1. How to read academic books
Reading academic writings
Once you enter university, your opportunities to write resumes (research report summaries, presentation content reports) and essays/reports will increase a great deal. Because of this, you'll have to find a lot of sources to read and reference. The majority of these sources are academic writings in "question > proof > claim > conclusion" format. The reader must be able to clearly understand this content by following the format. This section covers points on how to efficiently read academic writings.
Read the entire academic papers from the table of contents
The table of contents reveals the writer's thought process to you. Academic writings are basically created by dividing the main question into smaller questions, and then making a claim for each one through investigation. Because of this, the table of contents acts as a blueprint for the reader, telling you how the writer has divided up the main question, and how it was demonstrated. The table of contents also includes the essence of the entire paper, and serves as a guide of what you are to expect in the writings. If there is no table of contents, there is usually an introduction or something similar to start off the paper. This allows the reader to quickly grasp a framework and summary of the entire paper.
Find a key sentence from the "connective expression": Understand the writer's perspective
Academic writings are made up of paragraphs that tie together the overall theme. Each paragraph has a key sentence, and multiple sub-sentences back it up. The key sentences form a framework for the entire paper.
First of all, it is important to focus on the connective expressions. A connective expression is a guide for determining key sentences. The writer uses them to compose a paper logically, aligning them with his or her own thoughts for clarification. Sentences following conjunctions which show the relationship between reason and conclusion, and often times the writer's thinking is included in it. By paying attention to the connective expressions, the reader can effectively find the writer's claim (key sentence) within paragraphs.
The next important point is the relationship between key sentences in each paragraph. Sometimes connective expressions will not be included. In such a case, the reader should add his or her own connective expression between key sentences in an attempt to consciously find the intended logic. Doing this will shift attention to the relationship between paragraphs, and the reader is able to understand the structure and content of the entire paper.
Viewing the writer from a critical perspective: Discovering issues
Once the reader has a complete grasp of the paper's content, the next step is to reread it with a critical eye. The proof process that ties together the question and claim is very important. The writer may have developed a claim through misunderstandings or insufficient knowledge, generalizing special examples. Because of this, the reader must check the validity of the writer's "proof." This means the reader must think critically in regard to the writer.
A basic stance involves checking the reliability of the paper's basis, specificity of cited examples, and checking for errors in reasoning. Pay special attention to the facts used as a basis for the writer's claims. If they are determinative facts, question again to what extent the writer was considering that. In order to acquire such a critical eye, it is extremely important to know about other papers and other ways of thinking that deal with the same topic. It is the reader's developmental objective to understand the paper's meaning and limitations through a comparison to other papers.
An academic paper is written in "question > proof > claim > conclusion" format, so if the reader is able to grasp that format, it will be easier to develop a proper understanding of the writer's claim.
In this way, the reader and writer can share the same premise, which is at the core of developing constructive arguments and opinions. So then, by developing the ability to read academic papers critically, we are taking a step closer to setting a theme for writing our own thesis or report.
We recommend the following references for those who want to learn more about constructive skills and methods.
- Rikkyo University, University Education Development & Support Center, "Master of Writing (leaflet)," University Education Development & Support Center. http://www.rikkyo.ac.jp/aboutus/philosophy/activism/CDSHE/journal/leaflet/, (reference 1-24-2014)
- Adler, M.J.; Doren, C.V; "How to Read a Book: The Classic Guide to Intelligent Reading," Japanese translation by Shigehiko Toyamashi and Michiko Maki, Kodansha, 1997, 265 pages, (Kodansha Gakujutsu Bunko, 1299)
- Noya, Shigeki; "Thesis Training: 101 Topics," Sangyo Tosho, 2001, 182 pages
- Fukuzawa, Kazuyoshi; "Critical Thinking for Reading Papers Logically," NHK Publishing, 2012, 265 pages (NHK Publishing, new books, 377)
- Todayama, Kazuhisa; "Thesis Classroom: From Reports to Theses," NHK Publishing, 2012, 313 pages, (NHK Books, 1194)
- Miura, Toshihiko; "An Introduction to Logic: For a Sense of Reasoning and Techniques," NHK Publishing, 2000, 250 pages, (NHK Books, 895)