What is meant by reading widely?

Reading widely generally means you need to read from a range of academic sources. These may include the following:

  • Scholarly resources: books, journals, industry and government websites, research institution and university reports
  • Non-scholarly resources or ‘popular texts’: advertising materials, newspapers, magazines, TV programs or videos etc.

Note: ‘Popular texts’ are generally not highly regarded sources for argument in an academic essay. However, these types of sources may be useful if you are analysing the community’s viewpoint or using them to help you understand an issue. You would not most likely quote from these texts in your work unless you were writing about ‘common community perceptions’. But you would need to look for scholarly resources/academic works to support your argument in your essay.

Reading widely involves thinking about whether your gathered information presents a variety of perspectives. Also, you will need to consider how recent your information is because information, theories and practices change over time. You would usually need to have a good reason for including references more than 5 years old.

Where do I start?

  1. A good starting point is usually your subject/unit/course outline which generally has a suggested reading list or even a required reading list.

  2. Doing a catalogue search of the Library’s database is another early starting point. There is usually a specialist librarian for Health Sciences and Nursing who can assist in showing you how to access suitable databases and locate other suitable resources. Check with your university Library if you wish to use this service.

  3. The references in the articles or books you have already read can also be consulted to provide you with more references.

  4. Be creative. Sit back and think about where you might find appropriate sources of information. For example, another good source of information may be your work colleagues or your fellow students.

How much do I need to read?

There are no set rules here. As a guide it is often suggested that 10-12 items: chapters/whole books/journal articles etc. are read for a 3,000 word assignment. So a 5,000 word assignment would require reading approximately 18-20 chapters/whole books/journal articles etc. Often there is a need to read again after writing the first draft to ensure there are no 'gaps' in the assignment. Sometimes the essay writer realises the importance of including another perspective in the assignment, so will read additional sources to address this gap.

What is the difference between reading widely and reading deeply?

Reading widely is when a range of different sources are read. Reading deeply is when each text is read carefully and is analysed after reading. We can all read for information, but ‘deep ‘ reading is when we ask ourselves a range of questions about the significance or usefulness of the text after having read it.

Reading is a three stage process

Stage 1: Preview

Survey the whole text. Notice headings, graphs, charts etc. Read the introduction and conclusion carefully.

Stage 2: Identify major ideas

Use headings to locate the main points of the text. If no headings are used, then read the first sentence of every paragraph, the introduction and conclusion as your guide.

Stage 3: Reflect

Interact with what you have just read. Sit back and think about it. How does it compare with what you already know?

  • Is there agreement with other authors writing on the same topic? In what ways are the texts the same/different?

  • How does this article/chapter help your understanding of the topic?

In most circumstances, reading is best not undertaken in marathon sessions. Have a break after an hour and consolidate your reading by reflecting on the main ideas you have absorbed.