Skills Hub

Understanding difficult texts

Reading academic texts can be much less straightforward than reading a daily newspaper or a novel. There are a lot of ideas and information packed onto a page and you will usually have to read it more than once to understand it. Here are some ideas you can try to help you understand what you're reading:

  • Often the first sentence will tell you what the paragraph is about. If you want to know how the author has developed this idea, read the concluding sentence of the paragraph too.
  • If you don't understand something just take it slowly. Start by re-reading the paragraphs before and after the problematical passage and then re-read the part you had difficulty with.
  • Try talking to friends on your module about what you're reading.
  • Your tutors are there to help you, so ask them to explain material you do not understand (you may need to see them in their office hours or arrange a time outside of your teaching sessions).
  • Try reading about the material in a different book, or going back to an account of it in a textbook if you are having problems.
  • If a phrase keeps appearing make sure you understand what it means in the context in which it is being used. If a book has a glossary, look in this before you consult a dictionary. Some words have technical meanings, which are different to their everyday usage.
  • Make sure you look at tables, diagrams and graphs in texts.
  • If you are having real difficulty with a text, it may be worth having a break and coming back to it later.
  • Identify the reading strategies that work for you. Observe when you read most effectively, and plan your reading so that it fits in with how you work best!

Student reading in the library

If you haven't already looked at the Note-making tutorial this will help you with understanding difficult texts, particularly the Guide to reading and noting

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