We encourage you to read all of the information below, but if you're short on time and want to get started, here is a downloadable Quick Guide that contains an outline of the information below.
What does it mean to read actively?
This may seem like a strange concept on the surface, since reading itself is an activity. Reading actively, though, is much more intentional: it’s about reading with purpose. This approach involves making meaning of the reading, and taking specific steps during the reading process.
What are the benefits?
Have you ever read an assigned chapter or article, and upon finishing it you say to yourself, “I have no idea what I just read!”? This is a common experience, and a huge waste of time! Reading actively will save you time. Just as importantly, it’ll increase your memory of the reading, your understanding of the material, and your overall learning by helping you make connections as you read.
How do I use this approach?
Before you even begin the reading process, take a moment to ask yourself, “Why was this reading assigned?” Your professors select readings intentionally, with specific content and concepts to be covered. By understanding the context or the “why”, the brain will already be looking for the most relevant information. If reading an article or chapter as part of your own research or writing process, ask yourself, “What is it I need to find from this source? How is it connected to my research question or the main idea of my paper?”
As you start to read, consider using the SQ3R method, a tried-and-true approach for efficiently tackling college-level material. SQ3R stands for Survey, Question, Read, Recite, and Review. You can also review a summary of the SQ3R method or watch our Reading Actively video for step-by-step guidance.
One More Strategy
In addition to the active reading process described above, we have one more tip if you are gathering and reading several sources for your research or writing. It can be very easy to lose track of which article or source had what information. To help keep track, consider creating an annotated bibliography. “Annotate” just means to add notes or explain. After reading one of your sources, take a few moments to document the name of the source, followed by a brief summary in your own words of the big ideas or “takeaways”. Taking this step after reading each of your sources will help you save time, make connections between the sources during your research process, organize the information in preparation for the formal writing process, and make meaning of the reading!
Are there any related technologies?
If you’re reading on an electronic device, it can be very helpful to use an application such as Notable, which allows you to make notes on the document as you’re reading.
Where can I get more information?
Some of the description of SQ3R came from this Wikipedia entry. While not a source we would recommend if writing a research paper, it offers an overview of the SQ3R method, including historical context and links to additional SQ3R resources. Please also consider watching our Reading Actively video featured on our Learning Commons YouTube channel. For examples of annotated bibliographies, you may want to visit the Purdue Online Writing Lab site.