Improve your reading skills today

I’m going to look at reading skills, but don’t worry I’m not planning to teach you how to read – you’re doing well reading my blog, so I suspect you already have good basic literacy skills. What I’m talking about are the skills that will help you to manage the reading workload faced by students at college and university, which can be overwhelming sometimes.

Many students studying on the professional courses at my Institution feel overwhelmed by the amount of reading they are required to do; feeling that they need to read absolutely everything available to them. Last year I had a struggling student. When discussing what was happening, it transpired that she was trying to read everything in detail and where there were links embedded in the source material, she was trying to read all the links too. One example of this was a CIPD Factsheet (CIPD is the professional body in the UK for HR professionals). I had provided the factsheet as some of the recommended reading for one of my units. When I looked at the factsheet it had 13 separate links embedded in it. My student was trying to read each of these links – my instinct was that I would have read about 3 of the sources as additional reading. The factsheet itself was maybe about 6 pages long when printed. There’s no need to read everything; students need to develop the ability to identify the most appropriate material to read. My intention for this section of the Critical Practice course is to give you some tips and techniques so you can develop better reading skills and be a more confident researcher.

You can read the previous sections of the course below, but the previous section can be accessed here.

The amount of information available, particularly at the tap of a screen or the click of a mouse is increasing exponentially, and it would be impossible to keep up-to-date and constantly read everything, so its really important for us all to manage our time and have good digital literacy skills. I’m hoping the following tips and approaches will help.

Make sure the material you read is up-to-date

There are some basic questions to think about when looking at resources. I’ll address the quality of materials in my next post in this series but you do want to ensure you are using good quality sources.

It is also important that you consider how up-to-date your sources are. There is no point looking at the impact of Covid on the hospitality sector (hotels, restaurants etc) and reading something published in 2015. Generally, my rule of thumb would be to try to use as many sources as possible that are less than 5 years old. Of course, there will be some seminal pieces that will be older, so think about why you want to use the source and what it contributes to your work.

Decide what you want to find out

Have a clear idea in your head (or better, write it down) of the themes or key words you’re looking for and keep them to the fore as you search. It will allow you to be more discerning as you search and read. Use your key words when using the scanning and skimming techniques I’m going to outline below.

Be careful not to overwhelm yourself with information

If you read too much you could be overwhelmed with information. From my own experience as a student if you read too much, it can become difficult to formulate your own ideas as they get lost in all the other information. When I was studying, my own informal rule was to read 4 items at a time. Read the work then write up my notes, trying to answer the question(s) posed. That would allow me to see where the gaps were in my knowledge or where I needed more information. I could then be more focused when carrying out additional research, looking for more information.


Scanning involves looking over written text to find key words, numbers, statistics etc so you wouldn’t read the full article, book etc in detail. You’re just looking over the work to find the key words etc.

Using scanning (and skimming which we’ll look at next) allows you to quickly go through work to determine what is likely to be relevant so you can focus on reading more worthwhile texts, making better use of your time.


There are a range of techniques that are all classified as skimming. But collectively these allow you to quickly review materials to see if they are going to be relevant for you. Carry out the steps indicated below – but you only need to move from one step to the next if you identify the key words etc you are looking for, otherwise you’re finished with that text and can move on to the next one.

Using Indexes/Contents Pages

You will have an idea of what you’re looking for – you don’t want to read a whole history book if you only want to know about one particular event. You would go through the List of Contents or the Index to see if the events (or the year) are listed. I’d do the same with the contents section of a book.

I usually then put bookmarks at the relevant pages so I can examine them in detail later. Sometimes I’d scan a section to look for the key words. Other times, I’d want to use additional skimming techniques which are outlined below. Using these approaches I can get through a full book in 30 minutes.

Chapters and paragraphs

At the beginning of a chapter, when you’re not sure if its relevant, read the first paragraph (the introduction to the chapter) as it will let you know what’s going to be in the chapter – so if your event or the appropriate time period hasn’t been mentioned, you can probably skip the chapter. I’d read the final paragraph/conclusion to the chapter, just to be sure as it should tell you what’s been discussed in the chapter.

If you read a chapter introduction and think it might be relevant, you’re not yet at the stage of reading it. Rather than reading a full chapter, you want to find the sections within the chapter that you might need to read. Read the first few lines or the first sentence of a paragraph to see where the focus is in the chapter – so rather than reading full paragraphs, you’re simply skimming the first and last few lines of each paragraph you might end up with a few pages to read (which you can mark and return to read after skimming the rest of the book/article etc). This should help you manage your reading workload so you don’t end up overloaded and will be able to relax and be more focused on your actual reading.


One final skimming technique that might be helpful, particularly if you’re reading academic journals, is to read the Abstract of the article (the bit at the beginning before you start reading the article. Don’t even look at the article until you have reviewed the abstract/executive summary as it should highlight the key points in the article itself. So you should know from reading the abstract, whether or not the article is relevant.


So to pull everything together, improve your reading technique and focus by

  1. Using relevant and up-to-date information
  2. Identify and be clear about your search terms and key words
  3. Don’t overload yourself with reading
  4. Scanning
  5. Skimming
    • Contents/Index
    • Introductions/Conclusions
    • First and Last lines of paragraphs
    • Read Abstracts/Executive Summaries

Hopefully my tips will help you better focus when reading; giving you some coping strategies. I’d love to hear how you get on or if you have any additional tips or comments you can share with other students, please make use of the comments section.

In my next post in the series, I’ll be exploring the different sources of information we can use for research to ensure you can be a critical thinker, we’ll consider some of the factors that help us decide if a source is reliable and trustworthy.

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  1. This is great, Brenda! Information overload is such a real thing these days. And even for those of us not currently enrolled in formal education, we’re still continually learning. I really appreciate you sharing these techniques, and will put them to good use!

  2. My university educated wife has been taught how to Scan and skim. I, a college grad will read an article as she reads her copy. She finishes first every time and understands the subject matter. I too understand, but I’ve read every word.

    • It is a good skill to develop. You need to get the information from a text quickly. It’s also a skill which stays with you. Thanks for reading and commenting Kevin

  3. That’s a great amount of reading in this blog itself 😅
    I do love reading.
    But I love reading self help books a lot.
    I read in morning. I also consuming content from LinkedIn.

  4. Great article, thank you for sharing your tips on how to improve reading skills. I found your suggestions to be practical and easy to implement in daily life. I particularly liked the idea of setting specific reading goals and tracking progress. I will definitely try to implement these tips and see how it improves my reading skills. Thanks for sharing this valuable information.

  5. Great advice again. Exactly how, with a fair bit of guidance and then ongoing practice, I carried through nurse degree and then on to Masters a few years later. Interestingly we would look back more than five years at times when in nurse practice. Comparison study is of huge benefit. Even with timelines much, much further back. Especially, as you say, where seminal work can guide too. You state Covid. I looked back at the SAR’s epidemic of 2003 to gain a broader insight. Pain? The McGill studies identify adjectives description of pain experience as to source, type and location of pain. Neural, muscular, inflammatory, etc. These guides you have proffered are brilliant. Mind you…’s nice not to have to study at such levels anymore. 😊 All the best and thank you for giving others your professional advice. Having been there I understand that your content material and sound thinking is a lifesaver.

    • Thank you Gray. Its always interesting to hear feedback from different disciplines. I guess in business and management thinking can sometimes change quickly. The CIPD prefer work to be within that 5 year time period and it can and does impact on grades

      • When I have been reading your insights I kind of understand the career disciplines you are targeting. Education is a massive environment and much analysis is required in different arenas. Study and doing it well in generic considerations pretty much touches all areas of learning though and you have described processes needed perfectly. It’s those considerations of ongoing knowledge application when in our chosen careers. There are always those little tweaks needed. Imagine being an archeology or history student. 😆

      • I know exactly what you mean. I think sometimes it would be easier to teach history rather than HR which is dynamic and constantly shifting. Employment law changes regularly, but just think of the upheaval Covid and our lockdowns have had and how much of an impact that has had on the world of work. All thr industrial action right now in the UK, and the impact too of Brexit on the supply of migrant labour. Sometimes I feel like I’m still a student, there is still so much learning involved in my job

      • It’s good to see an academic mind working like yours. The World politics and general upheaval in the fields you mention have been a pretty awful in reality. I still get Medscaoe emails through and can continue to monitor Covid aftermath. I remember chatting to a doctor on our ward round when Covid was in its infancy. We said that in five years we will look back in awe at our naive thoughts and considered interventions on it all. The political agenda and stance as well as, at the time, unknown virus long term impact. Reading current updates? I have actually begun to avoid reading now. Fountain pens, coffee and biccies and current DIY blogging thoughts are far more comforting. 😊 All the best.

      • Coffee and biccies definitely sound good … standing in the cold at the station waiting for a taxi to the college

      • Brrrrrrr! I used to catch 06.00 bus daily to get to Carmarthen from Aberystwyth. Three years training and this was University placement. A very low monthly bursary meant a fifth paid out from it on bus fairs. All the added costs of living and college books, equipment needs? You can imagine. Nurses, even in training, find it a massive struggle. Keep warm! All the best.

  6. Some useful tips here, Brenda. Although I am no longer involved in education I still do a lot of research for my writing. It’s always good to refresh and re-visit some of the skills. Thank you.

  7. Spectacular and thought provoking blog and content Brenda. I love the tips and tricks here that helps not only students at higher institutions to develop and improve literacy and reading skills but this post is useful to every reader and blogger.

    It is very easy to read an article and I like this point of “Figuring what you want to search for” and “Scanning” , I feel like it makes Reding easier plus it is less time consuming.

    When I was a Student at University, I loved reading books at the library but I didn’t read everything , I used skimming technique to read material that is relevant to me either starting with the abstract or just reading a chapter or a paragraph.

    I cant wait to read about the next part of these series about research. Have a great day👏👏

    • Thanks for your feedback. It’s so encouraging to see so many people finding my posts interesting and helpful. Thank you 😊

  8. Thank you so much for sharing this. I will share it with my cousins who are in school.

    • I am sorry that I’m just picking up your comment just now – it was in my spam folder. I’m glad you found it useful/helpful. Thank you for sharing. 🙂

  9. This is a really helpful post especially as I may be going to university in September and reading will be a big part of my journal. Thank you for sharing these helpful tips.


    • I’m really looking forward to hearing about your experiences once you get started.
      Hope you’re well, Lauren 🙃

  10. This is really helpful. I write non fiction articles for magazine and often end up drowning in a sea of information as there is just so much available, which then means progress on my writing is slow. So I will take on board these great tips – thank you 🙂

    • I’m glad I’ve given you some pointers. It would be interesting to hear how you get on. Good luck Warbo

  11. It has been almost 3 years since I read my social science subject books with full interest, enjoyment and focus. This gap is large. Now when I compare this to Post Graduation (PG) books for MA History, I’m overwhelmed and usually lost in lengthy and heavy books.

    This blog post has some important inputs. I was doing some terrible mistakes (reading everything). I’ll apply these points, and provide you my feedback. Thank you 😊

  12. Thank you Lokesh. Definitely skills worth developing. 🙃 however, sometimes textbooks can just be hard going 😵‍💫

  13. I found this post very useful. I had enrolled in a doctoral program and had to drop out because I was burdened by the reading assignments. But in reality, I was trying to read everything as you mentioned in this post. I wish I had known the art of reading before enrolling in the course.

    • Thank you Blaise. I think we academics forget that students might not have these skills and need to learn them. I’m hoping my students are reading my posts 🙂

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