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Completing a Research Assignment Using Active Reading

Completing a Research Assignment Using Active Reading

Pursuing a college degree requires attention and dedication. As an online student, in particular, you’ll attend live chats, participate in discussion boards, and complete some coursework on your own (or occasionally in groups). So, when your instructor assigns an independent project with a research element, you’ll need to find and explore resources and work through the information.

Active reading strategies may be able to help you retain what you read in order to complete your assignment. Generally, the purpose of an independent project is to show your understanding of a topic, so let’s explore how active reading can help!

What Is Active Reading?

Active readers engage with their texts, read with a purpose, and often apply the SQ3R Method to enhance their reading experience, optimize their learning, and promote critical thinking.1, 2 The abbreviation “SQ3R” stands for survey, question, read, recite, and review.2, 3

Apply the strategies listed below to enhance your information retention and reading comprehension as you work through your sources.


Before you read, browse or “survey” each text first. Note any information you already know. Look at the headings on the pages. Can you find the subject, purpose, and point of view of the text?

Skim the first sentence of each paragraph to see if you can establish what the topic is before you read.

Are you familiar with the topic? What information do you think you’ll gain when reading the text? Recall these questions as you read.3


This step’s purpose is to engage and excite you about the text.3 Therefore, after you survey the text, ask questions like “What is this text about?” and “What question is the passage trying to answer?” Can you connect your personal experiences or prior knowledge to this new information? Use your prior knowledge to make a few predictions about the topic and ask questions to focus your attention on what you need to learn.4

Read (and Take Notes)

Since you are completing an independent research project, you may have several sources to check. However, don’t worry about reading an entire text in one sitting. Set time limits and break texts into smaller portions.

Give yourself a five-minute break after 30-45 minutes of reading and analyzing. Also, skip the highlighting and opt to take notes instead. Note taking can help you understand and remember the information better.4

Use the margins to summarize the text, record important details and the questions you have (and answer them on a separate piece of paper later), identify keywords, and respond to your original questions.3 Underline surprising information and mark the text with an exclamation point. Identify confusing data with question marks. If you can’t write in the book, use sticky notes to bookmark specific paragraphs or pages and record notes to yourself.

Some textbooks pinpoint important terms with a bold or highlighted print. If your text does, make sure you find the definitions for these terms, either within the source or elsewhere. If your text does not identify unfamiliar terms or vocabulary, circle the words with a pencil or record them in a notebook and then define them yourself.

Finally, pay attention to the structure of the paragraphs. Although beginning and ending sentences often contain evidence to back up claims and present conclusions, look for the supporting evidence in the middle.3


Return to the questions you generated when surveying the text. Using examples, answer them in your own words.4 As you encounter new ideas, read the information out loud and ask questions such as, “What does this say?” and “Why is this important?” Answer each question in a single sentence to help remember the information better. Use your own words to restate the purpose of each paragraph.3


Look through the text again to answer the questions you still have and recite the questions you’ve addressed.2 Read through your notes and decide if you need to find more information to complete your assignment.

Although research can demand your time and energy, there is great value in expanding your knowledge on a subject! As an active reader, you engage yourself in the text by reading critically, asking questions, analyzing the purpose, and making predictions. You also connect your personal experiences and prior learning with the topic to promote information retention and reading comprehension.

Use the resources at your disposal and ask for help when you need it! For more online school and study tips, check out the AIU blog.

1. “What is Active Reading? - Definition & Strategies.” Retrieved from: (Visited 09/07/2019).
2. “SQ3R: Survey-Question-Read-Recite-Review.” Retrieved from: (Visited 09/07/2019).
3. “Active Reading Strategies Part 1: SQ3R.” Kahn Academy. Retrieved from: (Visited 09/07/2019).
4. “Improve Your Reading Speed and Comprehension With the SQ3R Method.” ThoughtCo. Retrieved from: (Visited 09/07/2019).

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