Reading in the Sciences

If you choose to study in the Sciences for university, then it is likely that you have encountered some new words and concepts but have to speed through content much quicker than when you did in high school. Based on my experiences, here are a few strategies to help you understand scientific reading more efficiently.

The three main aspects

of scientific reading that most students find challenging are:

  • Vocabulary – authors use jargon and specialized terminology that are new or unfamiliar.
  • Style – scientific writing is highly formal and academic containing long sentences with complicated structures.
  • Information overload – heavy amounts of information are conveyed in scientific texts often paired with charts, diagrams, graphs, etc.

Strategies to ease the reading the text:

Know why you are reading and what you need to look for

Avoid plunging into your weekly reading assignment without context to the content. Think about the purpose of the reading, how is it relevant to the week’s lecture content or workshop activities. This context will make it easier to engage with the material and guide you. Consider, what you need to extract from the text and how does it contribute to your next assessment or overall learning in the course.

Pay attention to framing devices

Be attentive of the headings, sub-headings, words in bold, italics or underlined because they help identify what is most important in the text. Additionally, pay attention to topic sentences (the first sentence of each paragraph). Sometimes the last sentence will also

Summarise as you read

Once you get to the end of a page or section, it helps to solidify your understanding by writing short summaries in your own words. In addition, if you need to refer back to information later on, then it is easier to find since you have already written it in your own words and reflected on your understanding of the material.

Check unfamiliar words

It is normal to not understand every single word used. However, by looking up the words you do not recognize, you will develop your comprehension of the readings especially if those words appear repeatedly or that you recognize the same word in other readings. Invest the time into looking up their definition then consider keeping a record in a notebook, word document or footnote in the material so you can always refer to it.

Reading diagrams, visuals and numbers:

In scientific journal articles and scientific literature, it is very common to encounter diagrams, graphs, charts, tables with statistics, and other methods of presenting information using visuals and numbers. Here are two tips to better comprehend its content.

Learn how these things work

The more you practise, the better you become. So invest the time into looking at other examples of diagrams, graphs and charts. Get to know how they typically work, what information they contain and convey will make it easier for you to understand them when doing scientific reading.

Read surrounding information

Pay close attention to the information around the diagram, graph, chart or table. This surrounding information usually provides context and explains the information provided which makes it easier to understand the visual presentation.


Rhoden, S & Starkey, R 1998, Studying Science at University: Everything you Need to Know, Allen & Unwin, St. Leonards, NSW, Australia.

Strube, P 1992, Studying Science and Maths for Nursing Students, University of South Australia, Underdale, Australia.

Image from Serp Institute, viewed on 04 February 2022 <;.

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