When studying, especially at higher levels, a great deal of time is spent reading. Academic reading should not be seen as a passive activity, but an active process that leads to the development of learning.
Reading for learning requires a conscious effort to make links, understand opinions, research and apply what you learn to your studies.
How reading develops, the goals of reading, approaching reading with the right attitude and developing a reading strategy.
Everything we read tells us something about the person who wrote it. Paying close attention to how and why the author writes something will open ourselves up to their perspective on life, which in turn enriches our understanding of the world we live in.
How Reading Develops
Learning to read as a child usually results in the ability to read simple material relatively easy.
As we develop our skills in reading, the process often becomes more challenging. We are introduced to new vocabulary and more complex sentence structures. Early school textbooks offer us facts or ‘truths’ about the world which we are required to learn; we are not, at this stage encouraged to question the authority of the writers of these published materials.
As schooling progresses however, we are led to consider a range of perspectives, or ways of looking at a topic, rather than just one. We learn to compare these perspectives and begin to form opinions about them.
This change in reading from a surface approach (gathering facts) to a deep approach (interpreting) is essential in order to gain the most out of our studies.
Reading becomes not simply a way to see what is said but to recognize and interpret what is said, taking into account subtleties such as bias, assumptions and the perspectives of the author.
Academic reading, therefore, means understanding the author’s interpretation of reality, which may be very different from our own.
The Goal Of Reading
Most of us read in everyday life for different purposes – you are reading this page now, for a purpose.
We read to gain factual information for practical use, for example, a train timetable or a cinema listing. For such documents we rarely need to analyze or interpret.
We may also read fiction in order to be entertained; depending upon the reader, a level of interpretation may be applied, and if reading fiction as part of an English Literature degree, then analysis of the author’s writing style, motives etc. is imperative.
Many of us read newspapers and magazines, either in print or online, to inform us about current events. In some cases the bias of the writer is explicit and this leads us to interpret what is said in light of this bias. It is therefore easy to view a particular article as a statement of opinion rather than fact. Political biases, for example, are well known in the press.
When reading academic material such as textbooks, journals and so on, you should be always reading to interpret and analyze. Nothing should be taken as fact or ‘truth’. You will be engaged in, what is termed as, critical reading.
When you read while studying an academic course, your principal goal will be to gather information in order to answer an assignment question or gain further information on a subject for an exam or other type of assessment.