notepad and pen

Reading and note-taking: top tips

Having located, bookmarked and borrowed (from the library) a range of useful and relevant sources, you are now ready to extract the information you need through effective reading and note-taking.

Effective reading

 You can’t read everything on your subject. The following process will help you to locate and select specific information you need for your assignment, quickly and efficiently.

  • Be clear what you need to find out about

Identify key words or terms connected to the information you need from your assignment question or task.

  • Skim read to identify useful sections of text

Read fast, looking for key words in contents pages, abstracts, introductions, conclusions, headings and index pages to identify chapters or sections of text that are most likely to contain the information you need.

  • Scan selected sections to locate the specific text you need

Let your eyes wander around the page searching for the key words or terms, concepts, data, figures, dates and events that you need to learn about. Mark selected passages of text (e.g. using mini post-it notes) for detailed reading later.

  • Read in detail using ‘active reading’

Read your chosen texts carefully, line for line, aware of what you need to understand and analyse e.g. background information, facts, theories and ideas.


Notes are a written summary of the academic information that you read or listen to on your course. You will need to refer to your notes as you undertake assignments, revise for exams, prepare for presentations or seminars. To ensure that your notes work well:

  • Find a note-taking style that works for you, then stick with it

– There are many different note-taking techniques – from writing bullet point lists to drawing spidergrams. For advice and examples go to the SLAS website.

  • Ensure your notes contain key ingredients

Reference details of the source you are using (author, date, title etc)

– Summary of key facts, terms, theories, points made by the author

– Key evidence/examples used by the author to support their ideas

– Your observations about the strengths/weaknesses (critical analysis) of the arguments or ideas contained in the text

  • Write notes mostly in your own words (paraphrased*), but also…

– Jot down short quotations from the author to use later as evidence, or to emphasise key points (noting the page number on which they appear)

– To avoid confusion later, use quotation marks or a highlighter pen to clearly distinguish an author’s exact words from your own in your notes

  • Make sure your notes are legible, for future use

– Use readable fonts/clear handwriting

– Tidy up your notes or redraft, as necessary, to make them easy to follow

  • Ensure your notes are clearly titled (module/topic/title of publication), dated (when you made the notes), and filed with other related materials e.g. assignment brief, for easy retrieval



For guidance on all the topics mentioned above – including Understanding the question, Effective reading, Note-taking, Referencing and Critical analysis – the Student Learning Advisory Service (SLAS) provides 1-1 appointments, workshops and study guides.