Book Report Hack: How to Analyze a Book Quickly

As an English Literature major in college, I had to read 4 to 5 books per class. This meant that within a 10 week quarter, I would have read over 20 novels. It was a lot of work, but here’s a technique I used to help me analyze the books quickly:

1. Read the Plot Overview First
You can find plot summaries of most books online. I recommend checking out sparknotes.com, cliffnotes.com, or wikibooks.org. Plot summaries can give you a general understanding of the plot before opening the book. It will spoil the ending for you, but it will help you focus on the major plotline while reading.

2. Read the Themes, Motifs and Symbols
Sparknotes.com offers a Themes, Motifs and Symbols section for every book within its database. This will give you a snapshot of the major themes to watch for. If you know the themes and symbols ahead of time, you can start highlighting any reference in the book that relates to that theme.

3. Underline, Highlight and Write Notes
After you know the plot and major themes, you’re ready to start dissecting your book. As you study, start underlining the key passages that relate to the major plots and themes within the novel. Then make sure to catalog all your notations on a separate piece of paper. Write down page numbers and a brief comment of why that page or section is important to the main theme or plot you’re studying. This will be extremely helpful when you start writing a report or essay about the book.

4. Read Journal Article Abstracts
If you have time, it also helps to search for journal articles about the book you’re reading. I don’t mean start reading through dense journal articles. That takes too much time. I just mean that you should skim journal article abstracts so that you know what scholars are thinking about the book you’ve just read. Simply visit Google Scholar and type in the name of your book. Read the article abstract to give you ideas of what to write about.

Lastly, if you really don’t have time to read the book at all, then start reading through chapter summaries from sparknotes.com or cliffnotes.com. It’s not the best choice, but it will give you some preparation prior to a test or writing an essay.

What Stephen King Can Teach You About Writing Essays

Stephen King wrote an autobiography called On Writing back in 2000.

In the book, King recounts his various experiences as a writer along with his strategies for creative writing and plot development.

Anyway, we found a great list of writing tips taken directly from the book. Even though this advice applies more toward creative writing, many of these suggestions also apply toward writing/editing an essay for a class.

Here are some of the most practical writing tips:

Get to the point.
Don’t waste your reader’s time with too much back-story, long intros or longer anecdotes about your life. Reduce the noise. Reduce the babbling.

Write a draft. Then let it rest.
King recommends that you crank out a first draft and then put it in your drawer to let it rest. This enables you to get out of the mindset you had when you wrote the draft and get a more detached and clear perspective on the text. It then becomes easier to edit.

Cut down your text.
Remove all the superfluous words and sentences. Removing will de-clutter your text and often get your message through with more clarity and a bigger emotional punch.

Read a lot.
If you want to be a better writer you need to read a lot to get fresh input, broaden your horizons and deepen your knowledge.

Check out other writing tips on the Productivity Blog.

The Best APA Cheat Sheets on the Web

So it’s like 3 a.m. and you’re trying to finish your paper. You’re almost done, but you forgot where you left your APA Style Guide. No worries. We have some online APA style guide cheat sheets that you can use right now:

APA Formatting Tips from Purdue
Purdue University offers a comprehensive review of everything you need to know about APA style. This website offers not only great instruction, but also helpful pictures to demonstrate how to use the various APA rules.

APA Research Style Crib Sheet Project
This website archives a bunch of handy APA rules that you should definitely check out. It provides an excellent summary of how to format and write your title page, references, and abbreviations.

APA Online Tips
The official APA website doesn’t provide very many free tips because they want you to buy the book from them. However, they do offer some free tips on APA word usage and hyphens.

APA Citation Help
How do you cite multiple authors again? Or what about citing televisions shows or interviews? This website answers all those common questions.

APA Style Essentials
This might be one of our favorite APA sites. Its written and maintained by a professor of psychology. He not only lists all the major APA rules, but he includes a downloadable pdf to show you exactly how to do it. Very useful.

If you find any other handy APA cheat sheets on the web, please send us an email or leave a comment here. We’ll add it to the list.

Top 7 Websites to Visit Prior to Writing Your Research Paper

You know writing a research paper can be a tedious process.

Not only do you have to spend a lot of time writing, but you also need to spend many hours finding and reading appropriate journal articles and books.

To make your life a bit easier, here are the top seven websites you should visit when starting your research paper. You might be surprised how much you can learn about your topic without even going to a college library:

Wikipedia
Wikipedia is always a good place to start when beginning initial research. The articles will usually provide you with a good summary of the topic you’re interested in. And the external links sections might give you some other links to consider. Check the discussion pages for further investigation.

Internet Public Library
The Internet Public Library will provide you with a host of quality websites about the topic you’re interested in. This is definitely a great resource for finding books and articles about your chosen topic.

Google News Search
Depending on what type of research you’re doing, Google News Search might be appropriate. Google News archives newspaper articles. All you need to do is type in a word and newspaper articles using that word will appear in chronological order. It’s very handy when looking for current news about your topic.

Microsoft Book Search
If you’re looking for a book in the public domain, check out this book search. You can search every word in a book, and even download entire books as a pdf. It’s a great resource for finding relevant content in older books.

Google Book Search
If you can’t find a particular book in Microsoft Book Search, definitely check out Google Book Search. You can search for current books in Google, but you’ll only get a limited preview. Google Books will also provide full downloads of older books (in public domain).

Virtual Library
Virtual library is a place that hosts tons of links on various topics. It’s easy to get lost in this website because of the amount of information available. It’s not as user-friendly as the Internet Public Library, but it does provide great links.

Google Scholar
As you get more focused on your topic, don’t forget to search in Google Scholar. This website will extract articles from academic journals. It’s a great resource for finding high quality articles on your topic. Many of the links might only give you an abstract (or summary) of what’s in the articles, but you can save the reference information and find the journals at your local college library.

No doubt there are many articles and journals that you cant access without student identificaiton, so if you run into roadblocks on articles you really need, visit your local public or college library. Libraries typically have access to passwor protected research sites..

And if you still have problems getting a particular journal article or book, just ask for help from a college librarian or research associate. It’s their job to know how to find and get information, and they will probably have some great recommendations.

Best wishes on your research.