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Skimming Scanning & Note-Taking
Effective Methods of Evaluating Source Material & Gathering Information from Them
Get Familiar With It Thoughtful reading is necessary for academic work
But, you don’t always have time for this in the beginning You need to get familiar with the source without reading it in detail You need to get a sense of the source’s logical progression, so…
Skim! It helps you determine where to place your greatest focus when you have limited time for reading This doesn’t mean you should ONLY skim a text. Use this technique as a jumping-off point while doing preliminary research Before you begin to skim, you’ll need to use some previewing techniques
Read carefully the first two paragraphs Ask yourself, “What is the focus of this text?” Try to predict the coming explanations or arguments Next, read the first 1-2 sentences of each paragraph, then read the final 1-2 sentences Your goal is to pick up the larger concepts and something of the overall pattern and significance of the text.
Check Out The Ending Read carefully the concluding paragraph or paragraphs. What does the author’s overall purpose seem to be? Remember that you may be mistaken, so be prepared to modify your answer.
Then… Finally, return to the beginning and read through the text carefully, noting the complexities you missed in your skimming and filling in the gaps in your understanding. Think about your purpose in reading this text and what you need to retain from it, and adjust your focus accordingly. Look up the terms you need to know, or unfamiliar words that appear several times.
Scanning Scanning is basically skimming with a more tightly focused purpose: skimming to locate a particular fact or figure, or to see whether this text mentions a subject you’re researching. Scanning is essential in the writing of research papers, when you may need to look through many articles and books in order to find the material you need. Keep a specific set of goals in mind as you scan the text, and avoid becoming distracted by other material.
Scanning, Cont’d You can note what you’d like to return to later when you do have time to read further, and use scanning to move ahead in your research project.
Taking Notes If you take notes efficiently, you can read with more understanding and also save time and frustration when you come to write your paper. These are three main principles: 1) Know what kind of details you need to record. 2) Don’t write down too much. 3) Label your notes intelligently.
Know Which Ideas You Need To Record
First, review the commonly known facts about your topic, and also become aware of the range of thinking and opinions on it. Review your class notes and textbook and browse in an encyclopaedia or other reference work. Try making a preliminary list of the subtopics you would expect to find in your reading. These will guide your attention and may come in handy as labels for notes.
Writing A Research Question
Choose a component or angle that interests you, perhaps one on which there is already some controversy. Now formulate your research question. It should allow for reasoning as well as gathering of information—not just what the proto-Iroquoians ate, for instance, but how valid the evidence is for early introduction of corn. You may even want to jot down a tentative thesis statement as a preliminary answer to your question.
Don’t Write Down Too Much
Your essay must be an expression of your own thinking, not a patchwork of borrowed ideas. Plan therefore to invest your research time in understanding your sources and integrating them into your own thinking. Your note cards or note sheets will record only ideas that are relevant to your focus on the topic; and they will mostly summarize rather than quote. Copy out exact words only when the ideas are memorably phrased or surprisingly expressed—when you might use them as actual quotations in your essay.
Don’t Write Down Too Much
Choose the most important ideas and write them down as labels or headings. Then fill in with a few subpoints that explain or exemplify.
Label Your Notes Intelligently
Try as far as possible to put notes on separate cards or sheets. This will let you label the topic of each note. Not only will that keep your note-taking focused, but it will also allow for grouping and synthesizing of ideas later. It is especially satisfying to shuffle notes and see how the conjunctions create new ideas—yours. Leave lots of space in your notes for comments of your own—questions and reactions as you read, second thoughts and cross-references when you look back at what you've written. These comments can become a virtual first draft of your paper.
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