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Monday, 20 August 2007


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hermit greg

At times I have typed and typed again a passage to get, literally, a feel for how it works.

N. Pepperell

I've done the copy editing thing - usually with texts that I needed to pay attention to for a one-off reason (so, I needed to have a command of the text for an event, say, but wasn't planning to use it in my work in a longer-term sense). I've also done the "take notes so detailed I'm practically re-writing the thing" - I used to do this a lot, actually, but I've moved away from it - with the exception of the first several works I read in a completely alien tradition or field, when I still find it helpful.

Mainly, at the moment, I try to write about what I'm reading, as I'm reading it - not notes, but something more... sublimated. The "try" is key: I'll read a section, start to write about it, generally realise that I can't, then start flipping back through the text. Sometimes I'll be able to write after a few glances to jog my memory; sometimes I won't - and then I'll re-read the text, more effectively this time, fired up by the realisation that, the first time I read it, I absorbed so little.... For whatever reason, the process (at the moment) helps me refocus on the detail of the text, much better than actually taking notes on that detail...

Karl Steel

What do you do to focus your critical faculties on a text?

Writing about it is key, but if I don't have the time, I just read the criticism, if I'm lucky enough to be reading something with anything written on it. Why? I like an argument. An article, particularly a bad article, is the easiest way to get me started.


Pictures, diagrams, outlines, thought bubbles? Selective highlighting of favorite words? Always very visual in focus. Sometimes reading it out loud, but that was more a roommate's approach I tried to borrow.

When I worked the copy desk one of the other editors would read through everything by pressing either the arrow key to go through stories letter by letter, or option-arrow to go word by word. I was never that painstaking, but then again the big mistakes tended to get through on my watch.


Summarize it. Pick out "money quotes" and summarize the rest. No more than a sentence or two per page, if you can: really distill it down.

Kennie Rose

I like to write about it -- when I have time -- but right now, I tend to read an article/book once and underline key passages. Then, I go back and read those key passages again (maybe even a third and fourth time). I'm a little bit unusual for a graduate student; I used to take extensive notes in the margins, which I used to summarize passages and ask questions, but I found this process expanded my reading time by astronomical amounts, and it didn't seem that helpful when I returned to the text. Besides, with my current strategy, I'm actually able to "read a text anew"; one teacher told me that for each class, he always purchased a clean copy of the text, so he was not influenced by his old notes.

I have never proofread a literary/scholarly text. I know other people have this problem, but I seem to have the opposite curse; in fact, when I read student papers, my internal editor is so effectively "turned off" that I sometimes fail to notice big grammatical problems! :)

Tim Lacy

Reading a passage twice and rewriting it, word-for-work, usually does the trick for me. Reading aloud is my immediate silver bullet. If I don't get something after these efforts, I then have 3 options:

1. Read someone else's criticism, if available;
2. Be patient and read it again, usually in the morning when I'm fresh; or
3. Give up.

- TL


There are three situations where this kind of more deliberate reading comes into play for me. One is where I'm reading a particularly difficult text (more common with secondary material); the second is where I need to pay particular attention to the structure of text (more common with primary material), and the third is where I'm simply distracted and not reading particularly well (generally common, especially in the evenings). With the first case I tend to follow Tim Lacy's formula. With the second, I rely on multiple rereadings and notes or draft summaries. With the third, I either try to concentrate/medicate myself into alertness, walk away and come back, or press ahead with an inattentive reading on the premise that a vague understanding is mostly better than none.
I used to use a lot of marginalia, but now tend to restrict myself to flagging useful/interesting sections. I have done the copy editting thing, but only when encountering papers circulating as word docs, and then only to get them into a state where I can stand to read them. This makes one supremely attentive to all the reasons why this stoopid paper is a stoopid paper; reasons which the presented of said stoopid paper is uninterested in hearing, and which it would probably be rude to bring up.

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