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Types of reading:
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Different types of reading

It is a common misconception that there is 'only one way to read'. But if you think about it, do you really read everything in the same way. Take the two examples below, for instance:

Example A:
To be, or not to be--that is the question:
Whether 'tis nobler in the mind to suffer
The slings and arrows of outrageous fortune
Or to take arms against a sea of troubles
And by opposing end them.

Example B:

MacDonalds £7.32
University Bookshop £15.99
Jazz Clothing Store £19.00
Mobile Telephone £315.23
Union Shop £3.12
Total £360.66

While in Example A you may struggle to seek out the inner meaning, in Example B you are probably only interested in one or two details (or perhaps it's the other way around). Either way, you are using two very different styles of reading.

In fact, there are as many as five types of reading that you could use at university, and the good news is that you probably already use most of them in some form or another:

The trick in your studies is to match the type of reading to the type of material. Here's a brief description of each type of reading and some examples of the sort of academic material they are best suited to. At the end of this section you will have an opportunity to practice some of the different types.

  1. Skim reading. This is probably the one alternative reading style that most people are familiar with. The eye jumps across the page, looking for specific words or phrases that it expects to find. Many of us skim read our bank statements, as in the example above, since we are looking for specific information. In academic terms, skim reading can be a useful tool too. Some examples of where you can effectively skim read are: abstracts, contents pages, reading lists and indexes.

  2. Narrative reading. If academics have a criticism of students' reading skills, it is probably that they tend to read too uncritically. This is what is meant by narrative reading. It's the type of reading you do when you are just following the plot of a novel; you don't look too deeply for meaning or contradictions in the text, you're mainly interested in the gist of what is happening. Some examples of where you can effectively use narrative reading are: general textbooks that provide a subject overview; the student handbook; newspapers; letters from home.

  3. Proof Reading. Although this type of reading sounds boring, a few minutes spent in proper proof reading (rather than narrative reading, which is what many students think passes as proof reading), will pay real dividends when your work is marked. The idea is to pick up any mistakes you have made, so the trick is to read what you have written, rather than what you meant to write. The best way to do this is to have someone else read it; alternatively, try reading your work back to front, from the last paragraph through to the first sentence, or reading it out loud. You should proof read every piece of work you submit.

  4. Reading for Content. Here you are interested in gaining information, so unlike narrative reading, you should have some idea of what it is you want to know. If the author is not furnishing this, stop reading! So key here, is before you even start to read, think to yourself: 'what am I expecting to gain from this?' If you prime your mind before like this, when you read through the text carefully, the relevant bits should leap out at you. This is probably the most frequent type of reading you'll do, in your first year, at least. You'll use it for the many articles, papers and books you need to read to complete your degree.

  5. Reading for Meaning. You might not think that there's much difference between reading for content and reading for meaning, but read on - the two complement each other, and distinguishing between them can save you lots of time and effort. Reading for meaning is the deepest level of reading. Here you should already know the gist or context of the text (narrative/skim reading); you should probably also know much of the information it deals with (reading for content). What you are after then, are the fine nuances of the text; the things the author hasn't said, as much as the things he/she has included; the justifications and the doubts; the educated guesses and the clever deceptions. This is critical reading, and you'll need it to create the analytical arguments you use in your essays.