How To Read Theory

How to Read

  1. Read texts rather than just reading about texts. Primary is primary. “Why not read the best?” Why do you think they call them classics? Secondary material provides context (especially historical) and can help you make connections, but these do not substitute for the “real thing.” These texts are hard to read sometimes, but that’s part of what you are learning how to do. We are, in this class, attempting to move from what might be called a “Reader’s Digest” (note that digest means summary as well as being what the stomach does) version of ideas (as found in your average text book) to the ideas themselves. And so, jump in, the water’s great.
  2. Spend 5-10 minutes "pre-reading:
    1. Skim the whole thing. Detect any structure? What comes first, second, … last? Note section headings. Where does it start? End? What is the trajectory? What is the shape of the text?
    2. IF this is a book, take a look at the table of contents, references, and index. Scan. See anything you recognize?
    3. If there are chapters, run down the list. Maybe take a quick look at the start and finish of each.
    4. If this is an article, do the same for the major sections. Use headings to sketch an outline
  3. Read with a dictionary.
  4. Annotate text as you go along. Underline the main point of each paragraph. Number the steps in arguments.
    1. BUT: Avoid temptation to underline or highlight before you have finished a sentence or paragraph or understood what author is saying. A yellow highlighter is not a substitute for understanding a passage.
  5. After you have finished a paragraph, or page, or section, or whole book ask yourself what it was about. Can you articulate a coherent sentence about what it was about, how it fits in with what you've read so far? If not, re-read it.
  6. Tweet each paragraph
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