Skills Hub

Guide to reading and noting

Here are some quick tips on reading and noting. For more help with reading and researching, go to Reading strategies on Skills Hub.

1. Note the source
You will need this information to complete your footnotes/endnotes and references.

2. Critically review the text
This helps you get an overview of the text to decide whether it is relevant. Look at the title, contents, introduction, headings, the author, date of publication and index. If there are introductions, abstracts or chapter summaries, read these first. Briefly examine any lists of key points, dates or events.

For more information, go to evaluating academic texts on Skills Hub.

3. Question
Note down any questions about the text that come to mind. Ask yourself what you expect to get out of your reading.

4. Select
Once you have decided that the text is relevant, you need to select the most useful sections to read in detail. Use the contents page and headings to help you. If you are looking for a particular piece of information, scan the section to find it.

Avoid getting too absorbed in a particular text at this stage; if something is especially interesting, make a note and plan a time to read it later when you have a better overview.

To keep track of your reading you could make use of a to-do list app such as Wunderlist or Trello. These apps allow you to set reminders for yourself that include a date and time stamp. If you decide to read a text later, you could set a reminder.

Student making notes

5. Now you have narrowed down the most useful sections of the text to read and the purpose of your reading.

The topic sentence is usually the first sentence of the paragraph and will typically outline the key point. The bulk of the paragraph generally takes the point, explains, develops and illustrates it. The concluding sentence often returns to the idea in the topic sentence and explains how the bulk of the paragraph has modified or developed it.

If you want to know what a paragraph is about, read the first sentence. To find out how the author has developed this idea, read the concluding sentence.

If you don't understand a piece of text, take it slowly. Re-read the paragraphs before and after the difficult passage and then re-read the tricky part. Your tutors are there to help you, so ask them to explain material you do not understand. You can see them in their office hours or arrange another time by email. You could also try reading about the topic in a different book or go back to an account of it in a textbook.

Photo of someone taking notes

  1. Revisit your questions. Can you answer them? If so, start writing your notes. If not, re-read the source. It may not be relevant, and you should look elsewhere.

  2. Review and reflect on your notes. Check you have noted all the important points. Are there points that need expanding? Annotate your notes with any new thoughts or questions.
Print Friendly and PDF