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UT Austin Professor Kevin Dalby Provides Five Simple Steps for Quickly Reading Academic Texts

Originally published on

Reading academic texts can be a challenging and time-consuming process. From statistics and data to in-depth analysis and new concepts, reading an academic text is much more exhausting than simply reading a novel in your spare time. 

The process of reading multiple academic texts can be quite daunting, especially if you're on a time crunch. But, there are ways you can quickly read them without sacrificing your comprehension of the writing. In this article, UT Austin Professor Kevin Dalby provides five simple steps for how you can do this.

Step 1. Preview the Text

You can get a good overview of what you're about to read by diving into the preview text. If it's a book you're reviewing, you can read the title and subtitle, the information on the back or cover flap, the table of contents, and even the introduction.

Academic journal articles provide an executive summary or abstract that will act as a preview of what you're about to read. 

Previewing the text allows you to get a high-level overview of what it's all about.

Step 2. Take Notes

Next, dive into the academic text itself, and take notes in the margins or a notebook as you do so. What you're looking for are words, phrases, and concepts that match what you read in the preview.

This will help reinforce the text's main points and allow you to dive deeper into concepts you may not have been as familiar with. Furthermore, taking notes will allow you to see whether the author is doing a good job of backing up their claims laid out in the preview.

Step 3. Write a Summary

Before reading the conclusion section, write your summary as to what you think you've read. This will serve two purposes.

First, it will force you to recap what you've read and ensured that you understand precisely what you read. Second, it will point out any concepts you may have misunderstood or misread after proceeding to the next step.

Step 4. Read the Conclusion

After writing your summary, it's time to dive into the actual summary or conclusion of the academic text itself. In this step, you'll want to read the conclusion first and fully absorb what the author is writing. 

While you're doing so, check to see how it matches up with what you summarized above. Take notes for any areas where your summary doesn't match up with the article's summary. These will be areas you will want to review in the final step.

Step 5. Dive Deeper in Specific Sections

If your summary matched up perfectly with the text's summary, congratulations, you could skip this step. As Kevin Dalby says, though, it's unlikely you'll match up 100% perfectly, so it's time to review other sections of the text.

Focus first on the areas where your summary didn't match with the text's summary. Search the table of contents to find the sections of the text where those topics are discussed. Then, review them and take notes as you're doing so.

When you've completed this review, you can revise your written summary to make sure it matches the text's summary. You'll now have a complete understanding of the academic text you just read.

About Kevin Dalby

Dr. Kevin Dalby is a UT Austin professor of chemical biology and medicinal chemistry, currently working on cancer drug discovery. At the College of Pharmacy at The University of Texas, he examines the mechanisms of nature and cancer to develop new treatments and teaches and motivates students to conduct research. Dalby is optimistic about the future of cancer treatments.