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09/20/2021

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Tim

I endorse Marcus' idea of skimming first. I normally say that there are different levels of reading: skimming, careful reading, a deep dive. I only increase the level of the reading if it is necessary for the paper that I am writing.

Here's something worth experimenting with. When I read, my "notes" consist in just extended quotations from the paper that I have verbatim copied. Then I add my commentary in between them. For a given paper, I will keep all of these "notes" in a single document/file. I like doing this because it means I don't have to re-read the entire paper--I can just look at the extended quotes. And all of the notes are in the same file, so I don't have to go flipping back and forth through many papers/PDFs/books.

Guy Crain

It is so easy to get overwhelmed in reading. Unless you're dealing in a super niche area, there will likely be mountains of semi-relevant articles/books you could go through. My initial grad school curse was the haunting feeling that I needed to read everything before I wrote a single word. That was a terrible strategy, but what's scary is it can make good sense--"What if I write something that I later find out is garbage if I had just read the next paper on the list before writing?"

Now, I read with a view toward looking for ways to cut down the reading list as brutally as possible.

First, the stuff I do read I read as though I'm looking for a reason why I don't need to read the entire piece. If I can say upon skimming 2-4 pages that I can't clearly incorporate this into a written project, I need to stop reading the moment I make that decision. Then I chuck it in a "already read and don't use" folder. Sometimes I revisit those papers if the ones that I can clearly use all cite one of them I initially abandoned.

A second way I have managed to cut down the reading list or "skim" more efficiently is to find out if that author has given a podcast interview concerning that work. Ten minutes into one of those interviews while I'm driving, walking, cooking, or at the gym can already tell me whether the actual paper is read-worthy or should go in the "don't use" folder. This has saved me a lot of time.

The reason I keep the abandoned stuff rather than deleting is that even if a piece isn't usable now, that reading wasn't wasted time. I can likely find a use for it later on, and I've saved a lot of time by already skimming it weeks or months earlier--I'm not doing an initial blind search for relevant sources anymore.

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