Good essay writing involves doing a considerable amount of reading. Your aims are to:
1. Understand the issue(s) referred to in the essay topic
2. Develop a view (an answer to the question)
3. Gather examples and evidence to support the view that you will put forward
Your examples and evidence must be referenced using the referencing format required by your department.
When you're reading academic texts, pay attention to how authors structure their arguments. How did they state their aim? How did they move from point to point? How did they use evidence?
You should not attempt to read everything you come across that might be vaguely relevant to the topic. If you have taken the time to think about the essay topic, you will start your research and reading with thoughts in mind that will direct you to answering the question. In other words, you’ll be engaged in active research targeted to the requirements of the essay – a much more effective way to undertake your reading.
It's important to approach your reading as an active thinker. Scholars are not the Voice of Authority and their works should not be passively absorbed as 'undisputed fact'.
If you think carefully about the claims you encounter in your reading, you will be able to develop your own view on the issue, and discuss the views of others in a considered and convincing way. When lecturers tell you to use your reading rather than simply repeat the ideas in your reading, this is what they mean.