of note-taking is.
I am uncertain about how many notes to take.
I am unsure what to make notes on.
I do not take time to organise my notes so that I
can retrieve them later on.
I only know one way for note-taking.
Techniques for linear, sequential notes
• Make headings and
• List key words
• Number the points
• Underline, colour, use capital
letters for emphasis
• Use abbreviations. Examples: =
for equal, < less than, > more
than, increase, decrease, re
regarding, cf compared with
• Only use one side of a page in
case you want to add more
• Note name of authors you
want/need to read in margin
Linear notes
• If an article or lecture is well
structured, your notes will be
well structured too
• Look at the opening sentence
of an article, then the first
sentence in each paragraph
• In a lecture the tutor will
emphasise at the beginning
the key points, concepts or
themes they will talk about
• It is the easiest method when
you do not know anything, or
very little, about the subject
• Your notes are probably too
wordy and messy
• The temptation is to scribble
down everything the lecturer
says. Until you have some
experience of the subject, it is
difficult to decide what is and
what is not important. Your notes
from reading may be too copious
and you may be copying whole
• Linear notes do not give you a
good overview. You might end up
with thick folders of detailed
notes but cannot get a sense of
the essence of what you are
Techniques for radial, concept notes or
mind maps
• Turn the paper sideways, A3
landscape is best
• Write the topic in the centre
of the page
• Write related ideas around
this centre
• Add secondary ideas to the
main ideas
• Link up these ideas to show
• Use colours, different line
thickness, symbols, pictures
• Add details to points as you
go along
Mind Maps
• Quicker to write and read
• Gives an excellent overview
of the topic
• Forces you to be brief
• Relationship between ideas
becomes obvious
• Can add more details
around the map at a later
• Visually, more easily
remembered than linear,
written notes
• More difficult to make when
you are new to the subject
• May need to make a map of
a map soon after reading or
the lecture to do some
tidying up
• Making radial or concept
notes takes some practice
before you can do them
easily and efficiently
Note making skills – from your reading
• Read with a question in your mind (see SQ3R reading
• Look carefully at the content and index. Is it relevant to
your question?
• Note: Author, title and publication details of book/article,
the facts, the theories, other people’s opinions,
definitions, quotations for later use? (write down page
• Never copy directly from a book - write it in your own
• At the end of each paragraph or section stop reading,
summarise in your head what you just read and make
• First sentence of a paragraph - called the topic sentence and sometimes the last sentence, should give you a good
idea what the paragraph is all about.
Note making skills – from your lectures
• Preparation begins before a lecture
• Read recommended reading before the lecture
• Print out the lecture notes, slides or hand-outs
before the lecture
• Identify/anticipate main points and structure of
• Recognise when lecturer is digressing or getting into
too much detail - do not bother to make notes
• Listen/watch for verbal transition cues and nonverbal signs from your lecturer
Note making skills – transition cues
Lecturers/writers use the signposts to signal how
their points relate to each other. Some examples:
• To tell the listener/reader that you are providing
additional information:
also, furthermore, besides, equally important,
• To move to specific examples:
as an illustration, particularly, for instance, specifically,
notably, to demonstrate
• To clarify a point:
in other words, that is to say, put another way, in this
Note making skills – more transition cues
• To emphasise a point:
as a matter of fact, obviously, in any case, indeed, most
importantly, undoubtedly
• To signal that you are about to begin or end a digression:
incidentally, by the way, to change the subject, anyway, as I was
saying, at any rate, to return to the subject
• To state an effect or result:
as a result, because of this, for this reason, consequently,
• To summarise what you have already said:
all in all, overall, as I mentioned, by and large, briefly, given these
facts, in short
• To introduce the conclusion:
finally, in short, in summary, in conclusion, on the whole
Condensing notes
• ‘Boil’ notes down to essential information.
This is often easier to do a few weeks later,
because your understanding of the subject has
increased. You can see more clearly what is
important information and what is not.
• Note gaps in your knowledge, any confusion
and contradictions
• Move from linear notes to conceptual notes
(charts, radial outlines, mind maps)
Organising and storing your notes
• By systematic from the beginning
• Make sure you can (re)read them before filing them
away - but do not rewrite them ‘neatly’
• Condensed notes can be copied and filed in at least
two different ways:
- chronological order (as you go along)
- topic order (e.g. in anticipation of an assignment)
- personal interest (for your own research later?)
• Write subject clearly in top right hand corner;
number pages; colour code them
Importance of note making for critical thinking
• To focus attention on what you are reading
• To help you make sense of what you read/hear
• To help you remember the key points
• To alert you to what you have not understood
• To help you when you are planning an assignment
• To help you when you are revising for exams
• To enable you to distinguish between facts,
opinion and evidence
Note making – recap
Can you:
make effective notes when reading?
make effective notes when listening (e.g.
during lectures)?
use more than one note making technique?
do you have a way of organising your notes?
Useful sources (for note making)
Cottrell, S. (2008) The Study Skills Handbook, 3rd ed., (London,
Macmillan) chapter 6 ‘Research skills’ pp.111-136
Northedge, A. (2005) The Good Study Guide (Milton Keynes, Open
University Press) chapter 6 ‘Making notes’ pp.128-156
Buzan T. (rev. 2003) Use Your Head (London, BBC)
Buzan, T. & B. (rev. 2006) The Mind Map Book (London, BBC )
Buzan T. (2007) The Buzan Study Skills Handbook (London, BBC) ahead/skills/notetaking
Recap of the session
• To extend your reading and note making skills
- to cope with the large amount of reading
expected at postgraduate level
- to deal with the more complex reading
expected at postgraduate level
• To understand the link between critical
reading and note making skills and higher
order critical thinking skills for postgraduate
Next session
• Wednesday 27 August, 6pm-7.30pm, room
• Writing at postgraduate level
– what makes English academic
– style and conventions of academic writing
– the writing process
– developing your academic writing skills for
postgraduate study

Reading at postgraduate level