Tips for Undergraduates: How to Read a Book

This week I have been contemplating my new administrative role in the department. I will leave behind me the Exchanges coordination for a while and I will get involved, instead, with the coordination of first year and second year undergraduate modules. Effectively, this means that I will also be responsible for guiding new students with their studies. Even if we have a very thick Handbook that explains Everything, I am very well aware that an infinitesimal number of students read all of it. So, I intend to summarize in my blog, in a series of posts, a few basic points.

Today, I will focus on how to read a book. To most people, there is a straightforward answer to this question. In fact, most of my students tell me (rather confidently) that you open it and you start with the introduction. Although this is the ideal approach, reading a book cover to cover, is not the most practical one. My students need to write several essays on several topics throughout the year. They have to attend lectures, pursuit their own interests, partly wildly and visit their parents in other cities or countries. Consequently, their time is limited.

The best way to read a book is by looking at its table of contents (in the beginning) and the index (at the end). Try to identify the topics you are interested in. There maybe one chapter that interests you, or only one paragraph. Also, try to read around the passage you need, in order to contextualise and understand the information you are receiving. If the book is on Google Books, search for specific keywords. I will give more tips about the electronic resources in another post.

Before you start writing your essays, it is advisable to read one or two books on the period, e.g. Roman Republic from cover to cover. These books should not necessarily be relevant to the essay you are writing. Instead, they should give you a good insight on the historical events, social structures, economic phenomena e.t.c. of the period you are interested in.

Economic historian and numismatic consultant


  1. I like the idea of study methods and tips. Understandably no two individuals can work in the same way, but giving examples can help students like me figure out which one we work best with.

    Also, I’ve only very recently learned about LIMC and good bibliographical databases like L’Annee Philologique. I guess it was also because I didn’t know a lot about how university research worked. It was very different to secondary school. It may be a good idea for compulsory research workshops for undergraduate students. I know a lot will complain that they have to attend, but they will most definitely appreciate it later.

    • I am glad you like the idea! Here in Leicester we have a series of seminars for first year undergraduate students, which give them the skills to do research. Eventually , like you, they see the value and appreciate the time we put into them.

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