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Reading Lists: Reading List Good Practice

Diversifying your Reading List

There is no one way to diversify your reading list and course content and this is an ongoing process that will include research as it is made available, but some things to think about:

  • Is it possible to to add content from marginalized groups into your reading list and course design?
  • Is it possible to add content from marginalized groups and make it essential reading rather than optional?

There are many useful resources available on the subject of diversifying your reading lists:

If you would like to discuss the concept of diversifying your reading list in more detail please speak to your information consultant

Student Experience

The library has undertaken some research on reading lists to gather feedback from students on how they use them and the problems that they have encountered. Overall the students found the reading lists very useful but did highlight some key issues.

  • Very long reading lists were mentioned as being daunting and overwhelming
  • The best lists are the ones that were structured and clearly indicated what reading is needed using the importance settings and page numbers.
  • Students want the material available via Moodle, so it is key that lists are embedded into the Moodle course

"I find them very useful in that I know everything is in one place"

  • Having diverse reading lists were important to a number of students. 67% of students agreed or strongly agreed that having a diverse range of authors was important to them.

"There needs to be more diversity in the reading lists"


Students have commented that they use the importance levels allocated to their reading (essential, recommended and further) to focus their reading, the majority of survey respondents felt that they clearly understood the differences between these levels and how to prioritise their reading. 

"I think lecturers should distinguish between recommended reading & further reading more clearly, as it is sometimes to determine what should be prioritized in terms of revision."

The survey also clearly indicated that many of the students do not manage to complete all of the essential reading, with 58% stating that they never, rarely or sometimes manage to read their essential readings. Issues such as student workload, length of lists and the amount of expected reading were listed as reasons as to why they couldn't complete the required reading.

"Most of the time it is possible to complete the lecture readings, however some lecturers put too much into the reading list which can make it easy to get behind on other lectures"

There are a number of ways in which you can structure your list, how you structure it is up to you and what works best for your teaching.

  • Organised by weekly readings
  • Organised by themes
  • Bibliography of items that students can pick from

Breaking down the reading list into shorter topics can help students to manage their reading, these sections can be embedded directly into the relevant section on Moodle.
Student notes can also be very useful and additional information can be added to communicate with students regarding particular items.

"I like it when my tutors add notes about the work (such as: X is very useful in this area but for this area consider work Z)"

List Length

As per the Library Content Strategy and Information Resources Policy (Page 5), reading lists should contain no more than 100 essential and recommended unique items combined for a standard 15 credit module. This number can be pro-rata'd for shorter or longer modules.

Further reading will not be bought by the Library and it is advised that, where possible, further reading should utilise resources already available from the Library’s collections.  

There is much pedagogical discussion around the length of lists and what is the most appropriate and useful length for students to interact with. A Sage report from 2019 surveyed students and academics and found that 52% of students would rather have a list that contained few but well defined sources (Sage, 2019, p. 11) rather than a very long list with lots of choices.

The study also found that students commonly said they were overwhelmed with long lists and academics also said they used short lists with a few items to act as a starting point and expected students to find additional literature using their own literature and searching skills (Sage, 2019, p.11).

Notional Hours of Learning

The Quality Assurance Agency for HE (QAA) provides some guidance around notional hours of learning, this is "the average number of hours which it is expected that a learner will spend to achieve the specified learning outcomes at that level" (QAA, 2021). One credit is typically equal to 10 hours of notional learning, for example:

A 15 credit module would be assigned 150 notional hours of learning, a 30 credit module would be assigned 300 hours of notional learning.

Sage (2019) How are Students and Lecturers Using Educational Resources Today? Available at: (Accessed: 26 April 2023).

QAA (2021) What is credit: A guide for students. Available at:,10%
(Accessed: 26 April 2023).

The reading list can be seen as a starting point and an indication of reading that students need to complete before lectures/seminars. They can use key search skills to conduct their own independent literature searching.

Your Information Consultant is available to help develop these skills in numerous ways:

  • Lectures and workshops embedded in the course curriculum
  • One to one support with students
  • Online support via our Library Moodle Page

To find out more about the range of services that the library can provide in this area and the content covered please our staff intranet pages

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Royal Holloway Library LibGuide by Royal Holloway Library is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License.