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Reading at university: Stage 2 - First 'read'

Now you have an idea of what the article is about, you can start to get into the detail of it.

Beginning to end

This is the stage at which you will start reading at the beginning of the article and proceed to the end. This is always easier to do in print, and there is plenty of research that demonstrates this helps achieve a deeper engagement with an article than reading on a computer or other device.

As with the first stage, you should be thinking about why you are reading this article. You are not looking to just find anything of interest. Your reading should be focused on the seminar, essay or exam you are preparing for and you should refer to any guidance given to help you with this.

Things to look for

When reading, take it a paragraph at a time. Each paragraph should contribute a point towards the overall article, and you should try to identify this as you go along. You should annotate, underline, highlight and identify the following as you go along:

Main point of each paragraph (and hence the main points of the article)

Evidence that the author has used to support their points/statements (see footnotes or other references)

Questions you have

Important points in relation to your essay/seminar

Things you do not understand

Things you may need to look up

If you do get stuck on a paragraph or point, make note of it and come back to it later. It is important to never give up, and often things you read later in an article will help you understand earlier points. Once you have finished reading the article, you can look things up if you still do not understand and think it is relevant. There is nothing wrong in reading and re-reading any part of an article. This is exactly what academic reading looks like!

While it is important to identify the elements above when reading, try to avoid making very detailed notes while reading at this stage as this is just a distraction. Also try to avoid looking things up as you go along. Just make a note of anything you don’t understand and revisit it later. While this may seem counter-intuitive, both of these processes can break up reading and slow you down. Instead, you should simply highlight or underline things as you go. You can use one colour or style for things of relevance, and another for things you need to look up later. Punctuation and/or icons can also be useful here:


This is important


I don't understand


I need to look this up later


Topic A


Topic B

You can of course make up your own shorthand code. If you feel you need to make more detailed notes, then do so. It is about finding an approach that works for you.

Ready to move to stage 3?

Now that you have completed your first full read, you should have a deeper understanding of what the article is about. At this stage, you still will not know it to the fullest level of detail and it will require further reading, note making and thought. Deepening your understanding and really analysing the article is covered in the next stage. When it comes to any academic article, no single read will provide you with the maximum level of understanding. You need to continue to work through the text to develop this. This takes time, but effort is always rewarded with understanding.


Practice activity

How successful was Joseph Stalin in establishing Soviet Union as a superpower?

Can you begin to form questions, find evidence, identify main points and note things you do not understand or need to look up?


Example copy from stage 1:

Thumbnail of blank copy


Example annotated copy:

thumbnail of example article completed

Article by Majkowski (2017) used under license (CC-BY-NC)