Reading is required in both academic study and general citizenship. The more accurately one reads, comprehending the presented data and relationships among the arguments and retaining the details, the greater the benefit that may be accrued from the reading effort.
Order of Reading
I suggest that students read an academic textbook in the following order,
1. book’s title
2. preface and forward (to understand the author’s intention and objectives in writing the textbook)
3. table of contents (to gather an understanding of the content and organization of the textbook)
4. index (to gain a detailed overview the textbook’s content)
5. introductions or overviews of the assigned chapters
6. end-of-chapter summaries and quizzes of the assigned chapters
7. content of the assigned chapters
8. end-of-chapter summaries and quizzes of the assigned chapters (rereading this material will help you to review the material)
By reading a textbook in this order, a student may most fully understand the details of the assigned readings.
Academic reading requires three passes at the material.
1. read for general understanding and an overview of the principal arguments presented in the material
2. closely read for complete understanding (highlight important material and take notes using my notetaking worksheet)
3. review the material to ensure complete understanding.
Additional Course Readings
In addition to readings from a textbook, please remember to closely read the assigned reserve readings. These selections from books, journals, magazines, and other sources offer additional material that is relevant to the learning objectives.
Efficient Reading Strategies
Reading takes time, but the time required to read any given text can be reduced by efficient reading practices. To develop the skills necessary to read quickly and to increase comprehension, I recommend Peter Kump’s book, Breakthrough Rapid Reading, which is available at most libraries and bookstores; however, the lowest price that I know of for the text is at Amazon.com.
I am pragmatic about most activities. I seek the most efficient means to complete tasks, often spending up hours in thought or experiment as I seek means to minimize the resources required to complete tasks. It is through this attention to effectiveness that I can (occasionally) identify algorithms and procedures that, when applied judiciously, minimize the resources required to complete repetitive tasks. One of these examples that I developed is comprehensive preparation before reading a text. Reading solely the individual arguments presented by an author in a book requires that the reader create a frame of reference within which to understand the individual arguments, their relationships to one another, and their comprehensive relationship to activity or life. By reading a book from the outside toward the inside (outside-in), one may first understand the frame of reference the author seeks to present and then, within that reference, the arguments. The arguments are laid on a foundation that explains the value of the arguments.
The book’s title, table of contents, preface, introduction, and index, as well as each chapter’s introduction and summary form the reference frame, the bed of comprehension, within which the content arguments are presented. Reading only the arguments in a book is like eating only the peanut butter; however, reading the book from the outside toward the inside is like eating a peanut butter and jelly sandwich: not only a much easier task, more fulfilling, too!
Students will spend many hours a week in their institution’s library, researching the minutia of narrow topics. Much of the research material is presented in the form of academic journals. A well-composed journal article will include an abstract and citations page. The abstract is a one-paragraph introduction to the article’s thesis. The citations page is a list of previous research that is cited in the article. Both the abstract and citations form a frame of reference for the article’s arguments. This is one of the reasons that academic research consumes so much of a student’s resources: reading the foundation and arguments takes time. A journal article that includes 30 citations may require three or four hours, as a student must read not only the selected article, but a sampling of the articles that developed and defended the initial article author’s arguments.
I firmly believe that academic study should not be made difficult for students; it should be made challenging and illuminating. The value of undergraduate academic study is not only an understanding of presented topics. The true value of undergraduate academic study is in the development of critical reading and critical thinking skills, those skills that allow one to effectively relate to others and to effectively exercise one’s responsibilities to citizenship. College students learn to read, think, and argue. These processes, when properly exercised and consciously applied allow one to be most effective in relating to others.
You may find it helpful to use my notetaking worksheet, which is available in the Administrative Materials section of my student resources website, http://cogitoveritas.com/handouts/.