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Monday Master Class: Never Take Books Out of the Library

July 30th, 2007 · 7 comments

The wrong way to conduct paper research

  1. Gather up a bunch of books and journals that seem relevant to your topic. Dump them in your dorm.
  2. Wait until the day before the paper is due.
  3. Start writing. When you feel like a quote is overdue, scavenge through your stack until you find something that seems to have some sort of connection to what you have written so far. Add this quote to your paper. (Bonus points if it includes the word “hegemony.”)

A better way to conduct paper research

  1. After identifying a useful book chapter or journal article, photocopy the relevant pages. Make sure you also copy the citations and the title page (if a book), so you have the information you need to later cite the source.
  2. Open a document in your word processor. Skim quickly through your photocopy. As you proceed, type in annotations of the form: page number — quick description of what type of info is there. These are not notes. They are pointers. For example: pg. 124 — discussion of impact of NAFTA on American auto ind.
  3. Print the annotations and staple them to the front of your photocopies. Return the book or journal to the shelf.
  4. When outlining your argument or actually writing the paper, use only these annotated copies to find the material you need.
  5. If possible: batch the above steps. For example, in one library trip, you might make photocopies of several sources. In a later session(s), you can provide the annotations. Like any good, efficient study technique, it decomposes naturally.

(Adapted from Part III of How to Become a Straight-A Student)

7 thoughts on “Monday Master Class: Never Take Books Out of the Library

  1. tboot says:

    Another way to do this is to scan the chapter/article instead. Makes for easy search and cut-and-paste later.

  2. andres says:

    Cal, I’ve been taking pictures of the book pages for quite a while and it works fine for me.
    It’s faster than a xerox and I have no problem reading at the computer for a couple min.
    If you have a good phone it may be convenient as well.
    Photos + index cards, do the work

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