Unlike many of the science students you know, you are unlikely to have a fixed textbook for each of your papers. Instead we tend to give students long reading lists, which often cause anxiety and a feeling of overwhelming pressure to read everything on the list. So how can you cope with your reading, especially if reading is a core activity in your schedule
Tips for coping with your reading
- RAID, don’t read! It is perfectly fine – in fact, it is often a necessity – to skim through your texts. Look at the index to see what topics are covered
- Read introductions and conclusions (and the dust jacket of the book if it still has it!).
- Browse through a weighty volume and look at the chapter headings and sub-headings in the text to see which bits you need to focus on – you can always read more if something is of interest to you or useful for an essay.
- Look at the bibliography and footnotes to see the building blocks of the text.
- Be selective; look at your reading list and prioritise according to your needs.
- A monograph will give you specialist research on a subject, but a journal article might be quicker to read and assimilate (usually being shorter). Articles in journals also often encapsulate what might later appear at greater length in a book on the subject.
- Are you already familiar with the topic? Then you may not need to read everything on the list. If the topic is entirely new to you, then you might be better off reading more closely a larger proportion of the list.
- Always ask yourself ‘Why should I read this? When will I use the content?’. Have in mind all the time a purpose for your reading, whether for an essay you are planning or for an exam paper that you want to take.
- Your aim in reading anything should be: Read, Assimilate, Synthesise. You will not get marks just for having read a book or article unless you can process that reading and use it in your work.
- Get into the habit of making notes on your reading (and noting page numbers). Always organise your notes to allow you to see how they relate. This will make revision much easier, and will also let you see more easily where any gaps in your coverage of a topic might be.
- Most of the reading you do for a history essay will be of secondary sources – historians writing about a subject. Vary your reading by trying to find primary source material; this is what history is based on, and it will really help you to get to the heart of being a historian to read this and form your own opinion. Read primary material more slowly than is often necessary for secondary material.
Find unusual material
- Read things like the acknowledgements an author makes to gain an understanding of how they have worked to produce this book.
- It is valuable to be able to identify what school of thought a historian belongs to, and what archival material they have used to build on in their study.
- Look at the author’s bibliography – what texts have they consulted? What other reading have they done? What disciplinary cross-over has gone on to provide a solid background and context for their theory? Is this something you can replicate yourself?
- Find out whether there is a good website devoted to the subject you are studying.
Book reviews are also a good source of potential further reading; most Journals have book reviews, where the reading has been done for you and a short summary will be provided – along with comments about good and bad points in the book and often even a comment about whether this is the definitive book on this topic for all time, or Dr X wrote a better one.
A few journals will also carry literature reviews on a subject or essays reviewing the landscape – these can be extremely helpful in giving you an insight into a topic and help to shape your own further reading.
And finally, online resources can often help; try JSTOR: (http://www.jstor.org/) where the contents of over 1000 journals can be accessed.
When in doubt – ask your supervisor. They will be very happy to discuss further reading with you.
Remember that supervisions are meant to be a service to you, so don’t hesitate to bring your own questions about your reading or reading requirements to discuss with your supervisor.