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for Undergraduates

UG CamGuides: How do I find books and articles from a reading list?

Break down a reading list into different types of resource and know how to recognise them from their reference.

Approaching a list

A reading listReading lists may be a very short selection of key texts or extensive lists of almost every work on a particular topic. This can be daunting and you may be left wondering where to start. 

Lots of your lists may be found in your Moodle course. A lot of them will look similar to the offer holders lists that you may have been sent. Search for 'offer-holders' in the Reading Lists Online site to find your subject list. 

Most reading lists have a structure. This may take the form of headings and sub-headings on a particular topic, but many lecturers and supervisors will also give you some indication of essential, recommended and background reading (though the terms they use for these categories will vary). They may use symbols, such as an asterisk (*), to denote important texts that you have to read or another symbol for optional reading. The next page in this section contains an activity which shows you a mock reading list with these features.

Reading lists will vary in length. Some lists are so long that you could not possibly tackle every text on them, while others are indicative and you are encouraged to seek out further reading. If you are unsure what reading to prioritise, always ask your lecturer or supervisor. Much of your reading will be guided by the work you have to do for supervisions and the questions you have to answer.

Watch the films below to see how differently these two students approach their reading lists.


With thanks to:

Vamsi (Economics)

Zadie (Classics)

Accessing resources on a reading list

reading an ebook outsideEven before you arrive in Cambridge, you may find that your Director of Studies, Department or Faculty send you reading lists. They may intend for you to read items on them before arriving or to simply give you an idea of the sorts of books you'll be reading when you start your course.

For most courses you are not expected to buy these books. You may need a personal copy of one or two core texts that you will refer to again and again, but in general you will find the libraries in Cambridge will have copies of all the books that you need for your degree. Your department will let you know if there is anything you are expected to buy.

A huge number of resources are available online too. The University subscribes to (pays for) this content in order to make it available to members of the University. This content will be available to you via your CRSid (username) and password, which you will receive shortly before you start in Cambridge. When you have these details, you will be able to access these resources on- and off-campus, wherever you are in the world. We look at how to find books and articles using iDiscover, the University's library catalogue, on the page Searching for resources on a reading list in this section.

You may also find that many print chapters have been digitised (scanned) and put on Moodle, the University's Virtual Learning Environment, for you to read when it is most convenient.

The length and structure of reading lists vary between subjects and even papers/modules on the same course. Watch these videos to hear about the differences for students studying English, Medicine, and Human, Social, and Political Sciences.


With thanks to:

Eloise (English)

Jesse (Medicine)

Dhruv (Human, Social, and Political Sciences)

Reading Lists Online (Leganto)

A lot of subject courses will have reading lists created using a system called Leganto. If you are an offer-holder you will be sent resources lists byyour college for your subject to look at in advance of coming to Cambridge. All the lists are also available through one of two locations: Online reading list site or Wolfson College Library offer-holder page. 

Reading Lists Online (Leganto):

  • are usually embedded in your Moodle course
  • will have links to ebooks, and other online content eg journal articles, websites
  • include scans of chapters or items that will be most useful to you on your course

Image credits

 Laura Jeffrey CC0; CC0 by James Tarbotton via Unsplash

Film credits

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