Close reading

by Melissa (Student Blogger: MA English Literature)

Reading as a student, or as a scholar, is not necessarily as obvious a skill as we might first think. It certainly doesn’t mean reading lots of difficult texts, or peppering said texts with highlighters and post-it notes (though these are often involved in the process). Scholarly reading is about making sure that you are getting the most out of your learning.


Firstly, I’m going to look at how we read the text.

This often starts with creating an environment that is right for you. Different students will tackle this in different ways; I like to stay at home where I have quick access to a tea pot and kettle, however, some people will find the temptation to slack off a little too intensely when working alone. If this sounds like you, you may benefit from studying in the library. Working at the library has the benefits of providing you with a work friendly atmosphere as well as significant resources. If, like me, you worry about spending money on snacks while studying away from home, you may want to pack a banana or energy bar to keep you going.

Being able to concentrate on your work is fairly important if you want to connect with your text. One good way to check you have understood is to try to summarise what each paragraph has tried to communicate to you, and maybe make a note in the margins to remind you later.

Your tutor may have set you some focused questions. These questions are a good way of helping you to engage with the text, and it’s a technique you can apply to yourself. You can question a text based on its themes, or even your own expectations.

The next step is to see whether the text agrees with or challenges you. You don’t need to write a formal response, running these questions through your mind will be enough to form good habits.

One good question to ask yourself is where does this text exist in lieu of other discourses. This can be relating to texts on your course, the past decade, or just in relation to anything you have read that you think has relevance.

This exercise is all about considering the text as more than just a standalone thought, but as a response, and part of a greater whole in literature.

Another good question; how reliable is this text. What is the context of it, and how will this have affected the author? Could the author be biased, and how will this affect your ability to use this source? For example, when in need of a word definition, the Oxford English Dictionary is far more reliable than a quick Google search, but as a scholar, you should also be asking yourself what version of the OED you are using, and whether it is up to date.

Sticking to the topic of bias, you will also have your own biases. It’s nothing to be ashamed of, we all have them, but they are things we should be aware of. Keeping check of your own biases will help you to maintain an open mind when encountering a theory you are unfamiliar with, and help you to avoid forcing a theoretical perspective that may not lend itself to the text you are currently studying. This gives you the opportunity to consider other (potentially better) alternatives.


Understanding methodology, or knowing how to read as a student, will be extremely useful to your university studies. It is not something that comes easily and is unlikely to score you A’s immediately. What it will do, however, is help you employ good working habits to gradually achieve a stronger connection with your course than you might have otherwise.Good luck, and comment your own experiences below!

Shopping for academic success

by Melissa (Student Blogger: MA English Literature)

Whether you are just starting, or a confident student approaching your next year of study, purchasing academic materials can often feel like a chore.Nonetheless, it’s a necessary part of most subjects.

What is a reading list?

A reading list is a list of all the books that you might need during your course. You don’t necessarily need to buy all of them, and you might not even need to read all of them! If you are experiencing any confusion over which books you are expected to buy, and those which you can avoid emptying your wallet over, please check out this article on CORE, PRIMARY, and SECONDARY texts – Getting to grips with reading lists

Why is it important to purchase texts over Summer?

Purchasing early in Summer will give you plenty of time to read ahead of your course, thus giving you more time to study at a relaxed pace later, or a few extra nights on the town during term. Early reading also means that you have more time to thoughtfully consider the texts which you will later be expected to argue, explain, and reference. It can be useful to leave reminders in the margins when reading ahead of your course, this way, you won’t forget any essay ideas or questions you have for your seminars.

The First Step to preparing for the next academic year is to find out what texts you will need. The method for achieving this differs between tutors and courses, as some modules do not finalise their chosen texts until the start of the year. If this your case, I advise sending an email inquiring your tutor(s) about which texts you will be safe to buy without worry of them being swapped out by October. Asking about texts shows enthusiasm in your studies, which is sure to please your tutors as well as benefit you.

If you are lucky enough to be in a course which details its reading list in the course description (such as most Literature modules), then congratulations; you have already completed step one!

The Second Step, once you have acquired your list of materials, is time to purchase your texts. Academic books can be expensive and sometimes tutors will ask for specific editions of certain texts, so it is important to spend some time researching your texts.

It is important to note the wealth of free resources available to you as a Lancaster University student before you start buying books. You can login to the student portal to access OneSearch (at the top right of the Moodle home page) which allows you to search for texts you can read for free online through the library, or it will direct you to services such as JSTOR and EBSCO which contain various academic journals for you to peruse. Be wary that you may not need to buy all of your books, and that some older texts may even be available as royalty free pdfs accessible via popular search engines.

High street book shops can be expensive, but useful in a hurry. Our campus bookshop stocks a range of books specifically requested by tutors from the university, so if you find yourself in a tizzy because you left your primary texts by the beach, it might be worth stopping by.

Online stores are good alternatives, especially when buying second hand. Books described as containing notes often function as an echo of seminars gone by, and help me to consider particular passages from new angles outside of university seminars.

Student managed Facebook groups may also be worth searching for, as older students wanting to offload last year’s books may have materials that you can haggle for cheaper prices.

The Final Step is to start reading! Don’t push yourself too hard as it is your summer break. You might choose to leave the heavier texts for later, but any reading is a success and a chance to get ahead of your peers. I advise a cup of tea and a cookie with every chapter!

Getting to grips with reading lists

by Melissa (Student Blogger: MA English Literature)

When approaching your reading list at the beginning of the academic year, you might find yourself in some difficulty comprehending which texts you will be expected to have read completely, and those which only require you to glance over a chapter or two. Of course, all academic reading is good for broadening your mind, but prioritising your reading will help you to manage your time effectively.

To begin with, you need to differentiate which texts are CORE, PRIMARY, and SECONDARY. This is an essential task to complete before buying any of your texts, as these boundaries will determine whether a book is necessary for you to own, or whether you can get by on extracts provided by your tutors.

A CORE TEXT is a text that is deemed essential to your learning. You will probably be expected to write essays on it and will need to read it thoroughly. You should own a copy of any core texts that you will need so that you can make efficient notes on them, and have them ready to reference in seminars. ‘Owning’ a copy of a text counts as either a physical or a virtual copy. You can identify a ‘core text’ as a text which will be used in multiple weeks throughout your course.

A PRIMARY TEXT is similar to a core text, but slightly less important. Where you will almost definitely be expected to write about a core text, you have the option to choose which of your primary texts you will discuss in detail. Your primary texts can be identified as texts that you will likely spend one week on during your course. You are expected to own all primary texts, but you won’t be writing essays on every suggested book, so it’s okay to forego the odd book if you are struggling scheduling your reading time.

A SECONDARY TEXT is rarely necessary to own, and is often as little as a chapter or journal article. Secondary texts can be identified as academic critiques which you will reference in essays to explain, reinforce, or add flavour to your own ideas. They will rarely be the main focus of any week in a course, but often appear at the end of reading lists as suggestions to compliment your primary and core texts. Secondary texts tend to be on the more expensive side of university reading lists, so in most cases, it is best to wait to see if your tutor will provide you with the necessary extracts, or whether the library has any spare copies. Secondary texts are suggestions, and while you will need them, you have more freedom over which ones you decide use in your essays.

DON’T WORRY! Not all courses (Maths) have lengthy reading lists. Some courses, like Philosophy, focus on academic journals and articles rather than reading entire books cover-to-cover. If you do have a long reading list, however, it can be useful to apply these terms to your buying and reading habits. Good luck!