This topic introduces you to effective reading strategies including note-taking from reading, how to evaluate sources and how to use a synthesis grid to organise key information from your readings.

Learning outcomes

In this topic you will learn how to:


University study requires considerable amounts of reading and engaging with a variety of sources. It is vital to learn and practise reading strategies that are effective and efficient. Reading for your assignments requires a range of different techniques: speed reading, intensive reading and lateral reading. As you read, you will also need to evaluate the source and the information. Taking useful notes from your readings is a crucial skill to develop as part of the overall process of responding in an informed way to your various assessment tasks.

Speed reading

You will not have time to read every source you find in-depth, so employing speed reading strategies will help you study more efficiently. Speed reading is the stage at which you establish that the source you have found is suitable and relevant for your assignment. You need to ask yourself whether the source meets the requirements included in your assessment task information. 

To do this, use skimming and scanning techniques.

Click the hotspots on the image of a journal article below for some tips to help you with your speed reading.

See further tips under Effective Reading on the Learning Zone Quick Guides page.

Intensive reading

To read intensively means to read carefully, ensuring understanding of important information and the author’s argument. Unlike speed reading, when you are reading intensively, you should carefully read the source in its entirety to ensure that you get the whole picture. If the source is particularly long, identify major relevant sections by scanning and read these in detail. At this stage, you would take notes from the text, as your speed reading has established its relevance and appropriateness. 

As you read, you should be actively thinking about what you are reading, keeping your task information, assignment question and key concepts related to your topic at the forefront of your mind. 

Critical Reading

One strategy for intensive reading is critical reading. You critically evaluate and analyse a text as you read and after reading to compose an informed response to an assessment task. Critical reading requires you to be discerning, separating parts from the whole, and considering a text in terms of its content and context. Ahmad (2019, p. 60) describes the process as follows:

To be a critical reader means to read critically while as well as after reading (Blakesley & Hoogeveen, 2012) in order to synthesise, analyze, and evaluate what is read (Van Blerkom, 2012b). In contrast to literal and mechanic reading whose aim is to obtain knowledge (Ateş, 2013), critical reading is to develop an analytical (Van Blerkom, 2012a) neutral comprehension of the text (Mayfield, 2014). It involves: distinguishing fact, opinion, and belief; questioning the author’s intentions, argument, and word choice (Blakesley & Hoogeveen, 2012); and finding the conclusions based on the evidence the writer put forth (Abu Shihab, 2011). Therefore, it requires readers to comprehend not only the content of the text they are reading but also the context in which it was produced (Comber & Nixon, 2011). In brief, critical readers read beyond what was written to how and why it was written (Rog, 2012).

Watch this short video for essential tips on critical reading:

See further tips for reading critically under Effective Reading on the Learning Zone Quick Guides page.

Evaluating sources

A key consideration when deciding whether to include a source in your assignment is whether the author and the information are credible. As you critically read a text, ask yourself the following questions:

At the minimum, when you are assessing a source, you should check for the following: 

  • Authority: 
    Is the author qualified to be writing on a topic? Do they have relevant qualifications? Do they work in a relevant field? Have they published other articles on the topic? If the author is an organisation, is it recognised and trustworthy? Do they have an ulterior motive for presenting the information, particularly a financial or political motive?
  • Purpose: 
    Why was the content created? Is its goal to inform, by presenting an objective and evidence-based account of the topic? To persuade, by presenting a biased or one-sided account of the topic? Is the information trying to sell you a product?  
  • Evidence: 
    If claims are being made, is there evidence to support them, either references or links to further information? If the author is using references, are they from authors who are qualified to write on the topic? Can you find corroboration for the points being made elsewhere on the Internet?

If you’re assessing a source for an assignment, make sure that it meets the minimum requirements for inclusion. Has it been published within an acceptable date range? Is it an acceptable format? Make sure to follow all of your assessment task instructions.

Try the CRAAP Test!

See further tips for evaluating sources and how to read a journal article under Effective Reading on the Learning Zone Quick Guides page.

Fact checking & lateral thinking

When you encounter new information, it may be necessary to look beyond the source to confirm any claims made. This is particularly true if you are looking at online information that has not been through a quality check process prior to publication or if the information has been produced by an organisation you are not familiar with.

The best way to establish the credibility of online information is through a process called lateral reading.  When reading laterally, instead of reading the page’s content from start to finish, you read across, checking information as it’s presented to you. You do this by opening new tabs in your browser and performing searches outside of the page you are reading, checking the ‘facts’ as you go. This includes:

  • searching for more information about the author or organisation who has created the information  
  • searching to confirm any statistics or figures that might be presented

To learn more about the lateral reading approach, watch this short video created by the Stanford History Education group:

Our Digital Skills topic Fake news also explores how to determine the credibility of the information you read.

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