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Library Guides

School of Arts Library Guide: Reading, writing, thinking


This page is designed to prompt reflection on your practice in the following areas: reading, research, note taking, and writing.  These are very much overlapping domains, so look out for the common themes across these areas.

Approaches to learning

Changing your approach to learning

Graham Gibbs below sets out four key areas that have been shown to positively impact students effectiveness as learners.  These areas are not only relevant for learning at university, but relevant to lifelong learning. 

It has more impact on educational effectiveness to change learners than it does to change teachers

Short article by Graham Gibbs in the series 53 Powerful Ideas All Teachers Should Know About (15 minute read)



Reading as a student

In the article 'It has more impact on educational effectiveness to change learners than it does to change teachers' Graham Gibbs contrasts the different approaches to reading of two types of student.  One student reads everything in the same way and without purpose:

Well I cast my eyes across the rows till I got to the bottom and then turned over!

The other reads much more actively, linking the reading to specific objectives and questions. 

Well I wasn’t sure if this chapter would help me with the section on X in my essay so I did a quick skim first to see if it was worthwhile – and it was – it had several sections on exactly what I was looking for. So I then started taking notes on the three things I had spotted. I read those sections carefully and went back over bits I had not grasped properly the first time, and wrote some notes that will help with the sentences I need to write on that. Then finally I had a quick scan forwards to see if there was anything else I had missed.

The following video may help you think about your own approach to reading.

Informational research - reading with purpose

Evaluating sources

The Google Effect - critical reading

With so much information and misinformation available online, it is more important than ever to read critically.  This section includes an extract from an article by Tara Brabazon which sets out ten pivotal questions to ask of a text, and is a useful framework to follow.

'The Google Effect' (2006) is a ten page article on the difference between academic research and using Google.  I have quoted the key message below, but it is worth reading in its entirety even though it was written some time ago.  It will give you an idea of the approach to research that most academics expect. 


Our first lessons in schools and universities must teach and re-teach how to evaluate the quality of all information, including Internet-based data. I encourage students to ask ten pivotal questions as they approach any text, and attempt to build an interpretative matrix from it.

  1. Who authored the information?

  2. What expertise does the writer have to comment?

  3. What evidence is used? Are there citations in the piece?

  4. What genre is the document: journalism, academic paper, blog, polemic?

  5. Is the site/document/report funded by an institution?

  6. What argument is being made?

  7. When was the text produced?

  8. Why did this information emerge at this point in history?

  9. Who is the audience for this information?

  10. What is not being discussed and what are the political consequences of that absence?


Brabazon, T. (2006) 'The Google Effect', Libri, Vol. 56, No. 3, September 2006, pp. 157-67. 


How to impress / ‘distress’ lecturers

Any writing task requires you to synthesise the other aspects of your research practice - your approach to learning, your critical reading, note taking, referencing etc.  However, it is also worth noting the suggestion below that the top thing that impresses or distresses lecturers when marking written assignments is language, grammar, and expression.

When lecturers (1) were asked about what impressed or distressed them when marking student essays, the following features were most frequently cited (in order of frequency):

  • Language, grammar and expression
  • Referencing
  • Presentation
  • Introductions and conclusions
  • Critical analysis, perspective and argument (rather than mere description)
  • Structure
  • Following/Not following guidelines relating to answering the question and criteria
  • Reading/Failing to read the relevant literature

Pete Greasley & Andrea Cassidy (2010) When it comes round to marking assignments: how to impress and how to ‘distress’ lecturers …, Assessment & Evaluation in Higher Education, 35:2, 173-189, DOI: 10.1080/02602930802691564

1. 32 responses from Health, and Social Sciences and Humanities departments at Bradford University


Grammarly - subscription required for the full version

You might try Grammarly to help you with your writing.

Appointments to review your writing

There are one-to-one appointments available to discuss your writing with Academic Learning Advisors, or with Royal Literary Fund Fellows.


Harvard Referencing exercise

Login to your university Googlemail account to access this Harvard referencing sample to see what Harvard referencing looks like in practice. Even if you are using a running notes style this is still useful. The notes also explain the basic principles of referencing.  

Look at:

  • the composition of the in-text references (citations)
  • the composition of the list of references
  • the balance between direct quotations and the use of paraphrase or summary
  • the different verbs used to introduce sources (i.e. lists, define, points, state, explain)

There are a series of questions with answers to help develop your understanding of referencing practice.

Critical reasoning

Critical reasoning

Critical Reasoning for Beginners - a free Oxford University course, focusing on identifying and evaluating different types of argument.  If you are at all interested in this area, its definitely worth taking.  It is interesting, but also quite a commitment - about six hours.