Thursday, May 14, 2009

Tips for Reading Like An Academic

I firmly believe that reading influences writing. Reading good writing can lead to better writing. So can reading bad writing, in the category of Stuff To Try To Avoid.

Reading as a writer is not necessarily the same as reading for pleasure, or reading through the 500 pages of material for this weeks' classes. But, tips for high-powered academic reading sure can be helpful when doing academic writing! (Signposts? These are new to me!)

I have tons more to post on writing, but I'm tired, so for tonight, just two links on academic reading.

First, is How to Read in College posted by Timothy Burke over at Easily Distracted. This is some really good, concise advice on power reading in academic settings. Skimming arguments, signposts (aha!), questions to ask while you read, picking out sequence in arguments, when to hit the dictionary (hint: it's not for every word you don't understand), and more importantly, when to hit the footnotes (I'm an inveterate footnote-reader. I love me some good footnotes. But sometimes, they're not so good; this post gives tips for sussing out the important ones). To top it all off, there is a section here on preparing for in-class discussion. Oh, and just go ahead and ditch your hi-lighter.

Next up, Reading (Law) Like A Graduate Student over at Feminist Law Professors. The first lesson here is about reconsidering stone-throwing in glass houses. The second lesson is don't just focus on what you don't like about someone elses' stuff. Critical reading isn't necessarily CRITICAL. Make the effort to consider and voice what you like about a particular work.

For example, I'm doing some reading now, where the author seems to be making an awfully big argument (i.e. a book) out of a very short, isolated document, with much speculation on interpersonal relationships and their role in the production of said document. Speculation, because the folks who wrote the document just don't turn up in the documentary record. With the caveat that I haven't finished the book yet, I do believe there is a big difference between spinning a yarn and historical narrative. I also believe that playing "what if" is not necessarily a bad thing, but it would help me, as a reader, run with you (the author) if there were more "what was" than "what if." All that said, this author is a hella good writer. I wish I could write so well. Engaging. Expansive. Like the author is having an actual conversation with me, without being chatty and informal. There is a lot here to learn about writing, despite my reservations about the content.

No, I'm not telling what book it is. Maybe when I'm done, and not popping off about something I haven't finished yet! Maybe I'll post book reviews... maybe I'll go get some shut-eye...


Bavardess said...

Thanks for this - I really need it this week with 21 books to get through by next Friday! I am an inveterate reader of footnotes, too. I always have this fear at the back of my mind that I'll miss something if I don't read.every.single.word.

Digger said...

Glad it's helpful! Some of the best stuff is in footnotes/endnotes. Unfortunately, they are pretty much Not Done in archaeological writing; everything is in the body of the text, or it's not there. I think this is a shame; I mean, for straight source-referencing, fine (though I'm liking how reading history isn't muddied with in-text citations, but that's just a style thing). But for presentations of alternate ideas, tidbits, proofs (you know, the GOOD stuff)... sigh.

Good luck with your reading!