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How to Read a Book for Research

Books are an excellent resource for research. In many cases, they are absolutely essential when writing a research paper. However, it can be extremely difficult, if not impossible to read every book from cover to cover and still be able to complete a paper in a timely manner. The trick to research is not being able to read quickly so much as know what to read. Here are some tips and techniques for getting the information you need from a book in as little time as possible.

Preparation

Preparing properly for research takes only a few minutes and drastically reduces research time in the long run.

Make a list of keywords
As you’re going to be doing quite a lot of scanning, or at least high-speed reading, making a list of relevant keywords before you even open the book is important. These words can be picked out rapidly from a page, creating a filter for relevant information. The key word list can’t be relied on entirely—it’s still important to keep an eye out for other relevant information—but it does make it possible to scan quickly and with confidence.

Check the contents
It is unlikely that an entire book is going to be relevant to your research, so you can save a lot of time by skipping irrelevant sections. The key word list is often helpful in identifying useful chapters. Do not worry about ignoring any chapter that doesn’t seem promising—you can waste precious time looking at irrelevant sections ‘just to be sure.’ The introduction to a book is nearly always worth reading. Think of it as the book’s ‘abstract,’ or description of what the book is about.

What to Read

Once your preparation is complete, you can really start on your reading. In addition to the introduction, there are other key areas to scan when you are doing research.

Chapter Conclusions
When you have chosen the chapters relative to your search, go ahead and read the concluding sentences of them. Some authors provide a clear indication of where the conclusion begins, but some do not. Even for the ones who do not, the last few sentences of the chapter usually are commentary on the chapter’s subject matter. If you feel that there is more relevant material in the chapter, then go ahead and read the entire chapter. If not, move on to the next one.

Read the Final Conclusion
Once you have read the chapter conclusions, be sure to read the final conclusion to the book. This works similarly to the introduction, and provides an overall picture of the contents of the book. It is usually fairly short and might reveal some material you may have missed earlier.

Scan the Index
For books that have an index, look through it and check for words you have on your keyword list. You might even spot words you didn’t think of that are relevant to your research. You can go directly to the pages listed with those words.

Staying Organized

As with any research, it is important to remain organized and keep track of your information. Write down a few words for an important point and the page number and book you got it from.  You have to discover which way suits you best—some people use note cards, others type up their notes as they go.

Another tip is to keep citations of the books you choose to use as you go along.  This saves you the process of having to go back through your research and find the books for your reference page. If you already have a Word document with the citations in it, you only have to copy and paste them into your final reference page when you are finished.