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How do you read? (academic texts)


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45 replies to this topic

#1 Strangefox

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Posted 21 July 2011 - 05:37 PM

I have been wondering for quite some time how other people read academic texts. I don't mean when and where, I mean how :) For example, I don't read really fast. It seems to me that I am a slow reader and it worries me. Some parts I read faster than others but then I can slow down and reread a sentence a couple of times or stop and stare at the wall and think about the whole idea of the part I am reading and about how it is connected with my research and/or with my experience. And sometimes (quite often!) random thoughts come to my head, thoughts that have nothing to do with what I am reading about - and I have to make an effort to make them go away.

It's so much not like I generally read fiction, when I become totally absorbed by the story and just can't stop. With academic texts I can stop easily at any moment and often want to stop because I start feeling tired concentrating - though at the same time I can be really interested in what I am reading. But I don't stop and continue so the reading process becomes a constant struggle.

I don't mean to say that I don't like reading academic texts. I love reading them but in a way that is so much different from fiction. I kind of love this inner struggle. On the other hand I am worried that I am doing it wrong, though I have no idea how else it can be done and if other people do it somehow differently.

So how do you read academic texts? I realize that they can be quite different (across one field even) and it's easier to read some of them than others, obviously. Are you a quick or a slow reader, do you become totally absorbed when you are reading? How often do you have to take breaks (are they long or short)? How many pages are you able to read per hour?
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#2 runonsentence

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Posted 21 July 2011 - 05:57 PM

Great question, Strangefox! Or at least, I really enjoy talking about reading and writing practices. ;)

Some of my colleagues have recently done some incredible presentations (working toward publication, currently) on grad student literacy. The number one takeaway from their research, for me: everyone worries that s/he is "doing it wrong" or gets self-conscious about her/his reading or writing practices.

I also read slowly. I want to make sure I understand what I'm reading, and I take the time to annotate as I go. I underline/mark important passages, but I also rely heavily on marginalia: I write "gist" statements, questions, observations, or potential connections to other readings I've done. It's really important, for me, and it also means that I can re-read an article or book more quickly if I need to again. (I'm really hoping this strategy pays off when I get to exams!)

BUT, having said that, I also recognize that one can't read everything. I try to recognize that it's okay to skim less important sections of a long work, and work to speed up my reading speed in places where lingering isn't so important.
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#3 phdaspiration

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Posted 21 July 2011 - 06:02 PM

I too am a big fan of reading slowly. I like to write "summary statements" in the margins or on a separate sheet of paper. Regarding volume, I've heard that the best graduate students learn to distinguish what absolutely must be read carefully and what can be skimmed. I'm hoping I learn the "magic formula" for figuring out what to read!
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#4 Strangefox

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Posted 21 July 2011 - 06:05 PM

I too am a big fan of reading slowly. I like to write "summary statements" in the margins or on a separate sheet of paper. Regarding volume, I've heard that the best graduate students learn to distinguish what absolutely must be read carefully and what can be skimmed. I'm hoping I learn the "magic formula" for figuring out what to read!


I want to know this formula, too! :)
I don't like skimming parts because if you skim them - how will you know if there wasn't anything super important in them that you missed because of skimming! It seems a vicious circle! :blink:
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#5 eco_env

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Posted 21 July 2011 - 06:13 PM

This is probably mostly applicable to science, but I find that review papers generally need to be read in their entirety, while for most research articles I can skip some parts- I usually read the abstract, maybe a little of the intro if I need more context, rarely read the methods (unless if it seems like there are methods I would want to copy), maybe some of the results if I can't understand the figures without that, and the last paragraph of the discussion. All of this varies depending on my objective, though.
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#6 Behavioral

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Posted 21 July 2011 - 06:17 PM

Definitely not an authority, but after reading through (notice 'through') over 400 articles in the last month, I've started mainly reading abstracts and discussions at a fairly quick place, and for those that sound interesting/relevant to my research, I earmark them for a later, more thorough read.

In terms of re-reading, I make sure to highlight various theories leading up to the creation of the study, the hypotheses, main manipulations, and main findings. I typically write any criticisms/improvements/ideas for followups in the margins (or annotation box if reading on computer or iPad). Besides that, I don't try to drown myself in highlighting too much, or taking too many notes. The truth of the matter is that I won't be reading through a lot of my markings anyway--I just need to get the gist of the information and begin tying it to other trends, patterns, and theories that I already have a solid foundation on.
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#7 Mal83

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Posted 21 July 2011 - 06:19 PM

Strangefox, I read academic texts in the exact same fashion as you do. I have always been a slow reader, I too will contemplate what I've just read for a little while. It is very easy for me to get lost in that thought and loose track of time, I will kind of process the information by basically fantasizing a discussion about it, I don't force myself to do it that way, it just happens when I find that the information clicks. I guess because it's exciting that I just learned something. I'm also worried, I have a book to read over the summer for the first day of class in August, which I was happy about because it'll get my mind back in the game, but it's so dense and a bit tedious, there are some very thought provoking and fascinating points but I have trouble getting motivated to sit down and open it up. I have to take notes or else I won't remember any thing substantial about it by the time class rolls around, I get tired of reading this type of text after about 10-15 pages because I have to think about every sentence. I have to really push myself to get the book read in time, I'm starting to realize that I can skip a paragraph or page here and there so I'm hoping that I'll get better at prioritizing when it comes to reading.
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#8 ZeeMore21

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Posted 21 July 2011 - 06:21 PM

I still can't help feeling a bit guilty if I ever do skim sections of an academic article...I feel as though I am missing something important, especially considering that the author is building one argument on top of another before getting to his or her conclusion at the end. I definitely can be a slow reader (often get distracted when reading a difficult, dense academic piece...usually theory) and I always like to underline and write marginalia. When I do start my doctorate program I will try my best to refrain from skimming unless I really do not have time to read an entire article or book in a given time frame. I'm hoping that better time management will allow me to read at a comfortable pace and still get my reading done.

Edited by ZeeMore21, 21 July 2011 - 06:28 PM.

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#9 ZeeMore21

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Posted 21 July 2011 - 06:26 PM

Also, I think I also fear skimming because it is frustrating when you skip a part of an article that becomes the focal point in classroom discussions. I'm not good at pulling things out of my you know what, so it helps me to read the article carefully and in its entirety. In this way, I am more comfortable joining in seminar discussions without the fear that I am missing an important point from the text at hand.

Edited by ZeeMore21, 21 July 2011 - 06:29 PM.

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#10 Strangefox

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Posted 21 July 2011 - 06:33 PM

I am so glad that I am not alone! I decided to read a book over the summer too (I've had it on my shelf for a long time but I was too busy with the application process and then preparing visa and stuff). The book is about 300 pages and it's mostly theory. I don't make myself read quicker, I skip some days and sometimes spend only an hour a day reading. It will probably take me about 5 weeks to read it - with all the skipping I mean (I plan to finish right before my trip to the US). Of course now I try to relax and my aim is not to finish as fast as possible. If I spent maximum possible time reading, I guess I could read it in a week (or may be not...). But that would be a week filled almost exclusively with reading. I wonder if it is a normal pace for social sciences...
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#11 Strangefox

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Posted 21 July 2011 - 06:34 PM

I still can't help feeling a bit guilty if I ever do skim sections of an academic article...I feel as though I am missing something important, especially considering that the author is building one argument on top of another before getting to his or her conclusion at the end. I definitely can be a slow reader (often get distracted when reading a difficult, dense academic piece...usually theory) and I always like to underline and write marginalia. When I do start my doctorate program I will try my best to refrain from skimming unless I really do not have time to read an entire article or book in a given time frame. I'm hoping that better time management will allow me to read at a comfortable pace and still get my reading done.


ZeeMore - you understand me! :)
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#12 Emelye

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Posted 21 July 2011 - 06:36 PM

One of my professors taught me the practice of creating annotations for every academic article I read. Basically, he taught me to skim the article looking for the main argument or central idea and rewrite a concise (one-sentence) summary of that idea. Then, I reread the article looking for how the author supports the main idea or argument, picking out the salient points and writing those down. Then, the last part involves evaluating the strength of the argument and commenting on how it's applicable. This works best for shorter, denser articles, and, tedious as it sounds, it really helps me focus and then I have a record of what that article was about for future reference (so I don't have to reread everything). I also use sticky notes (I hate marginal notes because they ruin the book!).
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#13 theregalrenegade

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Posted 21 July 2011 - 06:39 PM

I'm glad you brought this up, strangefox. I'm almost into my second year as a MA student and still struggle with the best way to read texts, scholarly articles, reviews, and the like. I read slow, but it's mostly because I'm trying to summarize in my head AND jot down relevant notes. It's hard to move forward when you are constantly writing.

Everyone's got some great suggestions. I try to read in 30 minute bursts since I start getting vertigo if I focus my eyes on something too long (I know, weird). I also forget to eat and drink if I'm too into my studying. So I set a timer for 30 minutes - read, take notes - and then give myself about 10 minutes to get up and do something physical or other chores, like laundry, dishes, or walking to the mailbox.

I have a worksheet that I found on a defunct study skills website (adapted by David Rudge) that I use sometimes when reading. I continually tweak it to suit my needs. I'm pasting it here because I don't think we can attach word files. It's too lengthy, yet I think it works well if cut down a bit. If anyone wants it, I'll be happy to send the file to them.

CITATION HERE

PART I. WHAT THE AUTHOR REALLY SAID

TITLE OF ARTICLE / REVIEW AND FROM WHAT JOURNALS, ETC:

AUTHOR(S) OF ARTICLE / REVIEWERS:

TOPIC / SUBJECT:

MAIN CONCLUSION / THESIS:

MINOR CONCLUSION / THESIS:

SOURCES USED:

TERMS: List any terms or concepts that are unfamiliar or appear to be important. If the author provides a definition, be sure to write that down too. Circle any you feel need clarification or discussion.

Important terms Definitions


EVIDENCE: List any evidence the author provides for the main conclusion. Each of these may appear as a sub-conclusion of its own argument. If you spot evidence in favor of a sub-conclusion, list that as well and identify which sub-conclusion it supports. Circle any that you feel need of clarification or discussion.

1) EVIDENCE FOR MAIN CONCLUSION

2) EVIDENCE FOR SUB-CONCLUSIONS AND SUB-CONCLUSION SUPPORTED

IDENTIFY OTHER PERSUASIVE ELEMENTS. Were there any other aspects of this article, such as the way it was presented, its use of examples, the author's writing style, etc., that made the article persuasive or non-persuasive?

SUMMARIZE, using the evidence you found above, and how this evidence leads to the main conclusion. State points directly rather than "he says" or "it's about." (Don't evaluate the argument here.)

SCHOLARLY DIALOGUE, What are the criticisms the reviewer has of the text and / or author(s)?

CONTRIBUTION TO THE FIELD, How has the work contributed to the work already out there? Is it positive or negative?

PART II. - WHAT I THINK ABOUT THIS

FIRST REACTIONS. List or write up any reactions you have to the article. Do you agree with the author? Why or why not?

WHERE DOES THE AUTHOR GO WRONG? Remembering the argument you found for the author, identify what part of the argument, either evidence or the logic linking the premises to the conclusion, you think is mistaken. (Even if you agree with the author, play the devil's advocate by identifying what you consider to be the weakest point of the argument.)

WHAT IS THE STRONGEST PART OF THE AUTHOR'S ARGUMENT? Again, identify one part of the argument you think works well.

DEVELOP YOUR OWN POSITION - State your own position on this issue and sketch how you might support it. (If you find the author's argument compelling, suggest another way one might support the same position.)
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#14 ZeeMore21

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Posted 21 July 2011 - 06:41 PM


ZeeMore - you understand me! :)



Haha yay! Glad I am not alone in the skimming guilt club :D
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#15 theregalrenegade

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Posted 21 July 2011 - 06:43 PM

One of my professors taught me the practice of creating annotations for every academic article I read. Basically, he taught me to skim the article looking for the main argument or central idea and rewrite a concise (one-sentence) summary of that idea. Then, I reread the article looking for how the author supports the main idea or argument, picking out the salient points and writing those down. Then, the last part involves evaluating the strength of the argument and commenting on how it's applicable. This works best for shorter, denser articles, and, tedious as it sounds, it really helps me focus and then I have a record of what that article was about for future reference (so I don't have to reread everything). I also use sticky notes (I hate marginal notes because they ruin the book!).


I guess I basically said the same thing, Emelye. I was too busy writing the post to check other responses :-)
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#16 ZeeMore21

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Posted 21 July 2011 - 06:45 PM

The worksheet is very helpful theregalrenegade! I definitely will keep it at hand when I read academic articles.
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#17 theregalrenegade

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Posted 21 July 2011 - 06:50 PM

The worksheet is very helpful theregalrenegade! I definitely will keep it at hand when I read academic articles.


Awesome! I'm a worksheet fiend - I try to make them for everything academic.
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#18 Eigen

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Posted 21 July 2011 - 06:57 PM

This is probably mostly applicable to science, but I find that review papers generally need to be read in their entirety, while for most research articles I can skip some parts- I usually read the abstract, maybe a little of the intro if I need more context, rarely read the methods (unless if it seems like there are methods I would want to copy), maybe some of the results if I can't understand the figures without that, and the last paragraph of the discussion. All of this varies depending on my objective, though.


This.

I have several different types of texts I read with regularity- research papers, review articles, and books.

Research papers, I usually read the introduction/abstract, then skim through the figures/methods, and read the discussion/conclusion. If the paper is pertinent to my research, I file it away to look over in more detail when I need something from it- no need to go in depth into the specific procedures months before I plan on performing them, I just need to know they're there, and in general the techniques they used. If it isn't pertinent to my research area, a general idea of what they did/why/what the results were is usually all I need.

Review articles: In their entirety, usually by sections, over the course of several days. I usually read a section/make notes on it, and then look up the referenced articles relevant to that section/my work, read them, and then move on to the next section.

Books: Most of the actual books I read I use as reference- so a few pages here, a few pages there. Sometimes I find a good general text that I'll sit down and read all/most of the way through, but it's rare.

I usually make notes on a separate sheet of paper next to me while I read- I find fitting what I need to in the margins can be quite difficult. If it's a paper I'm more familiar with, or I'm looking for some specific supporting information, I'll forgo the notes and just underline/circle parts that I find particularly relevant.

I usually go back and type up these notes later, which gives me a more detailed literature review type framework I can use when I need to refer to the article again, or I'm trying to find out who did that neat work on XX topic.
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#19 runonsentence

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Posted 21 July 2011 - 06:57 PM


I want to know this formula, too! :)
I don't like skimming parts because if you skim them - how will you know if there wasn't anything super important in them that you missed because of skimming! It seems a vicious circle! :blink:


It's definitely tricky, and sometimes I skim over something that others want to talk about in detail.

But the reality is that we just can't (and shouldn't) read everything, especially for exams. (Exams at my program are a bit barbaric: we have reading lists with between 120 and 180 texts on them.) So, part of learning to read in graduate school is learning to figure out what's central to understanding what the author is trying to say (reading rhetorically!). Something like theregalrenegade's worksheet, or at least thinking in those terms like Emelye, seems like one way to get at that.
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#20 ZeeMore21

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Posted 22 July 2011 - 02:28 PM


It's definitely tricky, and sometimes I skim over something that others want to talk about in detail.

But the reality is that we just can't (and shouldn't) read everything, especially for exams. (Exams at my program are a bit barbaric: we have reading lists with between 120 and 180 texts on them.) So, part of learning to read in graduate school is learning to figure out what's central to understanding what the author is trying to say (reading rhetorically!). Something like theregalrenegade's worksheet, or at least thinking in those terms like Emelye, seems like one way to get at that.




I can see it might be easier to skim in the sciences, or in a rhetoric/composition course--as you are mainly reading theoretical texts--but I can say for Literature programs, that it is really impossible to skim literary texts. As for academic articles though, I am still on the fence about skimming.
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