Finding your materials, part
Approach books efficiently
Before reading a promising-looking book:
- Find the name of
A book by a major or small but reputable publisher, or one published
by a university press is probably pretty reliable.
- Check the back
of the title page to find the date of publication. A book written in 1975, for
example, may have much value, but it will be out of date in some
- Figure that the
information in most books will be current about 10 years before
the date of publication--for more recent books this time will
be less. For
example, a book published in 1975 will probably be current for
information that was cutting edge in 1965. Reason: It takes time
to write and publish a book. This is where recent journal articles
can be very helpful: as your project solidifies, you can use
a focused database search with a limited date range to check
out the most recent info on various topics.
- Read the table
Some books have detailed tables of contents that will help you
decide to reject the book or lead you to examine it more carefully.
- If the table of
contents is promising, read / skim the index in the back of the
a book will have just a few pages with info you need. So long
as you're careful not to pull information out of context there's
often no need to read a book cover to cover.
- Check out the bibliography (more on that soon). If the
bibliography looks solid, this is promising. If there's no bibliography,
you may want to reject the book, as a scholarly book will tend
have a bibliography. When in doubt, go back and consider the
publisher of the book, the target audience, and also the reputation
of the author. You might also want to read some reviews of the
book. If there's no bibliography, but the book is written by
a reputable scholar, has a major or reputable publisher, but
directed to a popular audience, then using it will probably be
- If everything looks
it's time to read the book.
- Remember that you
don't need to read every book cover to cover. Sometimes one chapter is
all you need, or just a few pages.
© Jan Mainzer