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Lesson Navigation IconOnline Guidelines for Academic Research and Writing

Unit Navigation IconThe academic research process

Unit Navigation IconOrganization and project management

Unit Navigation IconLiterature research and application

LO Navigation IconLiterature search

LO Navigation IconSearching in library catalogs

LO Navigation IconSearch options in electronic journals

LO Navigation IconSearch options in libraries and databases

LO Navigation IconUse of literature

Unit Navigation IconWriting an academic paper

Unit Navigation IconHow do I create a good poster?

Unit Navigation IconPresentation skills

Unit Navigation IconLearning techniques and exam preparation

Unit Navigation IconBibliography

Unit Navigation IconMetadata

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Use of literature

The use of literature sources is a necessity at various stages during your studies. This is important, not only when writing an academic paper but also when preparing for exams since there are also large amounts of literature to be worked through and structured. In order not to get lost, we recommend selecting literature in a fast and structured way, separating useful things from unnecessary ones.

actExercise: Using search operators
Imagine writing about land grab in any African country. Then look for five adequate sources while using different portals.
Hint: Remember using search operators. Don't be afraid of trying to use new specific platforms.

Click here for an example (Click here for more information)


There are three ways of thinking:

  1. Cogitation: Reflecting and applying things having read.
  2. Reasoning: Drawing conclusions from requirements already given.
  3. Creative thinking: Finding solutions by means of knowledge, principles, and ideas.


Thinking processes must form the basis of deliberately learning while reading (Spandl 1980: 25).


Skimming over a text or cursory reading

When searching for literature and selecting articles and books, it is best to skim over a text or give it a cursory reading which can be seen as a preliminary stage of actually reading it. The following questions should be posed at first:

  • Should I read this at all?
  • What is it about?


  • Reading the title, year of publication, edition, back of book, table of contents, bibliography, preface, abstract, introduction, and summary. Optionally: diagonal / vertical reading of single pages or chapters.
  • Vertical reading: Your view vertically skims over a column of the text while catching the most important words (verbs and nouns).
  • Diagonal reading: Determining the most important relations and arguments in a text (you should look out especially for nouns and verbs with adjectives and adverbs as well as signal words such as «finally», «first», «second», «the most important», «therefore», «thus», etc.).

Orienting reading

Orienting reading is useful when critically skimming over texts and preparing e.g. for a discussion: you can easily get information in a short period of time.


  • What ideas do the authors have, what is their approach?
  • What question(s) do they want to answer?
  • What assumption is at the bottom of their arguments?
  • What opinion or theoretical approach do the authors represent?
  • How is their argumentation, is it logical?
  • What are the facts to support their arguments?
  • Are the sources of information well-balanced?
  • Do the authors have other reasons (individual concern, political attitude, self-interest, etc.) for their attitude?
  • Is it comprehensible how they have gotten their results?
  • Are their arguments and explanations based on the facts specified or rather on some undisclosed knowledge?


  • Read the text quickly. (Note: a single section usually contains one main idea; this should also be considered when writing your own text).
  • Use markups and marginalia. The invention of an own system can be helpful, but there are also existing examples that are interchangeable.

actExercise: Wikipedia game - cursory reading
Look for the e-learning article on Wikipedia and try to find out who won the Nobel Prize in 1920 and in which discipline, but only by clicking on the links provided. Repeat twice while using your own examples, even exotic ones (kindergarten aluminum)
Hint: Play this game with a friend to find out who is faster.

Click here for examples (Click here for more information)

Examples for markups:

  • Underlines
    The lines' strength equals their importance.
  • Highlighting texts in color
    Mark the most important passages with highlighter or crayon.
  • Overlaying separations / terms
    Central passages are highlighted generously or combined with titles. Causal and temporal relations are marked by lines or arrows.
  • Marginalia
    Important terms or relations are noted in the margin. A system of such notes highlights essential passages and super-ordinate relations. The adjacent examples are only meant as an illustration; they should therefore not be adopted one to one. It is best to create your own system of marginalia (except when there are teams working on the same text).


Some examples of marginalia:

Selective reading

When reading selectively you focus on interesting chapters instead of an entire book or article.

  • What information, data, or statements in the text are important (for me and my topic)?
  • What information, data, or statements have to be extracted (e.g. for a speech, a paper, a summary)?
  • What passages can be omitted?
  • What do I still have to learn?


  • A text that has already been read and marked should be examined a second, third, or forth time selectively
  • Selection of very important, important, and less important passages
  • Exposition and structure of intellectual connections (creating logical correlations, writing a summary or mind map)
  • Highlight certain passages to be learned or examined more carefully
  • Make excerptions (see below)

Intelligent reading

Intelligent reading is especially advisable when preparing for exams.

  • How do I acquire knowledge from a text in order to recall it at a later date?


  • Come to the decision to learn a text on purpose!
  • Always try to sum up and think about important statements
  • Grasp a text's content, don't just memorize it


You have to want to learn in order to be able to memorize a text.


Excerpting means extracting relevant information from a text. This is not only important when writing an academic paper but also when learning in general. Since it is not possible to learn the entire assessment load, it is necessary to focus on the essential.

Structual excerpts

Structural excerpts are suitable for creating a logical structure when dealing with a difficult text. Important ideas are noted on a (large) sheet of paper before relating them by means of arrows and connecting lines. We recommend using a pin board or fanfold paper when dealing with topics elaborately or when holding a group discussion (Zielke 1988: 185).

File cards

Information on certain topics is written on file cards before ordering them by keywords, catchwords, or fields of reference. It is essential to note all corresponding sources as well. This procedure is especially suited for works that can only be lent for a short period of time. There are also a number of useful computer programs when creating file cards, e.g. FileMaker, EndNote, Citavi, etc.

You should keep in mind that such a task takes a lot of time and is therefore generally used when writing larger papers. Such a file system is also only advisable when maintaining it in a consistent and complete way.


File cards that are well-organized contribute to remember things seen before.


Creating correlations (cf. fig. 8) is useful when comparing works with similar structure or when your scientific analysis is based on a comprehensive oeuvre. Chapters or main topics are listed either next to each other or one below the other. The information of each book is then transferred to the table using keywords (incl. references!). At once it will be clear who has written what and when as regards a certain topic (Zielke 1988: 183). It pays to also note page numbers with the information copied from a text. Otherwise, you may have to spend unnecessary time to search for it.

Fig. 8: Example of a correlation. Source: Diagram by author based on Zielke (1988: 183).Fig. 8: Example of a correlation. Source: Diagram by author based on Zielke (1988: 183).
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