Saturday, September 5, 2015

How to Read

When you read academic and scholarly material, you want to figure out what is going on, what claims are being made (against other claims), what kinds of evidence and argument are being offered. So you might read the abstract, then the conclusion and introduction, and then root through the paper for what's going on, claims, evidence and argument. Once you have a sense of this, you might well want to read the paper through, carefully or not.

Along the way, or perhaps ahead of time, you will want to make a preliminary judgment of reliability and quality, if that is possible. A well-run journal, a good university press, are likely to have vetted and refereed the piece--although not very good stuff may well get through. The reputation of the scholar and their institution may be helpful, but excellence is widely distributed, and fine institutions make mistakes in appointment and tenuring. And as you are reading many such articles, you will get a sense of the intellectual terrain, who belongs with whom, who is counter to whom. Reference lists and bibliographies should be scanned to see if there is something you should check out.

I like to read stuff that goes against my beliefs and intuitions, to see where I am vulnerable, what I might learn. Ideally, scholarly work is fair to other work that might be counter to this paper, but not always. When people write in public forums, scholars thought they be, they often abandon fairness for advocacy.

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