Reading strategies for anthropology courses depend on whether the readings are expository textbooks, journal articles, or theories (D. Applegate, CAL). Strategies that are appropriate for most expository anthropology texts include SQ3R, highlighting and summarizing, outlining, reading grids, and margin notes. [Margin notes may be used while reading journal articles and theories.] These strategies aid in comprehension and retention of reading material. The journal article checklist focuses your reading on the essential parts of anthropology journal articles. For reading anthropology theory, the theory summary sheet strategy is an effective way to focus your reading.
The SQ3R strategy is particularly helpful when reading introductory anthropology texts. It is particularly effective for "analytical" learners who have trouble seeing the "big picture" and tying together isolated facts. SQ3R is also effective if you need to read in preparation for essay exams in your anthropology courses.
SQ3R is a five-step strategy that involves:
Highlighting and Summarizing
Another way to focus your attention while reading expository anthropology texts is highlighting and summarizing. Highlighting (or underlining with a pen or pencil) helps readers to focus on the details presented in a chapter, so it is effective for "global" learners who see the main ideas of a chapter but have trouble focusing on details like definitions, dates, and people. Highlighting forces you to reread the information you highlight (or underline), aiding in retention of that information. Highlighting also gives you a quick way to review the important details in the chapter days or weeks after you have read it, helping with exam preparation.
But to avoid focusing only on the details while reading a chapter, it helps to write a summary of the main points after you finish reading. Although there may be a chapter summary in the book, writing your own summary forces you to pull the isolated facts and details into a cohesive unit that it understandable to you. Write your own summary and then compare it to the one in the book. Review both summaries in preparation for exams.
It is not uncommon for anthropology instructors to require that students submit summaries of the reading assignments. Even if it is not required, outlines are a good way to record main ideas and supporting details presented in a reading. They are effective for both global and analytical students, but may be more appropriate for sequential learners than for random learners.
Reading outlines may be formal or informal. The chapter title is usually used as the title to the outline. The major headings in a chapter will form the Roman numeral titles in the outline. Main ideas with their supporting details are arranged under each Roman numeral. If desired, you can include a summary at the end of your outline.
Outlining has advantages and disadvantages. One the positive side, outlines give a rather complete summary of what is in the readings, so they may be helpful for students with little prior knowledge of the subject or with trouble in reading comprehension or retention. Outlines also give you a shortened version of the reading that may be used for exam preparation. On the down side, outlines can be time consuming to prepare.
A sample outline for Chapter 7 of D. B. Bates' Cultural Anthropology (1996, Allyn & Bacon) is provided below to illustrate this reading strategy (D. Applegate, CAL).
A reading grid is a table used to summarize the main ideas and supporting details covered in a chapter. The title of the chapter is used as the title of the reading grid. Each major heading in the chapter forms the heading of one cell of the grid. Terms and definitions, dates, people's names, and other details are recorded in the corresponding grid cell.
Like outlines, reading grids provide a rather complete summary of the reading material as well as a shortened version of the reading that is useful in reviewing for exams. Nonsequential learners may prefer reading grids over outlines because the structure of grids is less rigid.
A sample reading grid for a chapter in B. M. Fagan's World Prehistory: A Brief Introduction (HarperCollins, 1993) is provided below to illustrate this strategy.
The margin notes strategy focuses your attention on important information in anthropology readings, including expository texts, journal articles, and theories. Because it involves underlining or circling key words and recording brief notes in the margin as you read, margin notes is a very active strategy that requires you to more deeply process information compared to highlighting alone. While margin notes are faster to record than outlines or reading grids, they are not as complete. The margin notes provide a hard copy of the important information in the reading that may be used to review for exams.
An example of margin notes for a page from a linguistics text is shown below (D. Applegate, CAL). The text is from W.P. Lehmann's Language: An Introduction (1983, Random House).
Journal Article Checklist
Anthropology instructors often require that students read articles published in professional journals; this is especially true in upper-level undergraduate courses and in graduate classes. Journal articles often present results of experiments or excavations, observations of ethnographic or ethnologic studies, descriptions of new fossil or archaeological finds, and other narrowly-defined subjects; on the other hand, some journal articles are summaries of current research on a particular subject.
Because articles published in professional journals are geared toward a more sophisticated audience and cover quite specific subjects, students must read them differently from the general overviews that characterize expository text books. It is not a bad idea to read journal articles more than once. Margin notes may be an effective reading strategy for journal articles. Journal article checklists are another strategy one might try. Students can make up their own checklist geared toward a particular subfield of anthropology, or they can use the sample checklist shown below. Self-made checklists should cover things like the purpose of the article, goals of the research, research questions and hypotheses, theoretical background for the study, methods used, results, and implications. Refer to the General Sciences page for another example of a journal article checklist.
A blank journal article checklist is provided below (D. Applegate, CAL). It may be modified to meet the specific needs of a student, a type of article, or a subfield of anthropology.
Illustrated below is a completed journal article checklist for an archaeology paper (D. Applegate, CAL).
Theory Summary Sheet
Reading anthropological theories also differs considerably from reading expository text books because theories tend to be much more abstract than the concrete material presented in introductory texts. Theory books and articles are geared to a more experienced audience.
Like journal articles, theoretical readings in anthropology must be approached differently from text books. For one thing, most students need to budget time to read theories two or even three times, especially until they get the hang of it. The theory summary sheet shown below provides another strategy for completing theoretical readings in anthropology (D. Applegate, CAL). The summary sheet focuses your attention on the purpose, assumptions, and basic tenets of a theory.
A completed theory summary sheet for Marvin Harris' theory of cultural materialism is provided below as an example of how to use this strategy (D. Applegate, CAL).