- During your college career, you use a wide range of books. Some are textbooks or reference books. Others, however, require a bit more savvy than just opening and reading. I hope that this guide helps you navigate your way efficiently and effectively through scholarly monographs.
- Before you can navigate a scholarly monograph, you need to decide it the book in question is indeed scholarly and if it is a monograph. If the answer is “yes,” then here are some hints to help you read the book more effectively.
- First, is the book scholarly?
- The first clue is the author. Look on the back cover or on the dust jacket (if the book has one) for author information. Is s/he/e a credentialed expert in the field? Hold an advanced degree? Author of other major books? Can’t find author info? Go to the acknowledgments page at the front of the book. If the author has thanked people at various libraries, archives, and other intellectual sites, as well as prominent scholars in the field, s/he probably knows his/her stuff. Check the publisher on the title page. University press publication probably means a good, refereed work. Books from commercial presses may or may not be scholarly. Be certain that you’re not using a novel if you’re supposed to have serious scholarly books.
- Is the book based on solid research? Again, return to the works cited and acknowledgement pages. Do you find important intellectual repositories (libraries, archives)? What kind of sources are cited? Does the author(s) refer to newspaper articles or popular magazines as factual information? If so, this is not likely to be considered scholarly unless the topic is more contemporary. For historical works, do you find a wealth of primary sources? How do you tell? Look at the notes, which will often have abbreviations (acronyms) and short author/title citations. Using that information, go to the bibliography and find the origin of the information. Obviously an article published in 1985 cannot be a primary source for events that occurred in the 1830s.
- Second, is the book a monograph? Webster tells us at a monograph is “a learned treatise on a small area of learning; also a written account of a single thing.” Does the book have a single, topical focus? It should. Is it about a single research study? Flip to the back. Does it have endnotes and an index? If you don’t find notes, look at the bottom of pages. Perhaps the press used footnotes rather than endnotes. Other things that indicate a scholarly monograph: glossary, works cited list (bibliography), appendices.
Navigating a scholarly monograph
- The first task to effectively read a scholarly monograph is identifying the major thesis or main idea of the book? Survey the book: After examining the above parts of the book, read its introduction and preface. That short section lays out the author’s game plan. If you see the book’s “big picture,” it will help you understand its various components.
- How do you find the information that you need? If you are prepping for a quiz or gathering information for a research paper, you want to be in fact-finding mode. Use the index to help locate relevant information quickly. Look for chapter titles and subheadings to speed research. Scan the text quickly and extensively for what you need. Hit a foreign word? Check the book’s glossary.
- In contrast, to prepare for a class discussion or an analytical essay, you must do close, intensive reading. Read closely, and often reread, to find subtleties and nuances. Let your ears help your eyes– read difficult sections aloud. You’ll need to check citations (notes that often include further discussion). Instead of merely gleaning information, you must evaluate the arguments presented–this takes more time and brain power.
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