Skip to Main Content Logo

SPARK: SQ4R Reading Strategy

A resource for students wanting to improve their academic and research skills.

SQ4R Reading Strategy

SQ4R is a method that identifies the components of active reading and provides a guide for navigating among them. SQ4R prompts a reader to survey, question, read, respond, record and review material.

This method can be used for reading any type of material at any stage of your research assignment.

To assist you in your reading, see the SQ4R Worksheet and Conquering Difficult Readings located in Resources. Watch a short video produced by the Ontario Tech University's Academic Success Centre for an example of how to use SQ4R when reading a textbook.


The first step in the SQ4R method of active reading is to survey or scan a resource, keeping in mind your topic and the purpose of your assignment. The purpose of surveying is to gain a general sense of the authors’ ideas and their relationship to the topic.

For this step:

  1. Examine the chapter and section titles, headings and subheadings. For a book, scan the table of contents.
  2. Read introductions, conclusions, abstracts and chapter summaries. The first sentence of each paragraph typically provides a framework.
  3. Take note of any bold or italic print.
  4. Observe graphics, diagrams, charts, tables, formulae and boxed inserts.

Surveying materials is an important first step in reading at any point in working on your assignment. It can assist you in getting organized by helping to determine the appropriateness of a resource, but it is a particularly important first step with texts that you plan to read closely. Surveying provides a framework for understanding a resource.


Read to find possible answers to your questions. Reading actively helps you concentrate and stay engaged.

For each resource:

  1. Break the material into appropriate and manageable sections.
  2. Examine closely the first sentence of every paragraph to gain an idea of what will be discussed.
  3. Look for the answers to your questions within the text and note any new questions that arise.


Image showing the cycle from question to read to respond to review back to read


As you develop your understanding of the text and your responses to it, you will want to keep track of the ideas that emerge and how they relate to the paper you are writing. Make note of the relevant ideas from the text and your thoughts about them in your own words. These notes will be valuable in writing the first draft of your assignment. See the Gathering & Noting Ideas module for more information.


Some strategies for recording ideas include:

  • highlighting key passages (only in texts you own)
  • writing in the margins your reactions to the material and how it relates to your assignment (only in texts that you own)
  • making separate notes to capture your own ideas and record relevant passages
  • using online mechanisms for notating electronic documents

Your notes serve primarily as a summary or synthesis of main ideas, a starting point for future reference and reflection, and a way back into the reading for key quotes or concepts. Be sure to note the source, including page numbers of ideas or quotes.


As you read your materials, ask yourself questions continuously. Think about the purpose of your assignment and pose questions to help guide you deeper into your reading.

Some types of questions to consider are who, what, when, where, why, how. The following are some examples:

  • Who: whose interests are served by the ideas expressed?
  • What: what ideas or constructs are being explored and debated?
  • When: did the event described occur before or after an important historical event?
  • Where: from which countries did the researchers draw their data?
  • Why: why did the researchers employ a particular approach?
  • How: how do the authors’ examples illustrate the points that they are trying to make?  

The questions you ask will vary from simple to complex, but it is particularly important to ask questions that will help you make connections within the reading, connections among different readings and connections with your topic.

Generic examples of such questions include:

  • questions of relationship (between arguments/characters/concepts)
  • questions of scope (what is included/what is excluded?)
  • questions of definition (what does the author mean by X?)
  • questions of approach (what is the methodology or theoretical framework?)


As you read, you will have a variety of reactions to the text – excitement, confusion, annoyance, etc. Take these reactions as opportunities for further reflection and questioning.

Ask yourself what, specifically, in the text leads you to react in a particular way. The answer can assist you in determining the best strategy for deepening your understanding.

Strategies may include:

  • rereading for further clarification
  • revisiting and reworking your original questions. It may help to review what questions you were hoping to answer with the text and where your reading is leading you.
  • elaborating on both your original questions and those that have emerged while reading

Remember that the process of active reading is recursive and, therefore, you are likely to move back and forth between “Question” and “Respond” as you read the text.


Review your questions and the notes you have made. Compare the information in the text you have just read with your knowledge of the topic from other readings and/or classes.

 When reviewing, pose critical questions such as the following:

  • What is the evidence or reasoning put forward in support of the claims?
  • What objections could be raised to the ideas and arguments put forth by the author? Do you agree or disagree with these arguments, or have alternatives?
  • What does the author want you to think? Whats left out?

Based on the answers to these questions, you may need to review and refine your topic or working thesis. 

Review the requirements of your assignment and what you have read in order to identify gaps. If necessary, find more materials relevant to your working thesis.