Reading Strategies for University Students

Disclosure: This post may contain affiliate links. If you purchase an item that I link to then I may make a small commission, at no extra cost to you.

(Last updated on: 06/04/2020)

It’s time to start your research project, dissertation or thesis but you don’t know where to start. The natural instinct is to start reading. Reading strategies don’t always come naturally to students and this can a very important area that lets you, and your grades, down.

In this post I will give you some reading strategies that are useful for any stage of your academic life, but is particularly useful when undertaking a bit project such as a research project, dissertation or thesis.

Why do I need to read?

Regardless of what research topic you select, it is important that you have a good background knowledge of the area that you are investigating. You will also need this when writing your literature review (see my post ‘how to write an awesome literature review for more on this topic). A good place to start is to read the general literature on your topic that is available and then to narrow it down to the more specific areas that you are looking at as part of your research project. In order to do this, you will need to identify some appropriate reading strategies.

Reading strategies

There are three main steps in reading.

1- Identify the various published materials that are available on the topic of interest

2- Gather the relevant information, either in hard copy from the library or through online sources

3- Read the material

Step One: Identifying relevant material

Sometimes half the challenge when looking at reading strategies can be finding the reading material in the first place. Here are some places that you can look:

  • The Library Catalogue
  • Online Databases
  • Use keyword searches on search engines such as Google
  • If too many sources are found, use the advanced search function
  • Search on Google Scholar/Images/Books/News etc
  • Work through the references given in the material that you read


Step Two: Gathering the relevant material

Once you have located reading material relevant to your topic, you need to gain access to it. You can try the following sources:

  • Library books available for loan
  • Reference copies to be used in the library
  • E-books
  • Access online databases
  • Download full-text journal articles
  • View/download market intelligence reports

Step Three: Reading the material

The last step is to read all of the material that you have collected, ensuring that you take in as much as possible and discard what is not relevant. Some things to remember include:

  • Strategies for reading are important
  • After starting the literature search, you can find yourself swamped by the volume of reading material found
  • You need to focus your reading time on the most relevant material
  • You must read widely, depth and breadth, but focus on the most relevant material

Reading strategies

Reading research relevant to your project

It is important that your reading strategies guide you to what is most relevant to your research project. This will enable you to make the best use of your time. Some things for you to consider are outlined below:

Selecting relevant parts of a book to read:

  • Start by reading the title and blurb on the front cover!
  • Browse the book quickly using the contents pages
  • Look at the index in the back if you’re looking for something specific
  • In individual chapters, look at the headings and sub-headings
  • Identify which parts of which chapters are worth reading and mark them with stickers

Skimming pages:

  • Read the chapter heading
  • Read any sub-headings
  • Read the first sentence of each paragraph, which should introduce the topic or idea
  • Look at any diagrams, graphs or charts
  • Read the summary or conclusion chapter
  • Good approach for journal articles if abstract does not give you enough information

Reading interactively:

  • Think about what you’re reading as you read it
  • Question what you’re reading
  • Make notes of the important points
  • Write down ideas triggered by what you read
  • Challenge the assumptions of the author, the logic of the arguments, and the validity of conclusions

General reading tips:

  • Ask yourself, do you read better from paper or a computer screen?
  • Take regular breaks when reading
  • Check whether you’re taking in what you’re reading
  • If the material isn’t relevant, then move on
  • Start reading something general
  • Reading is easier if you have a sense of the context and a general overview of the subject
  • Read the most basic text you can find first
  • Re-read difficult or complex passages
  • Academic texts often contain complicated sections
  • Check you’ve understood what you’ve read
  • Vary your reading speed depending on the material

Keep a detailed record of everything you read:

  • Author
  • Title of the article/book/report
  • Date of publication
  • Place of publication and the publisher
  • If it is a chapter in an edited book, note the title and the editor of the book, the page numbers and chapter
  • If it is a paper in a journal, note the title of the journal, volume, issue number and pages

Need some more specific tips on how to develop effective reading strategies? Check out my posts on skimming and scanning and understanding difficult texts.



  1. Reading Strategies: Skimming and Scanning | Lifeasabutterfly - […] more than others. Some people find this easier than others do. Building on from my last post on ‘reading…
  2. Writing an awesome research proposal: 5 tips | Lifeasabutterfly - […] stage, you should have a clearly organised conceptual framework. I recommend that you do some preliminary reading and start…

Submit a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *


Hi, am Dr Hayley Stainton

I’ve been travelling, studying and teaching travel and tourism since I was 16. Through Tourism Teacher I share my knowledge on the principles and practice of travel and tourism management from both an academic and practical perspective.

Follow Me


Spring vacation: What is it + why do we have it?

Spring vacation, also known as spring break, is a popular phenomenon in the USA. But for those of us who are based elsewhere in the world, it is often an unknown concept. In fact, for many of us, it is something that we see only in the movies or on our favourite TV...

10 must-see Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty in the UK

There are many must-see Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty in the UK. Whether you are exploring the UK from overseas or looking for the perfect staycation, there are plenty of rural tourism destinations to keep you busy in England, Wales and Northern Ireland. In this...

The shocking truth about elephant riding in Thailand

Elephant riding in Thailand has become somewhat controversial in recent years. When I first went backpacking back in 2011 it was a right of passage to climb onto an elephant's back and to be paraded along the street. But nowadays, things are very different. Society...

6 reasons why you should NEVER swim with dolphins

You should never swim with dolphins in captivity. This in an unethical form of wildlife tourism that is cruel to the dolphins. Yes, you might get some cool photos, heck- you can even get these printed onto a key ring or the mug that you use for your morning coffee...

Volunteer tourism: Everything you need to know

Volunteer tourism is a growing industry. A type of niche tourism, it attracts people who want to gain valuable experience, 'do something good' or enhance their CV. But what exactly does volunteer tourism entail? The volunteer tourism industry has been substantially...