Reading for research

Reading is an important part of studying and an essential part of the research process. Feeling overwhelmed by your reading list? Try the following approach and learn which strategies and techniques you can use. Discover the way that works best for you and make reading more effective and enjoyable.

Source: ClkerFreeVectorImages. (2014). A man carefully reading a book

There you are with a pile of publications. How do you tackle it as efficiently as possible? The good news is: you don’t have to read all of them from the beginning until the end!
Just start by following the steps mentioned below:

  1. Decide how much time you have
  2. Before reading information scan it
  3. Zoom in on the useful information
  4. Ask yourself questions
  5. Take notes

1. Decide how much time you have

Depending on the time period of the project you are working on, decide how much time is available for reading, understanding and analysing the literature. Don’t underestimate the time you need and be realistic about how much you can read in the time available.

2. Before reading information scan it

3. Zoom in on the useful information

Scanning the information will help you to decide on or select which articles, books etc. you will read in more detail. If the text is complicated and contains a lot of information, you may need to read it more than once to fully understand it.

4. Ask yourself questions

Be critical about what you read and ask yourself questions such as:

  • How does the author know this and does he give any scientific evidence?
  • How does this compare to other things I have read or know?
  • Do I understand the methodology, reasoning and evidence?
  • Do I agree with this author?

5. Take notes

Think about the purpose of your reading: take notes about how you can use the information in your paper. When taking notes, link them to the document or reference of the source to make sure you can find it back later. Also use your own words in order to avoid potential plagiarism.
Take notes about:

  • What does the author say, and where (so you can find it again).
  • Do I agree?
  • Which other publications does this author agree or disagree with.

There are many free mind mapping tools and tutorials available. Most tools require an account, for instance CoggleMindmeister and Wisemapping. If you don’t want to register yourself you can use Mindmup, but the capacity and functionalities are limited.
For more information on free and open source mind mapping tools you can consult this blog.

Learning how to read for research requires a lot of practice. The table below summarizes advanced reading strategies and techniques. You can use this as a checklist during your reading process.

Strategies and techniques Rationale
Read the whole thing Major arguments and evidence matter more than details. Grasping the structure of the whole is more important than reading every word.
Decide how much time you will spend Real-world time is limited. If you know exactly how long you can actually spend on reading, you can plan how much time to devote to each item.
Have a purpose and a strategy You'll enjoy reading more, and remember it better, if you know exactly why you're reading.
Read actively Never rely on the author's structures alone. Move around in the text, following your own goals.
Read it three times  First time for overview and discovery. Second time for detail and understanding. Third time for note-taking in your own words.
Focus on parts with high information content Tables of contents, pictures, charts, headings, and other elements contain more information than body text.
Use PTML (personal text markup language) Mark up your reading with your own notes. This helps you learn and also helps you find important passages later.
Know the author(s) and organizations Authors are people with backgrounds and biases. They work in organizations that give them context and depth.
Know the intellectual context Most academic writing is part of an ongoing intellectual conversation, with debates, key figures, and paradigmatic concepts.
Use your unconscious mind Leave time between reading sessions for your mind to process the material.
Rehearse, and use multiple modes Talking, visualizing, or writing about what you've read helps you remember it.
Source: â€śSummery of reading strategies and techniques” by P.N. Edwards is licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 4.0

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Tips and tricks

Text-to-speech software
If you have difficulty reading, for example because of dyslexia, you could try text-to-speech software (or TTS) to have your computer read aloud to you. TU Delft offers a TextAid license free of charge for students with a disability.

Look for video tutorials about your topic. Do not use them as a replacement for written publications, but if you dislike reading, you can use YouTube or Apple iTunes U to find relevant video tutorials published by international top universities. A podcast can provide a good introduction to a subject.


ClkerFreeVectorImages. (2014). A man carefully reading a book [Image].

Crème, P. and Lea, M. R. (2008). Writing at university: a guide for students. (3rd ed.). Open University Press.

Edwards, P. N. (2008). How to Read a Book. (v5.0).

Mordy, J. (2021). The best 7 free and open source mind mapping software.