- Academic Research and Writing Tips / Tutorial

Essay Writing for Those That Never Read the Book

Your paper is due in two days and you have managed to completely avoid reading the book the essay is based on. Since you are not a speed reader or even don't know how to skim the text, this poses a serious problem, and you fear you will never have time to finish the book and get the essay done by the deadline. However, all is not lost! If you follow some basic principles of novel research, you can learn enough in a short time to make the impossible paper a solid A.

Book Essay

The first step in this process is to consult your class notes, if you have any on the text. Your professor will often point out the important events and themes, as well as some useful quotes. Since the professor is the one who will be marking your paper, knowing what he or she thinks is important is key. Also, you can easily comment on particular scenes and use them to explain important themes when the work has been done for you by the professor through the class notes!

After you have determined what is most important based on these notes, or even if these are not available, the next step is to hit the internet. Search for the title of your book (use quotation marks to narrow the number of hits) and add the word “summary.” This will narrow your results, and find sites dedicated to summarizing and explaining the work you have to write about. Start with a short general summary of the whole work, so you can get a feel for the entire thing as broadly as possible. Then, look for specific chapter summaries, and read through those briefly. This process may take between 30 minutes and two hours, depending on the length of the book, but it will be time well spent. This reading will give you the basic information you need, and is significantly shorter than reading the whole text.

Once you have a basic idea of the plot of the story and its principle characters, it is time to start getting specific. For example, if your professor has mentioned that the book contains a strong anti-war message, you can be confident that this theme will be a good one to write about. At this point, you can look on the summary sites for the correct thematic analyses. These will provide you with ideas, but even more importantly, they will show you where in the text the important events surrounding the theme are located, and they may even provide quotes and page numbers. Make a note of the important sections and pages you find in this section, as they will become very important in the next stage of writing.

Now you are ready to turn to the text to focus on just the relevant sections. Your task here is to read very selectively, picking out quotes that help support the themes you are going to be discussing in the paper. Having an electronic copy of the text is very useful here, as it will allow you to quickly move from section to section and quote to quote. Also, with an e-text you can search for the terms which will be most important for your paper, which will give you more to work with than the summery sites alone could provide. Once this is completed, you will be left with a good overview of the novel, an understanding of what your professor thinks is important, a theme you can be sure is worth writing about, and many useful quotes which support that theme. Now you have all you need to complete the paper, and although you haven't read the book, no one will be able to figure this out from your paper.