Thompson Rivers University
Thompson Rivers University

Reading and Researching Online

If you spend a lot of time at a computer, you likely know that reading online is quite different than reading printed copy. You'll probably find that your coursework requires you to read in a different way than you're used to. You will probably have to read longer documents than you would if you were just surfing the web or reading email, and reading online can become tiring. Sometimes you may decide to print a document, but that can be expensive.

Learning how to find reliable Internet resources and read them in context are important skills. Once you have found sources, you will want to ensure that they contain useful and credible information.

What's Your Purpose in Viewing a Particular Website?

Before reading, think about what you're looking for. Is it a subject overview; do you just want to locate a specific piece of information; or do you want to read information intensively and take notes? Defining this will help you to decide whether you should print the document, skim through it or read it directly from the web.

Getting an Overview

If you can identify the main ideas in a document quickly, you can decide whether you need to read it more intensively. Skimming organizational cues such as introductions and conclusions, headings and sub-headings, bold items and summaries is a great way of getting a general overview of a document's main ideas. To find a topic within a document quickly, use your computer's "find" function (shortcut: press the "Ctrl" and "F" keys at the same time). It's important to "weed out" useless pages, not only to reduce the amount you have to read, but to ensure you are getting the most accurate information. When you open a webpage, ask yourself:

  • Is it an appropriate and valid site? The TRU Library has a quick guide to evaluating websites using the acronym ACT (Authority, Content, Timeliness).
  • How is the site organized? Determine where the relevant information is located by looking at the document organization.

Reading Intensively

Online documents often contain multiple links throughout the text and it can be difficult to figure out which links to follow. To help you decide:

  • Read through the document once, ignoring the links. This will help you get an idea of the main points.
  • Read through the document again and follow the links that you think are important.

When you know the content of the entire document, you're better able to place the links in context and understand how they relate to the information in the document. You're then ready to judge which links will be most useful to you. Following links not only distracts you from reading the document, it also increases the possibility of getting lost in cyberspace and having to find your way back to the original document, or worse yet, not getting back at all.

Reading Onscreen

Eye strain and other forms of physical fatigue occur more quickly when reading from a monitor than from a textbook or paper page. Here are some tips on how to read from a computer screen:

  • When possible, read in small amounts. Take frequent breaks to rest and refresh your eyes.
  • Ask for suggestions from professionals. If you wear glasses, use a special non-reflective finish on lenses to cut down on glare, or even a different prescription for computer work. Computer accessories such as glare reduction filters can also reduce eye strain. Most business supply stores will have a variety and can give you advice.
  • Learn how to use the adjustment controls on your monitor; changing the brightness or contrast may make text easier to view.
  • It's important to have ambient light when reading from a computer monitor. Don't read from a monitor in a dark room.