Effective reading skills

Adopting and developing an appropriate active approach can greatly increase the effectiveness and speed with which you can read texts.

Questions before reading

There are a number of different types of reading. In order to read effectively, it can be helpful to pose yourself the following questions before starting:

+ What am I reading this text for?
+ What do I want to get out of it (at this stage)?
+ What approach should I adopt (at this stage)? Where should I start?

This table can help:

types of reading table

Translated and adapted from "Einführung in das wissenschaftliche Arbeiten". Institut für Ethnologie. Georg-August-Universtität Göttingen. Tutorium für B.Eth.311.

Skim reading

If we have done oriented reading, and want to find out more about a text, then we should first skim the text. This means we can go through a text relatively quickly and get a basic overview. It therefore forms the basis for selective reading or intensive reading, should we decide to do that.

Use of skim reading:

+ To find out the most important information quickly
+ To get an general overview of the text
+ To find out where interesting information might be


Focus on the key parts/elements of the text. These are typically:

+ Introduction
-- Important context
-- Relevance of text
-- Main question or argument
-- Step-by-step outline

+ Headings and subheadings

+ Key paragraphs, especially introduction and summary at start and end of subchapters

+ Typographically highlighted bits of text (italic, bold, headings)

+ Tables and graphs

+ Paragraphs
-- Topic sentences (normally the first and perhaps second sentence of each paragraph)
-- Last sentence of paragraphs (mini-conclusions/summaries)

+ Listed points ("first", "second", ...) and conclusions ("finally", "thus") with the text

+ Subject terms (e.g. "postmodern society")

+ The conclusion/summary

Skim reading guiding questions

These questions can help guide skim reading. After skimming a text, we should be able to broadly answer them. In taking notes here, you are giving yourself a guide to the text to aid and guide you as you read the text more intensively.

Context, theme

+ Title, author, year, journal/book?
+ What is the general topic of the text? The broader context?

Central question, thesis

+ What is the text trying to find out or argue?

Theory & methods

+ What theory (name/ideas/keywords) do they use? (do not define at this stage)
+ What discipline? What research methods are used?


+ What are the key headings & subheadings in the text?
+ What are the key points for each paragraph (step-by-step): i.e. the topic sentences & summary sentences in each paragraph?
+ Conclusions for subsections


+ What are the key findings/arguments?

Selective reading

Once you have completed skim reading (and can answer the questions), there may be a section or sections which interested you and call for reading in greater detail. Here, selective reading (of certain parts of the text) may be called for. To do this, it can be a good idea to create excerpts.

Creating excerpts

Key information

+ Author, title, page, article/book (link or location of book so you can find it again)

Keyword (s) (coding)

+ This is a good way of linking ideas with other texts, a key part of a paper.

Quotes or paraphrases

+ Especially important parts may be quoted in full
+ Be absolutely sure to make quote is 100 percent correct
+ Make sure you note down page number, author, year (to avoid accidental plagiarism later)


+ Don’t hold back – write freely and for yourself!
+ Own thoughts, judgements, relationships to other texts, ideas, questions

Note: Citavi and some other similar programmes can be especially effective tools for creating excerpts and notes. As a student, you are entitled to Citavi for free.The SUB proivdes information and training courses for different reference management programmes. CeMIS can also provide arrange for training in English, provided enough people are interested. Contact Dr. Michael Dickhardt. Online training and the free download is provided by Zotero.

Intensive reading

To develop a thorough and detailed understanding of the entire text, especially in preparation for an exam or a text summary (as a presentation, assignment etc.), there are a number of different approaches available. Two common (and similar) approaches are the SQ3R method and the PQ4R method, or variations thereof.

The SQ3R method: Survey (skim), Question, Read, Recite/rewrite, Review. Find an detailed outline on the Study Guides on Strategies website.

The PQ4R Method is similar: Preview, Question, Read, Reflect, Recite, Review. A PDF outline of the method can be found here.

The methods and especially the recite/rewrite and review phases will change, depending on your own goals for the text: to discuss in class, to summarise on paper or orally, to incorporate into an essay etc.

Further information

There are numerous books, websites and other materials available in German and English to develop study and reading skills.