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college academics

In Academics on
February 24, 2017

How To Effectively Skim An Academic Book

When it comes to writing papers in college, we often have to read academic books. I have discussed how to effectively skim academic articles on the blog before, but today I want to discuss how to skim books. This is a great skill to have, because who wants to read a 300 page book in a week to do a paper? Not this girl! Check out my tips below.

 How To Effectively Skim An Academic Book | A lesson that is important but less often taught in college is skimming (especially skimming books.) Click through to learn how to effectively skim academics books so you can spend less time reading, and more time writing.

Attention: This is not going to be about getting the cliff notes version of the book!

For some books that works, but I am not just going to tell you that. Skimming the book requires more focus than just picking up a summary of the book. Today I am going to give you the rundown on what skimming a book entails and I am going to go in-depth on this. I will even be sharing a video where I walk you through these steps because I want to make sure that you are able to skim an actual book.

I hope that you love this post and that it helps you out. These are seriously the things I wish I knew when I first started school, especially graduate school. If you know the story of when I first started graduate school I was drowning in school work. That semester I was taking sociological theory and my course had about 10 books along with countless articles. I was trying to read every word of these books, but I am here to tell you that you do not need to do this. No one does this.

The people that you see keeping up with their schoolwork each week are not reading the books word for word.

I think that we get so wrapped up in other people’s study habits and the fact that they seem to be on top of things that we don’t take a step back and try to understand the most effective and efficient way to research and study. Today we are going to fix that.

I. Understand Why You Are Reading The Book

The first step to skimming anything, whether it is a book or an article is to take a step back and understand why you are reading it. Different things require different levels of skimming. For some things you can potentially stop at the table of contents, but for some you may have to dig deeper and read parts of the chapters in the book.

Here are some reasons you might be reading the book:

  1. Writing an annotated bibliography: Honestly, the table of contents will be your best friend if you are just writing an annotated bibliography. You can’t go too in depth when you are writing an annotated bibliography, but you do want to give a few facts past what you can see in the table of contents.
  2. Writing a paper: If you are just including the book as a reference in a paper the table of contents and a few chapters you find interesting throughout the book to skim would be most important.
  3. Writing a paper about the book: If your paper is centered around the book your skimming will be focused around the table of contents and each chapter in the book.
  4. Discussing the book in class: If you are reading the book to discuss it in a class and maybe write a smaller assignment about the book, you will still need to skim the table of contents and all the chapters, but this won’t be as detailed a skim as if you were writing a paper about it.

Pro Tip: If you are reading the book to discuss in class, do a light skimming of all the chapters, and then get to know a couple of topics that seem important really well. Don’t get called on, talk first, and give your opinions on what you have learned well.

The above pro tip has literally saved my life in discussion-based courses where I skim a book to discuss in class. The same can be said of any article your skim too.

Read The Assignment

Before you do any kind of skimming, read the assignment. Know exactly what is expected of you and how the book plays into those expectations. How much detail does your professor want from the book? How do they discuss the book when it comes to those expectations?

For example, sometimes you may have a paper that is centered around the book, but the summary of the book only takes up a few pages of the assignment. If this is the case, you can be more selective with how much work you put into skimming.

Additionally, if this book is a part of a larger 30 page paper and will just be 1 of 30 sources, you will approach skimming a lot differently than if you are writing a 30 page paper on just this book.

Read the assignment first to get an understanding of how much detail you need to give and find a way to skim the book that gives you that much detail.

II. Understand The Important Parts Of The Book

In this section I will cover the important parts of the book that you want to make a mission to look through when you are working on skimming your book. These are the parts I normally skim, but skim with the context of your assignment in mind.

Cover

The cover can be very beneficial (but it really depends on the layout of the book.) Not all book covers are as valuable as they used to be. Some book covers are just a love letter to the author(s), but some book covers do a great job at offering a synopsis of the book. Having a brief paragraph about the book before you jump into it can be beneficial for you.

Make your way to the back of the book because the covers aren’t usually very helpful. The synopsis will most likely be found on the back of the book.

Table Of Contents

The table of contents is one of the most helpful parts of the book, especially because some books have extremely detailed table of contents. Look at the table of contents and examine what chapters are in the book and what each chapter is talking about.

If you have to write a small essay about this book this can be really beneficial because you take the table of contents and examine which ones you want to focus on, and which chapters you may not want to read much on.

Pro Tip: Remember, this is not a fiction book. These chapters don’t necessarily build on each other. You don’t have to (and potentially shouldn’t) read each chapter in succession.

Students get caught up on reading every single word, but there is a big chance that you don’t have to, and in fact, you shouldn’t. Use the table of contents to guide your reading to the parts of the book that you feel will be most helpful for you.

Index

The index of an academic book can be really beneficial, because it groups a lot of categories and people together.

Pro Tip: Think about how many items are listed for a certain topic in the index. If a certain topic has a long index listing, it is more than likely very important, and should be included in your essay or discussion of the book.

The length of an index listing should be an important tell for the importance of that topic. Take the following index listings pulled from Getting Things Done: The Art of Stress Free Productivity:

agreements:

broken, 244-49

completing, 246-47

renegotiating, 247-48

next-action decisions, 60, 62, 77-79, 127-39, 253-65, 268

accountability and, 262-63

as acquired practice 254-55

categories of 43-45

clarity and, 261-62

and creating the options of doing, 255-57

empowerment and, 264-65

intelligent dumbing down and, 259-61

as operational standard, 253, 264-65

procrastination and, 257-61

productivity and, 263

source of technique, 254-55

As we can see here, we have a lot of information in this book about next-action decisions, but not only is there a lot of information, it is pretty spread throughout the book. One, once we go back to the table of contents for this book we understand that their is an entire chapter devoted to this concept in David Allen’s book, but there is also a few mentions of this concept in other parts of this book which is a good sign.

On the other hand, agreements only has a couple of entries, and they are really bound to one part of the book. This wouldn’t be a good topic to spend a lot of time on if you are skimming a book, because there isn’t much on this topic in the book.

If you were writing a paper on this book, you would be better served spending time looking at the next-action decision listings over the agreements listings, because you could get more out of your time spent skimming.

Furthermore, if you want to make a believable case that you have read the book, you would be better served adding content that takes up a bigger section of the book. Including things that take up a big portion of the book means that you understand what the big picture concepts of the book are.

Headings & Subheadings Of Chapters

Once you are in the actual chapters of the book, you must become familiar with the various headings and subheadings of the book. This helps you keep on target and understand that you need to get through as much of the chapter as possible.

This is obviously not to say that you have to read everything, but that you have to read a little bit of everything. If you can say a couple of things about each of the headings/subheadings in a book that is good when it comes to deciding what to write in a paper.

Remember that you won’t have to skim every part of a book the same way. You may want to lightly skim some parts of a chapter, which may not require much more than just looking at pictures and definitions. Some skimming will require heavy reading of sections of the chapter.

Introduction & Conclusion Chapters

If your book has introduction or conclusion chapters, those can be really important to read and heavily skim. Just like the introduction and conclusion sections of an article are extremely beneficial, so are those chapters. Sometimes all you truly need to know about a book can be found in a comprehensive search of the conclusion chapter.

III. Understand Sections Of The Book You probably Don’t Need To Read

There are many parts of a book that are just there mainly for serious academics in a field. You don’t necessarily have to read these sections, especially as an undergraduate. I do want to discuss these sections and where it might be appropriate to read these sections.

Notes

Academic books often have notes and end notes scattered throughout chapters and at the end of pages. Don’t read those, they are usually just there for other academics who may have more questions about a certain concept. If you do have a few extra questions or want to learn a little more, you can definitely read those, but most professors don’t expect that you will read those end notes and notes sections.

Appendix/Appendicies

Unless you are specifically told to read the appendix, this is another section of the article you can probably skip (especially for an undergraduate paper.) There is a reason that it was put at the back of the book versus in the actual chapter. Think of it as the geeky methodology explanation and the really specific information, usually this is for academics to read. It may be beneficial if there is a concept that you don’t understand in the book that you think will be further understood by skimming the appendix, but otherwise you can skip these sections.

Selected Bibliographies

Sometimes the author of an academic book will include a selected bibliography where they will include some great extra reads. You don’t have to necessarily look into this, but it can be beneficial if you are looking for other sources to cite in a paper you are writing.

IV. Understand the purpose is to skim

Often times when we skim, we forget the fact that we are actually skimming. We get so enthralled with the sections of the book that we are reading for the purposes of skimming that we start to read instead of skim the text. Don’t do this.

The Pomodoro Technique

I have told y’all about why I am obsessed with the pomodoro technique in the past. I love this even more for skimming books and articles. Why? The Pomodoro Technique makes you take a break when you are studying. During this break you are forced to take sometime to check emails or check Instagram, and during this time you are also assessing your previous study session. As you are relaxing for a few minutes between sessions you can re-evaluate how much time you are spending skimming versus just reading.

When you don’t use the pomodoro technique it’s easy to study for hours without ever re-evaluating your skimming. Taking breaks allows you to re-orient yourself and skim more.

V. The Video

Below I have filmed a great video all about skimming an academic book. It is about 20 minutes so it is rather lengthy, but I hope that y’all love it. Let me know if you have any questions about this video.

Final Thoughts

I hope that you found this post helpful as you begin skimming academic books. Reading is fun, but don’t feel that you need to read every single word of every book that you read for class. I wish I had known these tips and tricks when I started graduate school in 2015. It would have saved me SO MANY restless nights during my first semester of graduate school.

What is your best skimming tip for articles or books?

In Academics on
May 16, 2016

Why You Should Join An Academic Organization

If you are an upperclassman with a relatively good GPA you have probably been approached at some point by an honor society on your campus. Today on the blog I am going to talk about the various kinds of academic organizations that are out there and give you a few reasons to join them.

Why You Should Join An Academic Organization | If your a student with a GPA over a 3.0 chances are you have been approached by an honor society or other academic organization. Click through to read my opinions about academic organizations and to listen to a podcast all about the importance of doing your research when you want to join an academic organization.

I am currently a member of two organizations in the sociological world–Alpha Kappa Delta (Sociology’s honor society) and the American Sociological Association. There are many different types of academic organizations but I feel like it’s best to focus on honor societies and associations.

Honor Societies

Honor societies are really tied to your academic prowess. If you are in school and have a GPA over a 3.0 you have probably been asked to join one of these organizations. There is usually a price tag associated with joining an honor society and they offer some perks (which we will talk about later.)

For Alpha Kappa Delta I had to be a sociology major (or show interest in sociology), I had to be to be at least a junior in college, I had to have a total GPA of at least a 3.3 and a sociology GPA of 3.0, and I had to have taken at least 4 sociology courses at the institution I was initiated at. I joined Alpha Kappa Delta in the second semester of my junior year. The fee for Alpha Kappa Delta was $40 for a lifetime membership

Associations

These are usually less to do with grades and more to do with just being a part of your academic world. They can offer a plethora of great resources to you though. I decided to join the American Sociological Association earlier this year. The American Sociological Association is a yearly membership and they have all sorts of tiers to the cost of membership. Since I was a student I got the membership for $50, but the most you have to pay per year is $360 (it’s tiered based on income and those paying $360 make $150,000+ a year.)

Now I am going to move into the perks of joining these academic organizations.

they look great on your resume

To a point, they are almost necessary for your resume in some fields. These academic organizations showcase something special about you and can really make your resume shine (and sometimes keep up) with the other top applicants for a job in your field. So many of my professors were also members of Alpha Kappa Delta or they are members of the American Sociological Association. Finding those big important organizations in your field so that you can become a part of them is crucial. Paying a little bit of money now so that you can say that you are a part of these great and influential organizations later in your career is so worth it.

Networking

On a larger scale, they are great for just networking in general. For instance, the American Sociological Association keeps a job bank on their website that is just open to members. Universities with sociology departments often post their open positions on the website, and these are the kind of jobs you don’t just find while searching your academic field on Indeed. These are great jobs and it gives you a leg up on networking and finding job opportunities just because you are a member of the association the job bank is listed on.

Not only that, but there are often other ways to network too. The American Sociological Association keeps up a LinkedIn group and they also have sections dedicated to various parts of sociology.

Lastly, the American Sociological Association also has yearly meetings in various places that you can attend as a member of the organization. These meetings are fun, you get to network and meet other sociologists, and you also get the chance to present research if you apply to. Associations and honor’s societies have all sorts of different conferences and networking events. There are all sorts of regional societies and associations too so don’t forget about those for even more fun networking events.

Funding

So we just talked about fun conferences and networking events, but let’s be honest, those cost money. These organizations often offer a plethora of funding opportunities, scholarships, and paper competitions for members to partake in. These opportunities can really add up for a student. If you can make $300 for travel just by applying and paying the $50 yearly fee, wouldn’t that be awesome? A lot of groups have all sorts of fun things just like that constantly happening in their societies if only the member apply to them. If possible try to find smaller associations and societies though, because obviously the bigger the organization the bigger the applicant pool.

These organizations can offer a ton in the way of scholarships and fellowships as you begin searching for money to fund your graduate program. Scholarships can be hard to come by so it is nice that these groups are able to provide that for their students.

Freebies/Resources/Discounts

Lastly, a big part of the reason for joining an academic organization is for the resources, freebies, and discounts you get as a member. In my honor society Alpha Kappa Delta we got a journal called Sociological Inquiry which was a journal that featured all sorts of work from sociology students across the country. There are also all sorts of other freebies and resources for members like a mentorship program. Not to mention being in an active chapter on your campus may be able to bring you resources as your honor society club on campus probably does a lot of fun events.

The American Sociological Association offers quite a few freebies and resources for members. We have a job board, we get a one year hard copy subscription to one of their many journals, we get all of the journals digitally, we get discounts on publications on their website, and more. A membership with the American Sociological Association has so many benefits and as I stated earlier I only pay $50 a year for a plethora of amazing freebies and resources. Sounds like a good deal to me! One cool book I recently got a discount on because I was a student member was a book featuring basically all of the Sociology graduate programs in the country that the American Sociological Association puts out. It’s normally $50, but since I was a student member I got it for $20.

Academic organizations often offer freebies and discounts on things like journals, merchandise, books, and more. These can be so beneficial to you as you begin to start your collection of journals and books in your field.

The Happy Arkansan Podcast

Today’s blog post has a special extra component for all you lovelies out there. I recorded an 8 minute podcast just for you. On this podcast I talk about all sorts of fun stuff like general academic organizations and why I don’t like them as much as the specific organizations I talked about on the blog. I also talk about how to do your research on the organizations that ask you to join so you can make sure that it will be a worthwhile effort.

I hope you enjoyed this podcast. Let me know in the comments if this is something you want to see more of, because recording it was so fun and low stress!

 Final thoughts

Academic organizations are definitely not cheap! They can cost a lot of money, but the affiliation with people in your academic field can be invaluable. You can gain so much by making these quick associations and it can turn into a great experience and resume builder for you. I encourage you to take a look at the academic organizations who recruit you, especially if they are related to your major so that you can create those important connections.

In Academics on
March 7, 2016

Reading With Purpose: Article Skimming 101

Today’s blog is all about reading with purpose, understanding the parts of an article, and skimming that article with intent. In graduate school right now I read a minimum of 6 articles a week between my two courses Violence & Society and Crime, Control, & Inequality. That’s a lot of reading, but you don’t read everything–you skim! I am going to teach you how to skim with purpose in today’s blog and I hope that you find this information super useful. These are things I wish I had learned way earlier in my college career, and it’s never too early to start working on understanding these concepts.

 Reading With Purpose: Article Skimming 101 | Being able to skim while reading is an important skill to have that all too often college students don't know how to do. Click through for my tips on how to skim read any article that you may have to read in college or graduate school.

Reading With Purpose

First of all it’s important to understand what reading with purpose actually means. There are a lot of reasons you might be reading an article. For example, each week I read three articles in my Violence & Society class. In my opinion my reads are a bit softer in this class because the purpose of my paper is a reflection essay/review of the major findings in the paper. Obviously I skim the entire paper so that I will be able to have a productive class discussion, but I don’t go into every single minute detail of a paper–I just don’t have time for that. In my Crime, Control, & Inequality class on the other hand, we take notes on each article so my reading has to be a bit more in depth so that I can get the most important information from the articles and into my notes. That doesn’t mean that I am reading every single article from start to finish.

When you sit down to read you really have to understand your purpose. Are you reading for fun, for a literature review, to study for a test, to write a reflection essay, to take notes? What is your purpose? This will help you decide and gauge the amount you need to skim or actually read of your article. Also think back to past assignment grades. Each week in my Violence class we write a 2 page single space reflection essay on the work that we do. These past reflection essays and the feedback my professor gives on them are perfect for assessing if my skimming is actually working or not, or if I need to delve just a little bit deeper for the content my professor wants. This helps me when I sit down to read for the week and write my essay.

So now that you know how to read with purpose I am going to introduce you to the various parts of an academic journal article and how to read these parts with purpose.

Parts Of An Academic Journal Article

Depending on your purpose of reading, various parts of a journal article might make more or less sense to sit through. I am going to walk you through the major parts of an academic journal article and how you can get through each part and read them with purpose.

Abstract

In my opinion, the abstract is one of the most important parts of an article. I feel like this is such an important piece to read no matter the purpose of your reading. The abstract is essentially a wrap up of the most important parts of the entire paper. It summarizes the major findings of the literature review, the data and methods section, and the conclusions. If you want to get a quick understanding of a study read it’s abstract.

Introduction

The purpose of the introduction it to set the scene for the entire paper. They will really let you know exactly what the paper hopes to look at, as well as give you a great look into the writer’s potential writing style. I really encourage reading the introduction, as it is usually only a page at most (and usually just a few paragraphs.)

Literature Review

Okay, now we are getting to a good bulk of a paper. The literature review can be quite lengthy, but super important to any paper reading. So how exactly should you approach skimming this section? I will let you in on a little secret:

All Good Literature Reviews Have Section Headings

So what does that mean for you? It means you can skip around. In this article, as you can see, I have also used section headings. It makes the entire article a more pleasant read, because as a reader, you can decide exactly where you want to start reading. Don’t care about learning about the abstract? That’s cool, because you can skip straight down to my discussion of the discussion or the literature review.

Literature reviews are just like that. This means a few things.

  1. You can see exactly what the literature review will be discussing at a glance.
  2. You can delve a bit deeper into the parts that you care about.
  3. You can read way less paragraphs by reading the introduction and conclusion paragraphs of each section.

Obviously reading through the literature review is important. In order to understand the literature review as a whole you need to cover each of the sections of the literature review. You don’t have to read every single piece of information in the literature review, but you have to actually skim the content and make sure you are picking up on the important pieces. I use a highlighter to go through and highlight any information I deem important or maybe just interesting. If it sparks a question I also like to make a few little notes in the margins as well.

Data & Methods

Okay, honestly I skim this part a lot. The data & methods is the bulk of any study/article, because it is actually what they are talking about. This is their contribution to the literature. This is what you came here for technically. You can skim this section pretty easily, but you have to know some important information.

Methods

This section basically outlines their methodology or how they intend to measure what they are looking for. They probably told you in the introduction what they are looking for. They may choose a survey, one-on-one interviews, group interviews, a content analysis, an experiment, something else, or a combination of various measurements. If you want to get the bulk of the methods section understand these questions.

  1. What method(s) they used to study their subject.
  2. Who participated in their study? What are their genders? What are their ages? Where are they from? What makes them a special and important group to study.

Data

This section is where they actually provide their results. What did the survey, content analysis, or experiment yield as far as tangible results. Honestly, I skip over this section quite a bit, because I am not super savvy when it comes to reading charts and various numbers. In my opinion the tables and extra frill are really there to say “I am way more science-y than my other doctorate competitors.” So what do I do if I don’t really look at the tables. I read their explanations of the data in the data section, but specifically in the discussion section.

Discussion

So this is where the data talk really heats up, this is where they discuss exactly what they found and how it relates to the literature they discussed earlier. If tables and stats give you hives then I would definitely suggest reading their actual discussion on the data that they found. I am not the best at statistics past the simple descriptive statistical analysis so I rely pretty heavily on their discussion of their data in the data and discussion sections.

Conclusion & Limitations/Future Research

The conclusion and limitations/future research sections can be super important. The conclusion section really ties up all the loose ends to any research that was done and really does a good job of tying all of the pieces and parts together in a nice, neat bow. This discusses if they really proved their hypotheses or not, and what that means as far as the validity of their research.  This is a great part to skim.

One section that I really wanted to touch on, that depending on your purpose you might skip or skim is the limitations/future research section. Sometimes this has a section all it’s own, but a lot of the time it’s just tacked on to the conclusion section. The purpose of this section is to let readers know what they had a hard time with. Maybe their sample wasn’t as big or as diverse as they would like or they were sponsored by someone who might have swayed their research a little. This also just talks about what they’d like to see in future papers. This is a great place to skim if the purpose of your reading is to get some ideas for future research projects. I love this article on how to use the future research and limitations section to come up with new research topic ideas.

Works/Literature Cited

Lastly, I also think the works cited part of any article is important to skim if you are reading to get ideas on your own research paper. You can use the sources they use to build your literature review, find potential data sets, and more. For instance, when I did research during my senior year of college in my senior seminar course one particular book kept coming up in the literature reviews of all the articles I was researching.  This was such an important resource for me when I was writing my paper, because I was able to actually have a great resource in my paper that I otherwise wouldn’t have seen because I was focusing specifically on articles.

Random Information About Skimming

To end this hopefully really beneficial talk all about article skimming I am also going to let y’all in on a few other random pieces of information about article skimming that I think are important.

Don’t Get Caught Up With Reading

When you are skimming, don’t get too caught up reading. Often times when you set out to skim it becomes a reading fest because one interesting thing might lead to another interesting thing. That is all fine and good, but remember to note when you are skimming over just reading a bunch of the words. The most important thing to remember is don’t discount skimming if you aren’t skimming but actually just reading everything in an article. Efficient skimming takes practice to get down, and it’s something that you will probably be working at for a long time.

Set A Timer

One practice that I use to not get caught up with my reading is to set a timer or at the very least a time that I’d like to be done with skimming an article. This helps get my brain conditioned to skim a bit faster and to spend less time reading every minute detail, because I admit I get caught up with reading too, and this is the best method I have found for curving that. You may not follow your time exactly right the first few times, but you can start to understand how these things may work together and change the way you skim to fit your time limit.

Final Thoughts

Overall, I hope that today’s post has been super helpful for anyone who is struggling to read all of the various readings they get each week. This is the information I wish someone would have told me when I first started college. I would have been so much more proficient at reading articles today if I had this basic information when I first started reading articles.

What are your best skimming techniques? Leave them in the comments below!