Reading and research skills

Research and reading are an important part of academic study. Our tips can help you save time and improve your critical thinking.

Research involves searching for and sifting through a huge body of information using academic sources in libraries, the internet and other places. It is important you research and read effectively in order to maximise the limited time you have preparing for an assignment.

Researching effectively

Before conducting research, you should:

  • carefully analyse the assignment, essay or report question and make sure you understand what it requires you to do.
  • brainstorm/mindmap what you know about the topic already. You may like to refer to your lecture notes and course readings.
  • develop a direction for your research.


  • Start your research early! Locating books and articles always takes longer than you think. There is also the possibility that what you want is not available.
  • Reference lists or bibliographies in your course readings may provide some useful sources.
  • Make sure what you've found is relevant. Skim abstracts, table of contents, introduction and conclusion and check them against the assignment question.
  • Beware of internet sources—they may not be reliable.
  • Library databases are subject specific. They provide the bibliographic details, abstracts or even full-text of journal articles and other related publications. Ask a librarian which databases are suitable for your subject.
  • Keep a detailed bibliographic record of the sources you've found.
  • Ask a librarian or lecturer/tutor for help if you don't know where to start, or are not sure if you are on the right track.

If you are new to Victoria University of Wellington, you should join a library tour and attend a library tutorial before you need to do an assignment, essay or report. Library tours are offered during orientation and throughout the academic year. Online tutorials on how to find Library resources are available. You can also contact the librarians if you want a face-to-face session.

If you are a postgraduate student, also check out the Student Learning Postgraduate seminars and self-help guides offered by the library.

Reading Effectively

It is sometimes difficult to read effectively when you have a busy work load.

Make it easier

  • Find an easier article first to get some background familiarity to a topic.
  • Read the abstract, introduction, discussion and conclusions to get a general overview.
  • Read the article fast first—then more slowly.

Read at different speeds

The SQ3R method (Survey, Question, Read, Recall, Review) is very useful for effective reading.

Be an effective reader

  • Read so you don't have to read again.
  • Scan the article before you read, and ask 'why am I reading this material?' 'What is the writer's main point?' 'What evidence does the writer give?' 'What is the writer's conclusion?' 'Do I agree? If not, why not?' These questions will help you compare the different views or opinions of the author with your own.
  • Read a short section for 5 to 10 minutes and STOP. Think about what you read. What did I read? What don't I understand? Read the next section.
  • Underline—decide what is important or write margin notes. Read critically and evaluate objectively; start by refusing to accept everything you see in print.
  • Take notes or make a mindmap. Use examples or put information in a diagram to gain a deeper understanding of the text.
  • Talk about the article with someone.

Thinking critically

One of the most important skills at Victoria University of Wellington is critical thinking. The University aims to produce students who can think for themselves; people who can find out the facts or the theory and then apply those facts or theory to problems. It is not good enough just to understand and know lecture material and readings. You need to be able to think critically about the material, evaluate it, and apply it.

In an essay you wouldn't just write facts. You need to give an opinion or create an argument about the topic and support your argument with material from your research and your reading.

You might need to learn new skills to do this type of study successfully. Start by refusing to accept everything you see in print. Compare what the reading says with what others have said and with your own experience. Note your disagreement, agreement, objections, or comparisons in the margins. Interact with the author. Be sceptical.

Here are some questions to consider as you read:

  • Is the author an expert? What is their background? What is their purpose?
  • What perspective do they come from?
  • Is the author’s argument clear and well put?
  • Is there a bias?
  • What is the source of evidence? How reliable is it?
  • If research is used how reliable are the research methods?
  • Are there gaps in the research?
  • How does the author use information from other sources?
  • Are materials sourced?
  • How well does the author support their thesis, conclusions, and recommendations? Balance? Logic?
  • Do ideas flow clearly?
  • Is there information left out?
  • Are there other authors/ research/ articles to compare with?
  • How do these ideas link to lectures, own experience?