Critical reading techniques
Coping with difficult content
At times during your module you may come across ideas that are difficult to understand. Try the following strategies to help you make sense of this material.
- Set some time aside when you can work without interruptions.
- Take a step back and look through headings and sub-headings that might signpost the direction the content is taking. Also look for summaries and conclusions that could restate the material in a way you find understandable.
- Use a dictionary or subject-specific glossary to look up any unknown words.
- Photocopy the text or print out the article so you can scribble on it.
- If you have a question to answer, note it down and keep asking yourself how it relates to the piece.
- If the text contains several specific themes use a key and write in the margin, e.g. p for politics or g for gender.
- Try to write a few points in your own words about what you do understand.
- Use a forum to ask for help from a fellow student - but always check that you do understand and agree with their interpretation.
- Look online to see if the article or book has been reviewed by other people. Or look for overview books on the same subject - they might summarise the author's point of view. Once you can understand the basics, go back and look at the detail.
- Don't assume the content is always correct. There might be a hidden agenda leading to bias - check the funding behind the article or find out why the article has been written.
- Try saying the words in your head or aloud as a way of unravelling the meaning. Imagine that you are trying to explain it to someone.
- You can also draw sketches or diagrams as a way of understanding.
- If all else fails, leave it for a few days then come back to it.