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Decolonise, democratise and diversify reading lists: Structuring reading lists

Research continues to show that little has changed since Dan Croft wrote the words above in his article Embedding constructive alignment of reading lists in course design.

There is often a fundamental mismatch between academics' expectations of how reading lists are used, and students' perceptions and interactions with them.

The University of Hull expects that each module has a reading list available to students via the online system Reading lists at Hull. This gives students easy access to the required resources, and allows academic staff to create and update their own reading lists.

Guidance and support with using Reading Lists at Hull is available here.

There is no prescribed format for lists, and teaching colleagues decide what structure to use for their module(s). This provides flexibility, but also creates confusion for students. During the semi-structured interviews conducted during the development of the University's Knowledge Management Framework, students stated that long or unstructured reading lists reduce their engagement with module reading, create anxiety, and negatively affect their morale and time management.

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Inclusive Education Framework

The University's Inclusive Education Framework states that "Being inclusive means that all students are given an equal opportunity to succeed, independent of their background or demographic characteristics."

A well designed reading list that reflects the curriculum contributes to this by (all from page 10):

  • Being transparent about the assumed knowledge and skills required for success.
  • Adopting a diverse, democratised and decolonised range of perspectives.
  • Demonstrating inclusion where possible.
  • Proactively managing and removing barriers to engagement.


When creating a reading list is it important to consider the following points before adding them into Reading Lists at Hull:

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In the 'Key considerations for course design' section of the Knowledge Management Framework, the first three questions relate to resources. You can follow the link provided to view them, and they are reproduced here:

  1. Which information resources support the subject knowledge you plan to develop? Are they already available via the Library? Can they be made available?
  2. Have you checked resources are in keeping with Reading lists at Hull policy? Do they support decolonisation of the curricula, and include diverse voices and experiences?
  3. Are resources available to suit the module’s teaching & learning schedule and mode of delivery?


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Structure your reading list

A clear structure that mirrors that of the module, will help students navigate the readings and understand how they relate to the module competences or learning outcomes. Examples include:

  • week-by-week
  • thematic
  • by activity, e.g. pre-lecture, classroom discussions, assessments, group projects
  • by lecturer (for modules taught by several people)

All of these can be subdivided by reading priority, material type, etc.

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Set clear expectations

The two main ways to add clarity to a reading list are by the use of reading priority tags, and the addition of notes.

Reading priority tags

Reading priority tags help guide students through the sources by indicating which are the most critical to successfully acquiring and understanding disciplinary knowledge.

The University of Hull has defined three priorities: Essential, Recommended, and Background. These are aligned to competence-based higher education, and were approved by Education Committee in 2020.

The definitions of Hull's reading priority tags can be found in the following online guides:


Notes - contextual and directional

When resources are added into a reading list, the system default is to include only bibliographic information. This helps students identify and reference specific titles, but leaves them guessing why the resource is included and how it relates to the module’s competencies or learning outcomes.

Adding notes gives context and direction, and helps students plan their work and manage their time.

Notes can be added into Reading lists at Hull at the following levels:

  • List - there are two fields available, a 'Public note' and a 'List summary'.
  • Section
  • Resource

There are no word or character limits to these note fields.

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Signpost to SkillsGuides and other support

You can signpost your students to sources of guidance and support such as the SkillsGuides created by the University Library, and the full range of support provided by the Skills Team.

This can be done by using the various note fields, above, or by creating a section similar to ‘Going beyond your reading list’, which is part of the standard template.

For example, in the 'Key considerations for course design' section of the Knowledge Management Framework, question five asks "How are the different skills necessary to read different sources introduced?" It notes that different types of information sources require different reading skills, and that journal articles should not be read in the same way as books.

Few students are aware of this when they first encounter articles, and you can signpost them to the SkillsGuide Reading at University which introduces the four stage approach to reading articles


Croft, D. (2018) Embedding constructive alignment of reading lists in course design. Journal of Librarianship and Information Science, 52(1), 67-74.

Reading Lists at Hull policy snapshot