The Study Dude – Scrawl on It

Study Tips from a Semi-Anonymous Friend

There is nothing more that The Study Dude wants for you than to scrawl all over your books.

Well, in these articles, as The Study Dude, I’ll try to give you the study tips you need to help make your learning easier. I’ll also give you straight and honest opinions and personal anecdotes?even the embarrassing ones that you wouldn’t ever dare read about from any other study tip guru.

This week’s Study Dude delves into How to Read a Book: The Classic Guide to Intelligent Reading by Mortimer J. Adler and Charles van Doren. Let’s examine the authors? basics: how to skim a book, how to mark-up a book, and what questions to ask of the text.

we’re going to look at a basic level of reading called inspectional reading. Higher levels of reading exist: analytical reading and synthesis reading. But for now, the basics.

Make It Your Own
What do you ask yourself when reading a book? I had a professor who wanted me to use quotes in a way such that “I made them my own.” How do you make a quote your own without plagiarizing?

Well, I still haven’t figured that out, but I now know how to make a book my own: you scrawl on it. And, if you’d rather not deface your book, then figure out how it helps you grow personally.

How do I make a book my own? Well, I’m currently reading books on humor because, one day, as an instructor, I hope to bolster student creativity. So, I focus most intently on the parts of the book that help me achieve this goal. I make it my own.

I’m also reading a book on teaching techniques. My goal for reading this book? Teaching finesse, of course. To make the book my own, I parallel passages with my own student experiences, while reflecting on my values.

While reading, question the text in ways that are personally beneficial to you.

So, Adler and van Doren provide the following questions to consider while reading your books:
– Ask how important the book is to you. Ask why you feel It’s important.
– Ask if you feel the author’s claims are true. If you feel the claims have some truth, do these truths speak to you personally or professionally?
– What is the key idea of the book? How is the key idea broken down into sub-themes? What do these themes mean to you personally?
– What additional books would further advance the author’s insights? (don’t just stick to the one book if it speaks to you; explore the topic further.)

Smart Markup
I’ve read lots of advice on how to mark up a book. Adler and van Doren give plenty more, but I have a specific approach to marking up books.

Whenever I research a book for the Study Dude articles, I start with a clear goal: to refer solely to my markup?and not the text itself? while doing the actual writing.

How do I do it? I tend to read a paragraph at a time while scrawling key ideas and comments in the margins. If the author writes the passage beautifully, I’ll retain much of the original wording; in most cases, I simplify the passage by paraphrasing.

So, I reduce one page down to maybe two to fifteen key ideas scrawled in the margins.

And I underline long sentences that I want to use.

To ensure I get my citations right, I also underline names of people I might quote; then I draw arrows connecting the names to the comments I scrawled in the margin.

I also put my own questions or thoughts in square brackets in the margin. (You haven’t read a book until you’ve inserted your own thoughts, say Adler and van Doren.)

Lastly, I make use of the book’s first and last pages. On the front page of the book, I jot down the page numbers and brief summaries of topics I consider most important. On the back page, I include trivial stuff, like definitions, facts, or other tidbits.

Adler and van Doren provide their own take on how to mark-up a book:
– Write in the margins, at the top and bottom of the books, in between paragraphs?even in between lines (when you need the space).
– Write summaries of the book in the first few barren pages of the book. Jot down your impressions here, too.
– Writing in the margins keeps you alert and helps you to recall passages.
– If you disagree with the book’s content, express your arguments in the margins.
– Underline key ideas.
– Use vertical lines to stress part of an idea already underlined.
– Use a dozen stars at most throughout the book. These signify the top 12 or so main points of the book. Dog-ear the pages to easily reference the stars later on.
– When the author makes a series of arguments, number them.
– Circle significant words or phrases.
– Create your own index at the back of the book: include key names, places, and ideas.

On Skimming
Everyone should skim their books.

As for me, when I get my hands on academic textbooks, I skim the tables of contents, the author bios, the prefaces. I also read at least one chapter per book per course prior to the start of a semester. And often the table of contents inspire me to peer at additional passages in the book.

Rarely do I read the index, though. In fact, I typically forget the name of that thingy in the back of the book.

But the index does morph into an ally whenever I need material for an essay.

Adler and van Doren advise on how to skim book:
– Read the preface and title page. Try to link the books with related ones you’ve already read.
– Peer at the table of contents. Treat it like a road map. Indulge.
– Check out the index and pay special attention to entries with multiple page references. For instance, in the index of Adler and van Doren’s book, the philosopher Aristotle has many page references.
– Read the author bio.
– Read the blurb on the back cover of the book.
– If you like the book after skimming it, then continue reading. (Course textbooks you generally should read in full, whether or not you like the book content.)
– Read chapter summaries at the beginning and/or end of each chapter.
– Flip through the book for fun and pour over whatever sparks your curiosity.
– Read the closing pages of the book.

So, there’s nothing to fear. The Study Dude is determined to make right for you all the wrongs I made in grad school?one A+ at a time.

Adler, Mortimer J., & van Doren, Charles. (1972). How to Read a Book: The Classic Guide to Intelligent Reading. New York, NY: Simon & Schuster.