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Managing your reading


Why manage your reading?

What do we mean by 'managing' your reading? And why should you be doing it?

Managing your reading isn't a single process, but a range of areas including keeping track of what you need to read and when, navigating reading different formats including reading on screen, and making sure you keep a record of what you read and the bibliographic information you would need to cite something in your work.

Often you'll have a lot of things to read and keep track of, so taking time to find methods that help you to read, store, and cite material can be very useful.

Reference management applications

There are many ways of keeping a list of what you need to read, what you have read, and what you want to cite in your work: notebooks, documents, spreadsheets... However, there are also applications designed for this specific task, called reference management applications. These allow you to create your own library of the material you've been reading and finding in searches, and then if you want the applications also have features to help you to categorise these and cite them in your work.

Our Reference Management Practical Guide has all the information on the applications we support at York, how they work, and how to try them out!

Organising your reading (and your time!)

When you've got a lot of material to read or keep track of, you need some strategies in place to help you keep on top of that!

Firstly, it is useful to manage your time and prioritise what you need to read around other work and commitments. Using something more visual like a spreadsheet or more organised like Google Calendar can help you block out reading time or work out how many things you need to read by certain deadlines.

Prioritise reading where you can. If you know something is required for a certain class or piece of work, read that first. Think about how you read critically to get the most out of what you read and know the purpose of your reading before you start. This will help you to manage your reading time by getting the most out of reading.

Another key thing to consider is how you manage what you read. Our reference management action plan has some prompts you might find useful for considering what you currently do to organise your reading material.

Reading academic articles

Reading an academic text requires a particular set of skills. We take a look at what's involved:

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Working with digital documents

A lot of the materials you'll come across will be electronic texts. To save needlessly printing these out, you will need to develop your skills of reading from a screen. You've probably been reading from a screen most of your life, but there are still some principles worth considering:

  • Go full-screen (take up as much screen as you can)
  • Take breaks
  • Reduce brightness
  • Keep an archive (give your PDFs useful names)
  • Make notes on/in your documents
  • Sit comfortably
  • Get the computer to read to you
  • Adjust tint and font

Change screen colour or brightness

Looking at a bright, white screen can be really tiring for your eyes - try changing the brightness or colours to give them a rest.

Adjust screen colour/brightness

Adjust colours of webpages and apps:

  • You can change the background colour of PDFs, Google Docs and Word documents to make them easier to read (see tips below).
  • The High Contrast Chrome Extension [Webpage] lets you change from a light to a dark background to make webpages easier to read.
  • Lots of websites or apps let you choose a Night mode / Dark setting with a darker colour scheme that might be easier on your eyes.

Reader tools to minimise distractions and adjust settings

Reader tools help you read webpages and documents more easily by:

  • removing distractions like ads and images.
  • adjusting text size, spacing and font.
  • adjusting colours of the background and text.
  • letting you listen to the text.

Here are some Reader tools you can try:

Using Firefox Reader View to make a webpage easier to read:

Newspaper article with lots of images next to the same article in the Firefox ReaderView with clutter removed.

Listen to a text

Tired of reading? Try listening to the text instead!

You might also want to annotate PDFs when reading on screen, similar to how you might annotate printed texts. Many PDF tools have this feature, for example the web browsers Microsoft Edge and Firefox and reading app iBooks allow PDF annotation.

Tips for different tools

There are many useful software features that you can use to make reading easier:

  • read text aloud
  • minimise distractions
  • change background and text colour

Tips for Google Docs

Google Docs give you a lot of flexibility about how the document looks.

  • Change background colour: File > Page setup > Page colour > select your colour and click 'Done' (demonstration below).
  • Change text colour: select text >Text Color icon
  • View-only Doc? Make a copy or download it [Webpage] first.

Demonstration of changing background colour in Google Docs

Tips for PDFs (Adobe Reader)

Top tip! Open PDFs in Adobe Acrobat Reader instead of your browser - they're much easier to read and can be customised.

  • PDFs you find online will open in the browser view. To view them in Adobe Acrobat Reader instead, click 'Open in Acrobat' or click the Download icon to save to your computer (shown in image below).
  • If PDFs saved on your computer open in the browser instead of Adobe Acrobat Reader, change the default program by right clicking on the PDF file name > Properties > Change and choose Adobe Acrobat Reader.
  • Written guide: Make Adobe Acrobat Reader the default program to open PDFs (Windows) [Webpage]

How to open a PDF in Adobe Reader from the browser view:

PDF in browser view highlighting 'Open in Acrobat' and Download icon.

Tips and tricks for using Adobe Acrobat Reader

Note: some of these tips only work for files saved on your computer.

  • Use the page controls to zoom in or out, make scrolling easier, or fill the screen:

    Adobe Acrobat Reader Page control icons

  • Make text appear as a single column: Reflow text [Webpage].
  • Listen to a PDF with the Read Out Loud feature [Webpage].
  • Change background/text colour: click Edit > Preferences Accessibility and tick Replace Document Colours. Choose Custom Colour and select your colours for the background and text, or choose Use High-Contrast colours.

Document Colors Options in Adobe Acrobat Reader


OrbitDoc is a browser extension with many features to make PDFs easier to work with. You can listen to the text, highlight text and make your own notes.

Find out more:

Tips for Microsoft Word

The Immersive Reader for Microsoft 365 is a really useful tool to adapt how the text looks, read text aloud and more.

You can access Microsoft 365 [Webpage] through your University account.

Microsoft Immersive Reader [YouTube video]