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How to Read for Grad School

Read strategically, not linearly

Reading assigned material for class is different than reading for pleasure, where you would read something from start to finish. It will take you twice as long to complete assigned readings if you exclusively read that way. Instead of reading linearly, opt to read strategically.

Your job is NOT to read every single word of the book.

Your job IS to:

  • Mine the text for information
  • Understand the author's main ideas and arguments
  • Be able to articulate WHY the text matters


Reading books strategically approaches the work by:Colorful stack of books

  1. Read the table of contents
    • Get an idea of the organization of the book - how granular or broad are the chapters?
  2. Read the full introduction
    • The author tells you the main points and the framework they will use in the introduction.
  3. Read the last chapter
    • This author restates their arguments and contextualizes their conclusions in the last chapter.
  4. Return to the parts you want deeper knowledge about
    • Go back to sections you found particularly interesting or relevant and do a closer read.

Read book chapters the same way:

  1. Read the beginning of the chapter
  2. Read the end of the chapter
  3. Gather evidence by skimming the middle

Journal Articles

To read a journal article strategically: Sample first page of a journal article

  1. Evaluate the journal title
    • The journal title will indicate the scope and boundaries the article is working within
  2. Read the title of the article and the abstract
    • The title and abstract will present the main argument, highlight evidence to be used, and the primary conclusions drawn by the author.
  3. Look over the introduction section
    • The introduction will demonstrate the framework the author will use in the article and their intended outcomes.
  4. Read the discussion section and the conclusion
    • This is where you will find the "why you should care" of the article.
  5. Go back and browse other sections
    • Return for details in areas you'd like to know more or to clarify your understanding

Pay attention to who the author cites as those writers/thinkers are who the author is in dialogue with. This will help you determine what perspective the author is approaching the material from, as well as help you identify further reading on the topic.

Make note of images and data visualizations and how they relate to the discussion section and conclusion of the article. 

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