4 Rules for Grad School Reading

Hi, I’m Dr. Anadale, and today I want to talk
briefly about a blog post by Dr. Miriam Sweeney, titled “How to Read for Grad School,” in which
Dr. Sweeney gives four pieces of important advice for reading academic texts. I think they’ll be beneficial to my students
as well. Her first piece of advice is to read strategically,
not linearly. And by this she means you don’t want to read
an academic work the way you would read a novel, beginning on the first page, reading
through all the way to the last page. This is not the proper way to read academic
texts at a high level. The way you want to read an academic text
is to begin by reading, I would say, the outside material on the back of the book’s cover,
on the inside jacket copy, the author’s biography, the summary of the work, the table of contents. All these things will give you an idea before
you’ve read the first word of the text, of what kind of project the book is dedicated
to, what kind of thing the author takes herself to be doing. You then want to read the Introduction to
the book, and the last chapter. You want to read these carefully, with an
eye to seeing what’s going on in the book and whether it’s going to be worth any more
of your time. In between the introduction and the conclusion,
you want to be fairly selective about what you read. You may read just a single chapter in its
entirety, you might read the beginning and end of a chapter, you might focus in on a
particular chapter that’s especially significant or especially interesting for you. But don’t feel that you should be reading
any academic book in a linear fashion, once you get to graduate school. For an article that you are reading, you would
want to keep in mind first, the article title and the journal title, in which it appears. These are going to give you an important set
of limiting principles for the limits of what the author is doing. You want to read carefully the abstract of
any journal article that you pick up. The abstract is carefully crafted by the author
to give you a clear idea of what’s going on in the paper: its methods, its limits, its
engagement and citations. For a journal article, you’ll want to begin
by reading the introductory paragraphs, with special attention to the framework and citations,
which give you a sense of the neighborhood in which the paper will take place, who the
author regards as the immediate intellectual neighbors of the thesis, who the author regards
as important authorities with whom the author is in dialogue. You’ll then want to read the conclusion of
the paper. Any conclusion to a journal article should
include some kind of answer to the question of why you, the reader, should care about
the thesis that’s being defended. That should give you a good idea of how much
of the rest of the paper to read and what elements of the argument between the intro
and conclusion you should focus on. The second piece of advice Dr. Sweeney gives
is to take notes while reading. This is vitally important; you cannot absorb
material at a high level from an academic text if you’re not taking notes while you
are reading. So you should have a note-taking system, either
on paper, on sticky notes in the book, or in the margins of the book itself, perhaps
with a series of underlining. One important principle that she reminds us
of is to remember that future-you has no idea what present-you is thinking as you read the
book. So you’re going to have to leave enough notes
in the book or in your notes for a future version of you, either two months or two years
from now, to be able to reconstruct the process of thought that you’re having. So if a particular passage reminds you of
an element in Plato, write the word “Plato” in the margin, or even a citation to the doctrine
of Plato that you’re thinking of. Don’t just write the letter “P,” for example. The third piece of advice Dr. Sweeney gives
is to be purposeful in your reading for graduate school. By which would say, don’t read just to have read. Don’t read something simply so you can go
in class and tell the professor, “yes, I read the book, I passed my eyes across all the
words, I said most of the words to myself mentally.” You want to keep in mind as you read the context
of the course, the context of your particular project, perhaps a paper that you’re composing,
and you want to read in order to get relevant information for *your* project, for *your*
use. So don’t read in a dutiful fashion, read in
a purposeful fashion, with those goals in mind. And the fourth piece of advice she gives is
to take a critical perspective. This can mean many different things, depending
on your field. At the very least, I think it would mean asking,
“What kind of values are implicit in this piece of writing, in this piece of research,
in this work? And how would the work itself be different
if we shifted some of the perspectives or the assumptions or the values that underlie
it?” So, those are four pieces of advice for how
to read in graduate school, by Dr. Miriam Sweeney. I recommend you read the entire blog post. I’ll put a link in the description to this
video. Thanks for watching today; goodbye.

Comments 4

  • Perhaps we should be giving academics advice on how to write texts

  • Skip the preface

  • Thank you. This has helped me.

  • "The thing the author takes herself to be doing." Why didn't you remove gender from that statement? Why did you choose to assign authors a female identity? Something reeks here. Surely, if the ailment is assigning gender to roles which may be played by men and women, then why not remove gender entirely rather than insert one? It's hypocritical to say "herself" when you meant to alleviate gender-specific verbiage.

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