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Knowing what you’re looking for

But before you hit the books, a warning! It’s all too easy to pick up a pile of books that appear vaguely useful and browse among them. This might be enjoyable, and you might learn something, but it will hardly help you get your essay written. Now that you’ve interpreted the question and you’ve brainstormed the issues, you have a number of questions and topics you want to pursue. You are now in a position to ask clear questions as you read the books and the other materials you’ve decided to use in your research.

Nevertheless, before you begin you need to pin down exactly the sections of each book that are relevant to your research. Very few of the books you use will you read from cover to cover. With this in mind, you need to consult the contents and index pages in order to locate those pages that deal with the questions and issues you’re interested in. HTW11 7/26/01 9:01 PM Page 78 For most books this is all you will need to do.

However, there are those books that have very misleading chapter titles, which tell you very little about the content of each chapter. The same books may also have a short and unhelpful index. In this case you’ll find it helpful to read the first paragraph of each chapter, where the authors explain what they will be doing in this chapter, and then the last paragraph, where they explain how they’ve done it.

Conclusion:

Failing this, and this will be rare indeed, you can skim each page, picking up a general impression of the contents of each chapter. Alternatively, if you know the specific problem you want the book to address, you can scan each page swiftly, looking for those keywords through which you can find the answers. It’s surprising just how effective both of these strategies can be, but they will only work well if you’ve already pinned down the issues clearly in the interpretation stage.

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