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This is written by Dr. Lynn Fendler of the Teacher Education department. Would love to hear from anyone who gives this a whirl...
How to Read Scholarly Texts
The purpose of reading scholarly texts is to raise new ideas and introduce perspectives that you never imagined before. Scholarly research may not tell you what to do, but it should help you see things in a new light. Academic writing may feel difficult when it asks you to use your mind in ways that are unfamiliar, strange, and sometimes uncomfortable. Scholarly research can also feel difficult if you read it the wrong way. Here are some tips for reading scholarly research literature efficiently and painlessly.
Read scholarly texts at least three times. Three times fast is better than one time slowly!
Here is the most efficient way to read:
Read the whole piece quickly, about four pages per minute. Force yourself to plow ahead. Do not stop to look up terms; do not take notes; do not get bogged down; do not worry about whether you understand anything. Then, when you get to the end of the text, re-read the opening paragraph(s). Put the text away and forget about it for a day.
For a 20-page article, this step should take less than 10 minutes.
After a day or so, read the text again, this time a little more slowly, but still push yourself to read fairly quickly. Skip over things that you do not understand. While you are reading, take notes by writing down the main headings and subheadings that are provided in the article. That's all. Put the text away and forget about it for another day.
For a 20-page article, this step should take less than 20 minutes.
Finally, after another day, read the text "with diligence and attention." Allow yourself to stop and write down points you do not understand. While you are reading, take notes using your list of headings and subheadings. Under each subheading, summarize in your own words what you think that section says. After every sub-section, ask yourself, "What is the main point, and what is the purpose of this section?"
For a 20-page article, this step should take less than 30 minutes.
To follow this protocol, obviously you have to start at least three days before the reading is due. This reading protocol is effective whether you are a beginner or an expert in the topic. This protocol not only provides a higher level of comprehension,
it also saves time in the long run
! You will find that it is more efficient to read three times fast than to read one time slowly and laboriously.
Reading for information and reading for inspiration
It is usual in the sciences and social sciences to read for information. That is, we usually read scientific texts in order to absorb the content they convey.
Scholarly research texts can always be read for information. However, that's not the only purpose of reading scholarly articles. Scholarly texts can also be read like literature or poetry. That is, we can read articles in order to be inspired, galvanized, moved, outraged, delighted, surprised, or provoked. Because there are many purposes for reading, it is also often appropriate to respond to scholarly research in a literary way. Some readings awaken ideas and feelings. In that case, we can call the reading "generative."
When you are reading scholarly research texts, it is helpful to keep track of how you feel or respond to the text. In German we ask, "Was tut der Text?" which means, "What does the text do?" There is not necessarily a right way or wrong way to read. To get the most out of your reading, just keep your mind open and your antennae up to monitor how the text affects you, what feelings are aroused as you are reading, and how you may think about or perceive something differently after having read the text.
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