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How to compile an effective reading list

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By Margaret Adolphus


A large part of activity in higher education involves reading around the subject being studied. As students need to be guided to appropriate sources, a reading list – an outline of recommended reading which course tutors give to their students – needs to be provided for each course or module.

Several studies have demonstrated the importance of reading lists to students. For example, the software company, Talis, found that reading lists were the single most important study resource cited by students (Talis, n.d.). Similarly, Martin and Stokes (2006) found that students overwhelmingly considered reading lists to be very important to their learning.

The benefits of a good reading list

The format and content of the list indicates the types of resource students should be looking for and can vary widely: from one book, to hundreds of books, articles, websites, etc. A "good" list, however, explains how a particular resource will help students with their learning.

A good reading list will help to:

  • Improve students' information literacy skills
    According to Martin and Stokes (2006), " ... reading lists are fundamental to the development of information literacy in a higher education learning environment as they tell students that they have an information need".
  • Increase student satisfaction
    A good reading list can go a long way towards improving the students' academic experience which is very important as student satisfaction has become a major consideration for universities in their bid to tackle student retention and attract more admissions. From the students' perspective, the list will be an invaluable road map in the early days of their course when things can seem overwhelming.
  • Encourage student and faculty engagement
    The list is also a major driver for enhancing engagement between instructor and student: students feed back on their reading lists prompting the tutor to revisit the list on a regular basis, improving its usefulness.
  • Save time
    A good list will also free up the tutor's time, allowing them to focus on other areas where they can provide real value. For the student, it could be argued that by signposting the resources that are essential to them during their studies, they have more time to conduct an increased amount of independent searching and reading (Morgan, 2007).
  • Inform librarians' purchasing decisions so that they can provide the right resources at the right time
    Librarians are dependent on the information contained within a list to make sure the appropriate resources are available, either in electronic or in hard-copy format, for the students registered to study a particular course.