Reading for research

Reading is an important part of studying and an essential part of the research process. Feeling overwhelmed by your reading list? Try the following approach and learn which strategies and techniques you can use. Discover the way that works best for you and make reading more effective and enjoyable.

image: reading for research
Source: ClkerFreeVectorImages. (2014). A man carefully reading a book

There you are with a pile of publications. How do you tackle it as efficiently as possible? The good news is: you don’t have to read all of them from the beginning until the end!
Just start by doing this:

  • Decide how much time you have
  • Superficial scan of the information
  • Zoom in on the useful information
  • Ask yourself questions
  • Take notes

Do you have any doubts about your selected publications, go to Evaluating search results

Decide how much time you have

If your paper has to in by next week, you may only have half a day for background reading. Be realistic about how much you can read in the time available.

Superficial scan of the information

For a book, scan the cover, title, table of contents (chapter titles), quickly browse for illustrations. For a journal article, look at the title, abstract and paragraph headings. Highlight or take notes of interesting or important sections.

Use our checklist “When, what and why to check” for scanning your publications.

Reading for research 022

Zoom in on the useful information

Read the chapters or paragraphs you have selected in detail. If the text is complicated and contains a lot of information, you may need to read it more than once to fully understand it.

Ask yourself questions

Be critical about what you read and ask yourself questions such as:

  • How does the author know this and does he give any scientific evidence?
  • How does this compare to other things I have read or know?
  • Do I understand the methodology, reasoning and evidence?
  • Do I agree with this author?

Take notes

Think about the purpose of your reading: take notes about how you can use the information in your paper. When taking notes, link them to the document or reference of the source to make sure you can find it back later. Also use your own words in order to avoid potential plagiarism.
Take notes about:

  • What does the author say, and where (so you can find it again)
  • Do I agree?
  • Which other publications does this author agree or disagree with

Making a mindmap can be useful for taking notes while you read or to summarize and understand what you have read. There are many free mindmapping tutorials and tools available.

For more information about reference management, go to Reference management

Learning how to read for research requires a lot of practice. Table 1 summarizes advanced reading strategies and techniques. You can use this as a checklist during your reading process.

 Table: Summary of reading strategies and techniques (Edwards, P.N.)

Source: “Summery of reading strategies and techniques” by P.N. Edwards is licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 4.0

Tips and tricks

Text-to-speech software
If you have difficulty reading, for example because of dyslexia, you could try text-to-speech software (or TTS) to have your computer read aloud to you. Windows Vista and Apple Macintosh have built-in TTS support. TU Delft offers a TextAid license free of charge for students with a disability.

Look for video tutorials about your topic. Do not use them as a replacement for written publications, but if you dislike reading, you can use YouTube or Apple iTunes U to find relevant video tutorials published by international top universities. A podcast can provide a good introduction to a subject.


ClkerFreeVectorImages. (2014). A man carefully reading a book [Image]. Retrieved May 22, 2017, from

Crème, P. and Lea, M. R. (2008). Writing at university: a guide for students. (3rd ed.). Maidenhead, England: Open University Press.

Edwards, P. N. (2008). How to Read a Book. (v5.0). Retrieved from

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