La Trobe University Library La Trobe Library


La Trobe University Library La Trobe Library


La Trobe University Library La Trobe Library



Reading common texts effectively

Reading effectively at university means reading actively and understanding the nature of the academic texts you’re reading. This is the best way to locate the information you need.

When you read a novel, news feed or blog post on the weekend you are probably reading passively; that is, without exercising any real critical analysis. This type of reading is worthwhile, but in order to succeed at university, you need to read actively.

An active reader:

  • Thinks about the text in terms of its relevance to a particular question, weekly topic or assignment

  • Asks ‘What do I want to know?’, ‘What do I need to know?’ and ‘What do I already know?

  • Makes detailed notes and highlights important parts of the text to help fill in the gaps in their existing knowledge

  • Thinks about the strength or weakness of the arguments, evidence and methodology through which the author reached certain conclusions.

This video includes a technique to help you read academic material more effectively and efficiently.


Find out more about note taking to make the most of your reading

Textbooks are designed to teach students the main ideas in a field,  and which most scholars agree upon, rather than arguing an individual point of view. You need to become very familiar with the way your text books are organised:

  • If the textbook is divided into sections, there may be an introduction at the beginning of each section.
  • It may summarise each of the chapters briefly and say how they relate to each other – don’t skip these summaries!
  • When reading any chapter, read the headings first, and any "teaching devices" like summaries or questions following the chapters; then go back and read it through.


You will most likely be looking for information about some specific topic

  • First, check the table of contents and/or index to work out which parts of the book are useful and book mark them.
  • Next, read headings, summaries, and questions at the end of the book marked sections and/or chapters.
  • Once you know which parts are most useful, spend your time reading these closely and making notes.

Journals are collections of articles published one or more times each year. In print, a journal looks like a little book (but you are most likely to access journal articles online through the library’s databases). Articles can also be collected as chapters in books compiled by an editor, where each chapter, by a different author(s), discusses some aspect of a common theme.

  • Of all the reading you do, journal articles are likely to be the most difficult, because they pull you into an existing conversation that you know little about as yet.
  • It can be difficult to sort the author’s position out from all the others s/he may be referring to.
  • They may begin with the context of what others have said, that this author is either going to take further or going to raise doubts about. Usually his/her own idea comes next.


You will need to become familiar with the way research articles are organised.

  • First, read the abstract and skim through to find key words.
  • Next, read the introduction and conclusion.
  • If the article is definitely useful to you, spend time reading the method, results and discussion sections.

You need to make decisions about the relevance of what you read. 

Select only those articles or chapters that relate directly to your topic for further in-depth reading.

Reports begin with a Summary, sometimes called an Executive Summary, so that you can get an overview before plunging into the Introduction, Discussion, Conclusion, and Recommendations.

  • Start by reading the executive summary and contents.
  • Next, read through the introduction and recommendations sections.
  • If necessary, work your way through the remaining sections of the report.