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Use this guide to learn about the research process and plan your research project.

Welcome to the Research Planning Guide

Step 9: Read and Take Notes

Now that you have your resources, you will need to read them to understand the content!  Your sources may be great, but they won't do you any good until you read them and learn what they have to tell you (see below for suggestions on reading books efficiently).

When reading for research, you DON'T need to read the whole book.  This does NOT mean, however, that you should take bits and pieces from the book while ignoring the context.  Here are some suggestions:

Using Books for Research

 Examine the title page, preface, forward, introduction, or any other preliminary material in the beginning of the book.  This will give you an idea of the purpose or plan of the book, the basic topics that will be covered, what the author's reasons for writing may be, his/her approach, and even the thesis of the book. 

Reading this will help you understand the basic structure of the book and the development of the topic.  From here you can identify the chapters that should be most helpful to your research, and which ones can be ignored.

Scanning the index can provide clues to the important topics covered in the book.  Some topics may have one or two page numbers listed, while others will have multiple listings.  Compare the index to the table of contents for an even better understanding.  But heed this warning: if you rely solely on the index to find the information you want, you might be tempted to take that information out of context. 

Read both the introductory and concluding chapter.  Then flip through the remaining chapters and read the first and last paragraph of each.  Pay attention to headings and sub-headings within the chapters. 

Finally, read carefully any chapters or portions that relate directly to your topic.  Be sure to read critically, asking questions and taking notes as you go.  Evaluate the fairness, completeness, and strength of any arguments or propositions you encounter.

Other Resources

Some people use the traditional note-card method.  Some print out articles or copy book pages and use color-coded highlighters and sticky flags.  William Badke has developed a system for taking notes digitally. There's no one best way—the best way to take notes is the way that works best for you.  

Here is a list of great resources for learning more about taking great notes—notes that will help you keep all your new information organized so that you can use it to write a great paper.