Book Report Hack: How to Analyze a Book Quickly

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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.

How to Hack Google Scholar to Get Search Results by Email or RSS

Im in love with aggregator sites like Yahoo Pipes and Dapper.com.

These nifty mash-up tools allow you to hack feeds and/or search results to get the information you want as a filtered RSS feed, XML, email, or website widget.

And whats great is that student hackers have created helpful feeds to help you research smarter without doing any work.

Here are some of my favorite filters that will email results to you:

Let me know of any others that you like so I can add them to the list.

Recommended Reading

Where to Find a Librarian 24/7

If you ever have any research trouble, you should seriously consider contacting a librarian.

They can cut your research time in half – and help you find exactly what you need.

And you never need to visit a library to talk with them.

Simply chat with them online with one of the following online services:

Amherst College Librarians
Amherst College librarians are available to chat through ICQ, Yahoo, MSN, Trillian, and AIM. Check out their website for details on how to contact them.

Ask a Librarian
The Memorial Hall Library allows you to email one of their librarians or call them at 978-623-8401 x31 during their library hours. Ive never tried emailing them, but their websites says theyll respond within 24 hours.

Ask Here PA
Ask Here PA is a library service based in Pennsylvania. They promise to answer your question within 15 minutes.

Brown University Librarians
This library chat service is intended for students at Brown University, but Im sure theyll help you out if youre nice.

Cornell University – Ask a Librarian 24/7
Cornell librarians are available to chat 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. You can also email them with any questions you might have.

Florida Ask a Librarian Service
This website connects you with Librarians in Florida. This online chat service is available until midnight (Eastern Standard Time) Monday through Friday. They are also available to chat with you on Saturday and Sunday until 5 p.m.

Internet Public Library
The Internet Public Library allows you to email your question to a librarian. The only problem is that it takes about 3 days to get a response.

Library of Congress – Ask a Librarian
Librarians at the Library of Congress can also assist you with your research. They promise to respond by email within 5 business days.

MassAnswers.org
MassAnswers.org allows students to chat with a librarian online 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. After youre done chatting, theyll email you a transcript of everything youve discussed. I found this service very helpful.

Peoples Network
The Peoples Network will hook you up with a librarian in the United Kingdom. They have a real-time chat and email system to help you answer your questions.

Princeton University Library
Chat with a Princeton librarian on AOL, Yahoo, MSN, or ICQ. They arent available 24/7, but you can catch them online during the day.

Seattle Public Library
The Seattle Public Library also provides a 24/7 online chat program to help you with your research. Theyre chat system is connected to librarians across the country.

Please leave a comment if there are other library websites people should know about.


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.