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Academic reading: What should you do while you read?

What should you do while you read?

It’s time to read for detail, which means reading almost every word to learn something from the text.

Only read relevant sections or chapters

Because you are reading with a certain purpose (such as a task you are trying to complete or to answer the question you formulated for yourself before you started reading), it is unlikely you will need to read all of the text. Therefore, only read the sections or chapters that you know are relevant to you, your task or your questions. Active readers read with purpose, which means that while you read, you should fulfil your purpose. Try to answer the questions that you have and focus on identifying the main points.

Read in chunks

Read in chunks, like paragraphs or sections. After each chunk you should stop and think about what you have read, write down a few notes or even talk out loud. If you are having a hard time remembering, slow down or read smaller chunks. Doing this will allow you to remember more and monitor your comprehension. You could even consider setting an alarm so that after 25 minutes of reading, you stop and write a short summary (50–100 words) of what you can recall. A pomodoro timer can help you keep track of the time you’ve spent reading.

Reflecting on key ideas

Read a section of text. When you have found the key points, highlight them. Try using different colors for different points, for example you might use a blue for definitions, pink one for the methods of a study and a green one for the results of a study. Another option is to make marginal notes or comments instead. Every time you feel the urge to highlight something, write instead. You can summarize the text, ask questions, (dis)agree. You can also write down key words to help you recall where important points are discussed.

Focus on topic sentences

The topic sentence is usually the first sentence of the paragraph and will typically outline the key point. The bulk of the paragraph generally takes the point, explains, develops and illustrates it. The concluding sentence often returns to the idea in the topic sentence and explains how the bulk of the paragraph has modified or developed it. So, if you want to know what a paragraph is about, read the first sentence. To find out how the author has developed this idea, read the concluding sentence.

Reread if necessary

If you don't understand a piece of text, take it slowly. Reread the paragraphs before and after the difficult passage and then re-read the tricky part. If you can’t understand the theory or concept, try looking at the text from the sentence-level before trying to understand the line of argumentation. You can do this by dividing complicated sentences into several main and subordinate clauses and take note of the signs that the author has provided in the form of ‘signal words’ like moreover, although or on the other hand (see module 5: Getting Better at Reading for more information about signal words).

After reading, you should understand at least 80% of the text including the main ideas, themes, supporting details, and the overall structure.  Keep in mind that you do not need to understand 100% of a passage to fulfil you purpose or answer your questions. If you fail to reach a sufficient understanding of the text, you could also try reading about the topic in a different source. Alternatively, you might be able to consult with fellow students who have read the same text; they might be able to help you by explaining material you do not understand.


Have a look at the article Millennials in the workplace: A Communication Perspective on Millennials' Organizational Relationships and Performance.

Use the strategies you just read to answer the following question in your own words:

What are the two main effects of the reduced power of political authorities to control multinational businesses as they grow internationally?

  • National governments are forced to compete on price
  • There is a lack of regulations that control the transnational growth of a company

The text (page 13, chapter 4) says: Globalization is weakening the power of (national) political authorities to regulate the activities of corporations that globally expand their operations. This erosion of the regulatory power of (national) hard law has two effects: it forces national governments into a race to the bottom; and it opens a regulatory vacuum for transnationally expanded corporate activities.