Activity Fourteen Trying out different reading strategies

Choose something that you need to read for one of your assignments. Work through the questions above for 'fitting together' reading and 'analytic' reading. Can you identify which kind of reading seems most useful for you at this stage of writing your assignment? You might find that they are equally important.

As we said before, the important thing to remember about reading is that you, the reader, are active in making meaning from what you read. Making sense of what you read is your responsibility, but unfortunately you will find that some academic books and articles are written in ways that make it very difficult for the reader to unpack what the author is trying to convey. We have been emphasizing that the understanding that you get from the text depends to some extent on your own ways of reading. The approaches that we illustrate above are not necessarily kept separate when you are reading. You may well be adopting both at the same time, in a sense reading at a number of different levels simultaneously. You may be reading for very specific information about a topic or subject matter. In that case, you may need to pay particular attention to factual information - for example, dates, names or places. On the other hand, you may be reading to understand much more generally a particular theoretical position - for example, what one psychologist says about child development, as opposed to what another author says about the same thing. In this case, as you read, you will be both analysing the ideas of the author you are reading and comparing them with what you already know. You may be reading a novel or a poem and will therefore be concerned most with interpreting it from your own understanding and perspective.

However you are reading, try to pay attention to the ways in which the author has put the text together:

• If he uses quotes, why has he used them and how has he integrated them into the text?

• If graphs or tables are used how do they fit together? How are these referred to in the text so that the reader knows when to look at them?

• How do different authors reference other sources or use footnotes?

You can use this knowledge when you come to do your own writing. One of the most difficult things about academic writing is incorporating all the different bits and pieces of what you want to say. As we have said, if you pay attention to the work of the authors that you are reading, you will begin to get a flavour of how to do the same things in your own writing.

Pay particular attention to how quotes are used. In student writing it is easy for quotes to stick out like a sore thumb. They need to fit in with the general flow of the text, but how they are used can depend very much on the subject area in which you are writing. It is best to use a quote to support (with references) what you have said or are intending to say. It is unwise to let the quote do the work for you. A quote is always somebody else's words and it is more interesting for the reader to read what you have to say rather than a series of quotes interspersed by your words. Thinking about this while you are reading for your studies will help you to get an idea of how to use quotes or cite evidence for yourself. We discuss this in more detail in Chapter 8.

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