Skip to main content

Research 101

Read for Clarity, Take Effective Notes & Stay Organized

Top 15 Reading Strategies:

Find a distraction-free zone: Read in a quiet place, and don’t answer text messages or respond to social media posts.

Before you start reading, ask yourself prereading questions: What’s the topic? What do you already know about it? Why has the instructor assigned this reading now?

Identify and define any unfamiliar terms: It’s faster to breeze past new words, but savvy readers take time to look up unknown words.

Look for the main idea or thesis: Mark this text with brackets or an asterisk. Pay close attention to the introduction and opening paragraphs, which often reveal this information.

Write questions — and answers: As you peruse a textbook, write queries in the margins, then answer those questions in a separate notebook. This approach helps to maintain concentration; while reading, consider whether the text answers each question.

Change titles and subtitles to questions that you then seek to answer: For instance, the McGraw Center suggests that the section heading “The Gas Laws of Boyle, Charles and Avogadro” could be changed to “What are the gas laws of Boyle, Charles and Avogadro?”

Try the “what it says” exercise: Read a paragraph, then write a sentence summarizing the main point that paragraph conveys. Also think about “what it does” — does the paragraph back up the author’s thesis, introduce an opposing view or go in another direction?

Write a summary: This is a longer version of “what it says.” Write a couple of paragraphs that condense and restate an essay or chapter in your words. You can only do this if you really understand what you’ve read.

Write your own exam question based on the reading: This exercise gives students a chance to think like professor.

Describe what you have learned to someone else: Try explaining aloud what you have been studying. This exercise will move the material from your short-term memory to your long-term memory. It also will let you know if you understand the material.

Break up the reading into bite-sized sections: If an assignment seems especially daunting, break it into smaller, more manageable pieces. And when your attention wanders, stand up and take a quick break.

Start with the toughest assignments: Tackle the hardest reading first, particularly if you struggle with procrastination.

Build in rewards: After slogging through a difficult assignment, reward yourself with a break — have a snack or a chat with a friend.

Avoid rereading: There’s just too much reading in college to read one assignment multiple times. Reading the same passage over and over also is an inefficient use of time. By concentrating more deeply, you can absorb information the first time, without rereading.

Pace yourself: Reading dense, difficult material is hard work. Understand that reality, and manage your time accordingly. Few students can read effectively for hours at a time, so schedule regular breaks.

Ostrowski, J. (2020). Improving your reading comprehension skills in college: Keep you pen handy, look up new words, and don't get discouraged. Affordable Colleges Online. https://www.affordablecollegesonline.org/college-resource-center/improving-reading-comprehension/

Other Tips

  • Record the date, place, topic, and title
  • Number your pages.
  • Use color coding techniques
  • Write your citations immediately!
  • Use dark ink and write on one side of the page.
  • Use a double entry notetaking system like the "Cornell Notetaking System"
  • Write neatly. Make notes complete and clear enough to understand when you come back to them.
  • Use shorthand ('Fe' for iron, '=' for equals, '@' for at, etc.) and abbreviations. Feel free to develop your own set of abbreviations, but please put a key at the top of the page so your notes can be understood.
  • Highlight important items with asterisks or draw circles or boxes around critical info. Indentation, underscoring and starring are also effective for indicating relative importance of items. Show uncertainty with a circled question mark.
  • Leave plenty of white space for later additions. Skip lines. Leave space between main ideas.
  • Type up your notes later