Text: Online Reading Tips

Reading on a Screen

hand holding an iPad with book covers on its screenEven if you take primarily face-to-face classes in college, you’ll likely find that a significant amount of the reading you’ll have to do in college comes from online sources: articles on the Web, online library databases, e-books. The academic reading process of previewing, active reading, summarizing, and reviewing can be used to read these online materials, just like any other text.

However, effective online reading takes time and practice, and you need to carefully consider your approach. Read on for a list of tips that can help you successfully complete your online reading. 

Eliminate distractions to maintain focus 

In addition to the usual distractions found in a space (like people, cell phones, and televisions), online readers can be easily distracted by computer features (like games, instant messaging, and Facebook). Shut these programs off, and make sure your environment stays focused. You can even download tools to block programs that might cause distractions for a set period of time, to help you maintain your willpower.

Set a time limit 

Reading from a computer screen can cause eye strain, so plan to read for shorter periods of time. For example, read for about 30 minutes and then take a 10 minute break away from your monitor. Use this time to think about what you just read and identify the key points or themes.

Identify why you are reading 

Perhaps you are looking for sources of information for an assignment or paper. Maybe you need some background information on a topic. Or, possibly you need to learn specific subject matter for your course. Knowing why you are reading will help you decide exactly what strategies you should use. Choose a strategy based on your learning purpose.

If you are clear on your purpose but do not have a study guide or assignment to guide your reading, you may find it helpful to generate some personal study questions to focus your efforts. For instance, if you were studying interpersonal communication in the criminal justice field, you could ask: “What are the three important interpersonal communication skills? Why are they important? How can these skills be developed?” Record these questions in your notes and refer to them as you read.

Consider saving the document you are reading in a form you can manipulate

After evaluating the document you plan to read, save it to your personal files. This allows you to highlight key ideas or make summary notes in the margins of the document itself. These markings can then be transferred later into your own notes.

Preview before you read

Previewing the title, headings, and subheadings of a document will give you a better sense of its content and organization as well as make you aware of what you already know about the topic. You can then make an informed choice about:

  • whether or not the material suits your purpose
  • which sections of the material you should read
  • how thoroughly you should read to accomplish your purpose

Get prepared to take notes

Whether you choose to use paper or a computer program, it is important to record important ideas for future reference. Have paper and pen readily available or open a blank Word document, so you are prepared to take notes once you start reading.

Take notes

Record important information on your note paper or in your Word document. Note taking helps you understand ideas and ensure you have the material for later reference. Be sure to record ideas in point form and in your own words and experiment with different note taking strategies to find one that suits your needs.

If you feel you might need the information for an assignment, record the document’s reference information next to the notes you created. This step is important since you must cite all the references you draw on in assignment and papers. It is easier to do this step now rather than later when you may have forgotten the website address.

Read difficult material out loud 

Sometimes it is helpful to hear what you are reading, especially if the material is complex or difficult to understand. Study in a space where you can read aloud to yourself. Alternatively, you can ask a friend or family member to review complex material with you. When two people look at information together, they can usually make sense of difficult materials.


An immense amounts of online resources are available to you. By using effective strategies and following the above suggestions, you will increase your chances of successfully accomplishing your reading task.