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Academic reading: Intensive and extensive reading

Intensive and extensive reading

Now you have learned something about skimming and scanning, you of course want to know how you must understand a whole text when you are reading. In this paragraph, you will find out the difference between extensive and intensive reading.

Extensive reading

In extensive reading, you read a longer piece of text with the goal of improving reading fluency and speed. That is why readers look for easy and interesting texts, with only a few unfamiliar words. It’s not important to understand every single word, but it’s more important to get the basic concept. This extensive reading method will give you the opportunity to read lots of material and that will also influence your reading speed and reading fluency. Have a look at module 5 to read more about this topic.

Intensive reading

Imagine you are reading an article on amortization: the running down or payment of a loan by instalments. You might encounter some specific scientific terms you are not very familiar with. Skimming is not enough if you need to understand everything in the article (from grammar and vocabulary to the purpose of the author and the meaning). Reading intensively can help you to get a deeper understanding of the text.

If you must understand the text in detail, you can use the strategy of intensive reading. With that strategy, you read the text with full concentration for certain learning objectives. When you, for example, are reading a report for work you can just skim it to understand it. But if you would like to get a deeper understanding of what’s written, assess the purpose and evaluate the results, you must dive deeper into the text. In an academic context, for example, you may have to fully understand an author’s argumentation and reasoning in order to analyze this for an assignment for a course you are taking, which you can't do simply by skimming a text.

You may well need to look up unfamiliar words and concepts (see next paragraph) because the aim is to extract the exact meaning of particular pieces of text as much as possible. Other goals include understanding the core of the text, improving grammar and vocabulary, develop critical thinking and making inferences and identifying main ideas.

How to use the strategy of intensive reading?

  1. Take notes. Taking notes can be very helpful when you are reading a long report. See module 4 for more information about this.
  2. Break down the reading process in three steps: pre-reading (activate prior knowledge), the actual reading process (reading by note-taking) and post-reading (summarize information, and organize your thoughts).