When you read to find specific information, you are usually looking to answer questions, learn how to do something, or locate material that will help you make a decision or draw a conclusion about something. The skills necessary for reading for specific information include determining your specific purpose, determining the author’s purpose and perspective, knowing how to interpret tables, graphs, icons, and other visual aids, and using an effective approach to the task.
- Determine Your Specific Purpose. Before you read the information, know exactly what you are looking for. State your purpose as clearly as possible to yourself and write it in your notebook. For example, are you looking for information that will help you understand a certain function of a computer program? Are you researching material that will help you buy a new car? Are you looking for trends in marketing data of a certain product or company? Are you trying to determine some of the underlying causes of the Civil War? Stating your purpose clearly will help you keep on task as you begin your research and thus save you time. This is especially true when researching information on the Internet because it is easy to get distracted by the many sites you will encounter.
- Determine the Author’s Purpose and Perspective. In researching for specific information, your goal is to find accurate material. As you read a text, try to understand both the author’s purpose and viewpoint. What information does the author wish to convey? What does the author want you, the reader, to think or believe after reading the material? Is the author biased about the material in any way? Does the author’s affiliation with a certain group, or his or her credentials, affect the authority of the material? For Internet material, check carefully to find out who is sponsoring the site, the date the material was uploaded, and what hyperlinks are embedded in the site. While material in books published by reputable presses is usually carefully screened for accuracy, the Internet is unregulated–any person may post a Web site. It is therefore, extremely important to verify that the site and its author are trustworthy.
- Know How to Interpret Tables, Graphs, Icons, and Other Visual Aids. As you read for information, note closely the symbols, numeric data, graphs, tables, and other visuals provided and work to understand how the author is using them. Read the headings or explanations and determine how the visuals illustrate and relate to your research purpose. On the Internet, use the icons and hyperlinks provided to navigate through the text. Then determine which links are important to your search and which are not. Bookmark important links so that you may find them again easily.
- Use an Effective Approach for the Task. Reading for information or to learn how to perform a task requires an effective reading strategy. The SEARCH method is one such strategy. SEARCH stands for Scan, Examine, Act, Review, Connect, and Hunt.
After you have set a reading goal, look over the material and determine how it is structured. How is it sectioned? Is there a table of contents, a glossary, an index, a help section? Will these sections help you jump quickly through the text to find specific information? On the Internet, check for a site map that gives an overview of the material presented. Skim over any introductory or preface section to the material.
Now, look more closely at how the content is laid out. Each reference book presents material in an organized manner, but this manner varies from text to text. Computer manuals, for example, are often set up in one of the following three ways: sequenced directions
explaining how to perform a task, sequenced illustrations
showing how to perform a task, or descriptive paragraphs
that state in detail the purpose and use of each software function. Observe how the text is organized and note the pattern of the headings, subheadings, icons or hyperlinks, and visuals.
Begin seeking the information you wish to find. Keep focused on your purpose, and use the helps given in the text or on the site, such as indexes, tables of content, or section headings to find material that answers your questions. Keep a notebook nearby, and jot down page numbers, authors’ names, titles, and cues that will help you return to the material quickly. Or, use note cards to list separately each source you discover. When reading a computer manual, begin "hands-on" work as soon as possible, even if you make mistakes. You will learn as much or more by correcting your mistakes than when you follow the given steps correctly.
Once you have found the information you are searching for, go back and review you research purpose and compare it to the material you have found. Highlight the most important sources, and discard or put in a subordinate category those sources that are interesting but that may not support your research directly. Determine whether the information you have gathered is complete or whether you need to continue your search. When learning a new computer program, return to review the text after you complete a hands-on lesson to reinforce its concepts and steps.
Return to any visual aids such as graphs, tables, callouts, illustrations, or diagrams and connect them with what you have learned either from the textual material or from your hands-on work. Determine whether the visuals are helpful in clarifying your knowledge of the subject and what new information they may give you. Consider how the illustrations complement the textual information. State the lesson from the visual information in your own words.
Finally, take a few moments to look up any unfamiliar words or concepts you encountered in your search. Make sure you understand technical terms, abbreviations, and acronyms provided in the text. Write the definitions in your notebook.
After working through the steps of SEARCH, you are now ready to use the information you have found through your research by presenting it to your class, incorporating it into a research paper, or putting it directly into action.