In college, whether you are reading for class or reading sources for a paper or other project, you may benefit from being an active reader. There is no one right way to do this, but here are some tips:
One framework for active reading is SQRRR or SQR3. This stands for Survey, Question, Read, Recite, Review.
Survey: Skim the article first, looking at the introduction, conclusion and major points – this is your survey. Make a few brief notes about what stands out.
Question: Ask yourself questions that will help you understand the article. Again, there is no one right way to do this, but some possibilities include: Who wrote it? Who is the audience for this article? What is the purpose of the paper? What are the major points the author makes? What is the conclusion? How does this relate to your class, paper topic or research question? How can you best use this article for your paper or project?
Read: Read the article again, answering your own questions. Make sure your notes are clear enough that when you read them again later, they make sense. Also note anything you are unsure about.
Recite: You can actually talk out loud if you are in a place where that's possible, or write down, in your own words, what you just read and how it relates to what you already know and need to know.
Review: It's helpful to do this step sooner rather than later – go over your notes, make sure everything is clear, and skim again to make sure you haven't missed anything. Also, note how you want to use this source.
When you're done with SQR3, you should have a clear idea not only of what the article is about, but also how best to cite it in your paper to support your own ideas.
Here's a video on SQR3, and University of North Carolina's "Reading to Write" page. Worried that you can't recall what you read? SQR3 can help, and you can also try these tips on Remembering What You Read from the College of St. Benedict & St. John University.
Remember that when you do research, you are looking for information to use in your paper or project, and one way to consider how to use information is the BEAM model*. BEAM stands for the types of sources you'll find: Background, Exhibit, Argument, and Method. Once you've found information that
provides Background information or definitions that help explain your topic, OR
presents, or Exhibits information or images that you will analyze or interpret, OR
presents evidence in support of an Argument or its opposing view, OR
explains a Method of researching or interpreting information,
you then have to determine the best way to include the information in your paper or presentation and the correct way to attribute, or give credit for, that information using the citation style your assignment requires, such as APA. This is also called citing.
* (Joseph Bizup (2008) BEAM: A Rhetorical Vocabulary for Teaching Research Based Writing, Rhetoric Review, 27:1, 72-86, DOI: 10.1080/07350190701738858)
You can read more about BEAM at the Modesto Junior College library's website, or watch the video below from Portland State University.
Whether you take notes on your computer or write notes by hand, there are a few things that can make it easier to organize what you note for use in your papers:
1. Think about the points you want to make in your paper. You can make an outline or just a simple numbered list.
2. Get the citation and the permalink (also called a persistent link) for your source. Look for the link button in database toolbars. If there isn't a link button, try the link at the top of the article page in a new browser to see if it takes you back to the article. If it does, it's the permanent link. At the very least, make sure you have the article or book title and author.
3. As you make notes, try to mix up copying exact quotations and summarizing the main points of your source in your own words. Keep track of this carefully so you know when to use quotation marks in your paper.
4. Think about what you just noted and how it fits your outline or list of points for the paper. Where does this information fit? Add the number from your outline or list to the note.
3. Mark each note with the source author and title so you know which information comes from which source so you can cite properly.
You can adapt this system to the way you work best, but coming up with a systematic way of thinking about and organizing your notes so you see which information supports which parts of the paper can make the writing process go much more smoothly.
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