Author: Cindy Liang

I have read How to Read a Paper by S. Keshav, in which he suggests a three-pass approach that he applies to read academic papers for many years. Here I would like to share my takeaways with all beginning graduate students and novice researchers.

Firstly, to read with a purpose.

Most graduate students read with a reading list provided by lecturers. In the beginning, these students usually spend much time reading to complete reading tasks. Some soon realise there are loads of readings and they do not have enough time for reading them, let alone remembering many important terminologies and details which may help with the quizzes and essays.

To complete a reading task should not be the purpose of reading. Instead, to solve a specific problem can be. Therefore, before reading a paper, as a novice reader in the academic field, we better know why we read:

  • to understand a term?
  • to deepen our understanding of a case?
  • to find supportive data for our research?
  • ……

This helps to quickly decide if we should read through a piece of paper to get more details.

Secondly, to read with the three-pass approach proposed by S. Keshav.

To keep in mind a reading purpose so that we will have our To-read List when reading the paper. Then we can do the first pass. As S. Keshav noted, the first pass helps us to get a general idea of a paper. It usually takes five to ten minutes, and we need to read the title, abstract, introduction, sub-headings, conclusions and take a glance at references.

Next, the second pass requires us to read visual information like diagrams, figures and other illustrations. In this stage, we can make notes on the paper for some key points and see any relevant unread references for further reading. After the second pass, we should be able to summarise the paper in our own words and tell if the paper is relevant to our research and fit the reading purpose. Therefore, we can go to the next level —— to read more detailed information.

The third pass will take up more time as we need to read through more details. The following steps help with the third-time reading:

  1. Think of implementing the paper and see if there is any controversy;
  2. Identify and challenge every statement and think a bit about how you will present a specific idea in the paper;
  3. Make notes for future work;

After the third-pass reading, you should be able to reconstruct and present the paper ideas in your own words and have some ideas to improve the research.

Thirdly, to read more and more.

With a systematic method, you will gradually improve your reading skills and be a faster reader. However, you should realise the process takes time, and the best way to see how you will improve is to do it right now.

Get a paper, write down the reading approach that you are going to follow. And then apply it from your next reading. From time to time, you will see the improvement.

And it is always good to start borrowing a good idea from experienced researchers like the three-pass approach by S. Keshav.

I hope you enjoy reading this piece of sharing, and you are always welcome to share your reading tips with us.

References and more readings

  1. How to Read a Paper (original version) by S. Keshav –
  2. How to Write a Great Research Paper by S. Peyton Jones: 
  3. Writing reviews for systems conferences by T. Roscoe:
  4. Writing Technical articles by H. Schulzrinne:

Last modified: Wednesday, 26 October 2022, 3:37 PM