Appendix 4: Some notes on how to read and types of reading

Frank Ritter, 20 Sept 2013

How to read a textbook

This book is designed to be read by non-experts. I would like to start this appendix by noting how to read a textbook. You have been taught to read, no doubt, but few are taught explicitly how to read a textbook. If you have been taught, you are very welcome to skip this appendix. If you are just doing what you are told, then just read what you are told. If you are learning how to read so that you can read once you leave university, these notes may be helpful.

The structure of books has evolved to help readers. There are several parts that help you know how to use it and what it is trying to say. If you look at the title and the inside pages, you will see who the authors and publisher are. Sometimes these don't matter to you, but often, as you become more expert, they do. Particular authors become known for a particular view, and as much as the title or more so, they define the book. Publishers tend to publish books about certain topics or certain areas. This is not visible to novices, but as you get more experience, it suggests a direction the book is headed. For example, Psychology Press publishes only books on psychology. If they have a book on rugby, perhaps titled "On rugby", it will not be a book about the sport of rugby, but it will be a book on the psychology of the sport of rugby.

The preface tells you a little bit about the authors and the process of the book. It may also tell you when and what to read it for. Our book is no different.

The table of contents can give you an overview of the book, if you look at it that way. You can also use it to find specific information you are looking for in combination with the index. Reading the ToC will let you preview the book, which will help with memorization and retention. So, you should read the ToC, perhaps several times while you are studying.

The introductory chapter will tend to tell you why to read the book in more detail and to provide the structure of the book in more detail. The concluding chapter will tend to tell you what you have learned and to summarize the book for you. Skimming both before diving in to reading the book can be very useful to long-term learning because it will give you some structure to hold what you learn.

These comments are completely consistent with the discussion of PQ4R in the book in Chapter 5.

How to read the references cited in the body of the book

This book like most textbooks and research monographs cites a wide range of materials that can be found through the references.  These citations are used in several ways: they can note where the authors learned the material they are writing about, they can refer to who has written about this before, and they can provide an authority who vouches for the statement, sometimes all of these. They can also point to where you can learn more about the topic.

I'd like to describe these types of materials so you can learn which to use, and what to look for when you find additional materials using other ways to search (e.g., Google, DuckDuckGo). Knowing about different kinds of documents is known as information literacy.

Textbooks and books are useful for initial learning. They provide broad coverage of the material, but do not always provide detail.

Journal articles and to a lesser extent conference papers are recent, authorative reports on what has been learned. They are reviewed for accuracy, although journal articles are reviewed much more stringently and typically by more reviewers. Peer review in this case typically but not exclusively means by professors or researchers with a good reputation to the editor.

Book chapters are also useful. Sometimes they are reviewed and often they include material that would difficult to publish as a journal article, such as an opinion or a more speculative idea. But they can be very useful.

You will also have read technical reports. For technical information, like the details of GOMS, a technical report or a manual is brilliant and highly appropriate.

You may also have seen videos. They vary widely in content and quality. Sometimes they can tell much more than a piece of text can, particularly when illustrating a visual point visually. At other times, they can take a paragraph of information and give it to you in 15 minutes.

Finally, we have referred to you some web sites. They sometimes reflect the latest thinking of great thinkers, and sometimes they represent informal, insightful advice that would not be easily published in any other venue. At other times they are clearly unrefereed rubbish, and the only guide is your own good sense.