Reading may not seem like something you need to learn how to do once you’re in college, but it is a vital skill that will take you beyond the comprehension of words on a page.
Before you begin reading, you should ask yourself two “why” questions.
- Why did the author write this book?
Every author is trying to address a problem - something that they believe is not right or needs clarification. If you can understand why the author wrote, you will be able to better comprehend what the author is saying.
Tip: You can usually find out why an author wrote by reading the preface or introductory paragraphs.
- Why am I reading this book?
You should also have a clear vision of why you are reading this text. What is it you are hoping to get out of it? What does it bring to your research? How does it fit into your paper? Knowing these things will let you clearly assess if this is a valuable resource for your project.
What to Read Before Reading
Reading a book without thoroughly looking it over is like trying to drive across the country without looking at the map. You can do it. It will still be fun. But, you’ll miss countless things along the way. To get the most out of your time, you’ll need to look at each step along your route. Here’s how to break this down:
- Look at the Table of Contents.
See if you can figure out how the book is structured.
Does the Table of Contents give you any clues about how the author is going to form her argument? Read the chapter and section names to glean any information you can out of them.
- Read the preface or introduction.
You would be surprised how many people skip the preface or introduction of a book. While it may not seem important, authors often lay out their motivations, questions, and presuppositions in the opening pages of their book.
- Read the first and last chapter.
Spoilers aren’t any fun for movies, but knowing how a book is going to end before you start is a piece of information that will make any academic read more successful.
- Read the relevant parts & skim the rest.
By now you should have a good feel for what the book will say, how it’s laid out, and what you need to spend time actually reading. Dig in and take notes for what you need, but skimming anything else will serve you just as well. If you find something interesting, you can always slow down and read it for details.
Tip: Keep a notebook or document where you can keep notes on every text you read. If you keep a running list of everything you’ve read and a sentence or two describing it, you’ll have a great reference guide to look back at once you’re out of school.