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Read More Efficiently: Be Strategic


Reading is the one task that nearly all graduate students complain about because graduate study entails a great deal of reading. Depending on your field, it's not uncommon for a professor to require students to read a book (or its equivalent) each week. While nothing will make that lengthy reading list go away you can learn how to read more efficiently and get more from less. Here are few basic tips that many students and faculty overlook.

Scholarly reading is not leisure reading.:

The biggest mistake that students make is approaching their school assignments as if they were leisure reading. Instead, academic reading requires more work. Read prepared to take notes, reread paragraphs, or look up related material. It's not simply a matter of kicking back and reading.

Don't read it once:

Sounds counter-intuitive, but effective scholarly reading requires multiple passes. Rather than reading in one pass, from beginning to end, expect to scan the document multiple times. Take a piecemeal approach wherein you skim for the big picture and fill in the details with each pass.

Start small:

Begin by reading the abstract (if an article), the first couple of paragraphs. Scan the headings and read the last couple of paragraphs. You might find that there is no need to read further - the article may not suit your needs.

If needed, reread it:

If you deem that the material is necessary for your project, reread it. If an article, read the introduction and conclusion sections to determine what the authors believe they studied and learned. Then look at the method sections to determine how they addressed their question. Then the results section to examine how they analyzed their data. Finally, reexamine the discussion section to learn about how they interpret their results, especially within the context of the discipline.

Or stop:

Understand that you can stop reading at any time. It may not be necessary for you to read the entire article in detail. Skimming might provide the information you need. Or, as you read you might decide that the article isn't important.

Use the same approach for reading chapters and books:

Examine the beginning and end. Then look at the headings or chapters. Then the text itself.
Once you step away from the one-reading one-pass mindset you'll find that scholarly reading is not as hard as it looked. Take a problem-solving mindset and consider each article as a puzzle. Approach an article as you would a jigsaw puzzle, working from the edges, the outside, in. Locate the corner pieces that establish the overall framework for the article, then fill in the details, the center pieces. Remember that sometimes you won't need those inside pieces to grasp the material.
Consider each reading strategically and decide how much you need to know about it -- and stop once you've reached that point. Your professors may not agree with this approach, but it can make your work much more manageable as long as you review some articles in detail.

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