Strategic Reading Techniques For Serious Researchers and Writers
- Budget your time. Set aside a reasonable amount of time for reading and stick to it. Once you start, minimize distractions and keep your eyes and pen moving. Don’t stop until the end of the time you have set aside.
- Determine if strategic reading (skimming) is appropriate. Do this by determining the genre of analysis:
Academic books and journal articles follow a predetermined format and are perfect for strategic reading. In addition to telling you h/her argument, the academic writer will explain what other writers have said on this subject and how their argument is different from those other writers. The introduction to the piece will lay out the major points of the argument and the primary sources of evidence. Also, each chapter will have its own introduction and conclusion. The academic writer (usually) wants to make h/her argument as clear as possible to the reader.
Novels, on the other hand, can not be skimmed effectively because they do not follow any particular organizational framework. Sometimes you can read “lightly” through long descriptive passages, but you must constantly ask yourself if the plot and characters are making sense to you. If you lose track of what is happening or seem to have missed important details, you need to go back and re-read the parts you have skimmed.
- Pre-Read. Before delving into the text, try to formulate an understanding of what the book/article is about. Do this by looking at the front and back covers, looking at any pictures and captions, and reading the preface. Basically, begin by observing the book as a physical item and make predictions about its content based on your observations. Before reading, make a note to yourself about what you think the text is about.
- Focus your reading on the parts that really matter. Once you have a sense of the text’s organizational structure (remember, academic writing, unlike modern poetry, follows a pattern), you can focus on the main introduction, topic sentences and conclusion. Then, move to the introductions, topic sentences, and conclusions for each chapter or section.
- Leave time for some deeper reading. Select the chapters or sections that are most interesting to you, and read these in-depth. In these sections, be sure to focus on what kinds of evidence/sources are being used and make a note of how they are being analyzed.
- Underline and write in the margins as you read. Pay special attention to the argument, the evidence the writer is presenting, and the way the writer interprets the evidence.
- Take notes. Sometimes taking notes on a separate piece of paper is a good option (like when you are reading a book from the library), but be sure that you are not writing more than you are reading and understanding. Make your notes a running commentary of your thoughts on what you are reading, rather than copying long sections of text. If you find that you need to write out long passages, make a copy of those pages and underline the passages to save time. This will also help you be sure of quotations when you are writing later.
- Write a wrap-up. Make a note of the author’s central argument, evidence used, and persuasiveness. Write at least one question, one positive observation, and one critique down for class discussions and/or future assignments.