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Reading around the subject

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Published: 12 July 2021

Student looking through a textbook

When you start studying any course at the University of Sunderland in London, you’ll be given a reading list.

It’s a list of all the most important academic resources for a background in the subject you’ve chosen.

While you will learn a lot from the journal articles and textbooks your lecturer tells you to read, the students who get the best grades always try and take their learning one step further.

That’s where ‘reading around the subject’ comes.

What it is

Essentially, it means finding, and referencing in your assignments, a wide range of resources.

You don’t have to restrict yourself to only the things you can find in the Library, either.

Proper background research can be done through everything from newspapers to YouTube videos.

Why you should do it

There are two main reasons every university student needs to read around the subject.

The first is because you can reference anything you like in your assignments and essays. They don’t have to only come from your reading list.

In fact, you’re likely to get a better grade if you can show a wide range of resources.

The second reason is that you will give yourself a much better understanding of the subject you’re studying and the industry you want to work in after graduation.

That makes life as a student easier, and more interesting, as well as putting you ahead of other job applicants in the future.

“While essential reading helps you understand your lectures and lays the foundation for your assignments, additional reading material you find in My Module Resources, the Library Catalogue, Discover, and elsewhere widen your horizons and enable you to get the best marks in your assignments and a good degree, enhancing your graduate employability skills as well.” - Mehves Kayani-Hoden, Librarian at the University of Sunderland in London.

What it does for you

Reading around the subject impacts your thinking as a student in a lot of ways.

For one thing, it helps to answer questions you might have about the things you’ve learned in class.

Of course, it’s always a good idea to go to your lecturers with your questions, but by doing independent research you’ll be able to better explain your question and get the most helpful answer possible.

This method also means your learning will be about understanding the subject rather than just memorising facts.

Think of it like filling up a jar with rocks. Your classes and your article lists are big stones that fill the container to the top.

Reading around the subject can be thought of as lots of little pebbles which go in the spaces in between the bigger ones.

How to do it

Use the ‘Further reading’ section: Your module resources normally come with ‘essential’ and ‘additional’ labels under each resource list. Although it’s tempting to only go through the mandatory ones, don’t miss the opportunity to learn more. If your teachers are suggesting them they’re worth a look.

Think about the background: A good academic uses the research of the past to inform their understanding of the present. Reading around the subject should include finding theories and ideas that came before you. A good way of doing this is by looking through the bibliographies and references of the articles you read.

Go beyond the textbooks: There is so much more to any topic than what you can find in a textbook. Look for sources online, watch videos, go to company websites and visit Google Scholar.

Think about other fields of study: Academia would be nowhere if subjects only focused on their own work. Tourism, for example, uses many business theories and vice versa. That means, don’t limit your search and reading to only things in your discipline. Have an open mind and you will find more than you expect.

Look for questions, not answers: When you’re writing an assignment, it’s tempting to come up with a conclusion and try to find references that fit it. But research is done because we don’t know all the answers. You have to find them, that’s what makes it fun.

If you’re interested in getting more academic skills like reading around the subject, check out the University of Sunderland in London’s Library website.

We’d love to hear your tips on getting the most from your studies. Share your ideas with the community on FacebookTwitter and Instagram using #WeAreSunLon.