La Trobe University Library La Trobe Library


La Trobe University Library La Trobe Library


La Trobe University Library La Trobe Library



Effective reading skills

Before reading an academic text in depth, you can often figure out what the text is about or identify key bits of information through skimming and scanning. Skimming and Scanning are not a substitute for reading the text in full but if you spend a couple of minutes skimming and scanning first, you will know what to expect from the text and decide how useful or relevant it is.

Skimming is fast, focused reading to find the main points or idea.

Scanning is looking for specific information, such as: keywords, statistics or authors' names.

To skim:

  • Read quickly through the introduction (or the first few paragraphs, if it takes that long to present the context and introduce the main idea), then skip to the conclusion to get a sense of the overall content.

  • Focus on the first sentence in each paragraph, which usually contains the main point of each paragraph. When you have read all of these you will have a greater sense of what the text's main arguments and areas of interest are.

To scan:

  • First sweep your eyes over the text with a focus on finding the specific words or information you are wanting, while ignoring the rest of text for now.

  • When you find what you are looking for, read a bit around this area so you can understand the context of the information.


Every piece of academic reading you do belongs to a particular context. It has been produced by an author (or authors), with specific views and attitudes, within a specialized area of scholarship, in a particular place and time. You can use this contextual knowledge to predict what a journal article, chapter or textbook is going to be about. You may not always be correct, but the more academic reading you do, the better you will become at predicting content and assessing its relevance to your work.


  • Think about what you have already read on the subject. Are there any common 'big ideas' or arguments that writers usually address when discussing this subject? Having an understanding of the points that academics usually debate within a particular subject, will help you predict the position taken by the author of the text you are about to read.
  • If the text is written by a well-known writer or expert in the field, you can use that knowledge to predict not only what the author is going to discuss, but also how they will discuss it, in regard to their specific beliefs or ideology.
  • Consider where and when the text was written. If it is a very old text, you can predict that it will probably be unsuitable for an assignment as it won't address recent knowledge or points of debate. Similarly, if the text has a generic title such as 'Introduction to Taxation Law' but is published in a different country, you can predict that it will probably not be useful for understanding taxation law in Australia as every country has its own individual laws.

In academic writing an 'argument' is not a fight or disagreement, but rather a point of view supported by explanation and evidence. Academic texts often draw on several arguments in order to make a main claim or contention. Identifying arguments is crucial to your chances of understanding any piece of academic writing.

Hopefully the Introduction to any piece of academic writing will 'introduce' the text's main arguments, so always look there first. If the main arguments are identified, then write a list of them and try to find the paragraphs that match up with each argument.

Ideally, each paragraph will discuss a particular argument, identified in the paragraph's topic sentence. If there is no topic sentence, then you will need to read the sentence and piece together the main point you think the author is trying to make, while also considering whether or not the argument is supported by a good explanation and evidence. This is important as you might be asked in an assignment to critically analyse the text you're reading and this is mostly about the strength of the writer's arguments.

Handwriting can be difficult to understand as everyone does it differently. Equally, in the digital age we have become used to reading universal characters on a computer screen or mobile device and rarely have to read handwriting. As a result we have lost the art of understanding handwriting. Yet, there are times when you may need to read another person's handwriting, such as when you receive assignment feedback from a lecturer or tutor; read lab or placement observation notes; written notes from a team member, or when doing group work. Here are some tips for reading handwriting:

  • Think about the context of the written text - What subject is it discussing? What is its purpose? The answers to these questions should help you pick up the gist of what you're reading, even if you can't read every word.
  • Try to find some words that you can read and this will help you understand how the writer forms their individual letters, which should then make it easier to read other words.
  • Ask somebody else to read the handwriting. Some people are better at reading handwriting than others. Perhaps ask a parent to help as older people are more familiar with handwriting and better at understanding it than younger people who have grown up with mostly digital text.

Academic texts and other sources, such as newspapers, reports and government documents often use abbreviations. An abbreviation is a symbol or shortened version of a longer commonly used word or phrase. For example, the word 'percentage' uses the symbol '%', and the word 'abbreviation' is typically shortened to 'abb.' or 'abbr.'

A comprehensive list of abbreviations used in Australian texts by the Macquarie Dictionary can be found here: