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In English, the relationship between reading primary and secondary texts is sometimes a difficult one. Some students prefer to read the primary text first, with an open mind and fresh approach free from prior assumptions gained from reading secondary criticism, They feel that this creates space for their own response and prioritises their own ideas. Other students find that an uninformed reading of a primary text, without the guidance of lectures or some preliminary secondary reading, results in a response that is not focussed or analytical, as they have no points of reference to respond to, and no other interpretations to bounce off. It can save time to read around a little first, so that you do not spend time reinventing established interpretations, but it is easy to feel that there is no room for you to say anything yourself. Supervisors may also have preferences about how you should approach your reading. There is no correct way, but you should take into account your own preferences and the aims of your supervisor.

Secondary reading is also undertaken differently from the way primary, literary texts are read. Confusing the two can cause problems. Many students rely on reading strategies used for literary texts inappropriately when reading secondary criticism, feeling that this is reading 'properly':

The assumption that the criteria for judging a 'good reader' are: reading the whole of a text from the first to last page, in that order, and reading from left to right with a consciousness of the worth of each word [...], [t]he fixed belief that students should understand a text at one sitting, in a similar manner to reading a novel, [are] one of the biggest barriers to academic progress. (Moira Peelo, Helping Students with Study Problems, p. 48-9).

Reading secondary criticism is a functional activity, and the appropriate strategy will depend on what type of text it is, what information it contains, and what you hope to gain from the text.