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prov·o·ca·tion - something that provokes, arouses, or stimulates. pant - to long eagerly; yearn. a collection of thoughts intended to provoke and inspire. these posts are hoping to encourage people to think, especially Christians, and pant even harder for the waterbrooks of the Lord. If you are not a believer in Christ Jesus, I welcome your perspective and encourage your investigation on these matters.

Wednesday, March 22, 2006

Methods of Reading and Researching

Like so many this time of the year, papers are being drafted and late night researching is being sustained by the dreaded deadline coupled with a little caffeine of your choice. I had a conversion with my Greek professor (Jason Meyer) today about his research and reading strategy, given that he just completed his doctoral dissertation. That conversation led us to scheduling a breakfast next week to discuss this matter and others as they come to our mind. I say this with curiosity as to how you read and research. One of the great benefits of blogging is that you find many folks who love reading and are disciplined at it. Others of you having written many papers, even books. So here are some of my questions stroking my curiosity: 1. Do you have a particular reading plan/strategy (scheduling reads)? 2. How do you read through a book? 3. What is your method of research and/or putting a paper together? 4. Between researching, reading, and writing, what percentage of time do you spend on each aspect? I would like to briefly answer those questions as a starter: 1. I have a really basic reading plan. I consider myself a slow reader (averaging 15-20 pages an hour). Therefore, I plan my reads according to the time I have during the week, which is usually about 15-20 hours (which amounts to about 300-400 pages if you do the math). That's ideal of course, as often things come up which take away from that time. Outside my required textbooks, I try to have a missions biography, Puritan Paperback, Valley of Vision, and theological work before me continuously. Often I make it back to the Church Fathers and other historical works to spare me from chronological snobbery. Two particular topics at this juncture in my life are religious pluralism and Reformed theology, so there would be of course the casual readings pertaining to each topic. Finally, each semester I try to have a specific topic/theme to research and study. For instance, Fall 2004 was "anti-intellectualism" and Open Theism, Spring 2005 was General Revelation and Inclusivism, Summer 2005 was Pluralism and Ecumenism, Fall 2005 was Emerging Church, Decisional Regeneration, and Missiology, and this semester is the Puritans, the providence of God, and the Incarnation of Christ. 2. I usually go through three stages of reading: Preview (cursory look), Read (careful look), and Review (critical look). The Preview consists of reading (in order) Back Matter, Front Matter, and macro-outline of the book; the Read consists of studying the thesis and content of the book with highlighter, pen, and flags in hand; and the Review consists of my interaction with the work, usually having been marked during the read. It is here I find quotes, mark key texts, or point strengths and weaknesses of the book. Typically that's my style. I like highlighters - a lot. Rarely do I make it in public without the question, "Why do many highlighters and pens?" Answer: "I keep them stocked." 3. Although I need considerable work in every area, my research style needs much improvement. My most recent strategy is to have my paper template set up, and as I read a work I know I am going to cite, I type the footnote as I read the book. By the time I get through with my researching, I will have a long list of footnotes pertaining to the topic or thesis. From there I weed out the footnotes which are either weak or extraneous. I took this style because I wanted my papers to be research driven more than my ramblings. When I think I have something to say, I say it, but prefer to point to others who either prove or reject my point. For instance, my last paper I turned in was 18 pages and I had 40 pages of footnotes alone. This was meaningful but probably a lot of wasted time. I ended up having to crop my paper over 2/3 of its original length to meet prof's requirements, which stripped my argument to a weak skeleton. This was especially frustrating. Much work needed here. 4. Oh my demise! I spend 35% researching, 60% reading, and 15% writing. This ought not be! Ideally, I would like it to be 25% researching, 40% reading, and 35% writing. By the time I write the paper or book review, I am way short on time and often rush through it. Arrrggh. So much of what I benefited from in research and reading never makes it to print, and I find myself wondering how I got there. That's my initial thoughts. What's your method or strategy to reading, writing, and researching? I know I have much to learn here and could greatly benefit from your input!


Blogger Mark said...

First of all thanks for sharing that you are a slow reader. I often get discouraged at my slow reading speed and am always encouraged to read of guys that are also slow readers.

Research style
- I read a bunch, flagging any major section I will want to return to for quotes. But mainly I am just trying to get an idea of where I am going at this point, and where the most helpful material is.
- Next, I write a preliminary thesis and outline for the paper. This is based on the reading I've done so far.
- Then I go into more in depth research. Here I fill out my outline - making little outlines within my major points. At this point I am also placing quotes I will want to use within the outline. All throughout this stage I am tweaking my outline and refining my thesis. If I did step one right I shouldn't have to do major revision of the thesis.
- Next I write. Basically this stage is filling in the outline and using the quotes. This stage takes me the longest I think. Each paragraph takes me a long time. Writing is hard work!

My last step is usually writing my introduction and conclusion.

Good question. I hope others will put their ideas. My system is not real thought through and I don't know if it is a good one. It is just what I do. Hopefully I can learn from you and others here.

3/22/2006 04:19:00 PM

Blogger Timmy said...


First, amen to the slow reading! I simply don't see it how people can read a book thoroughly in a matter of a few hours! For one, I just get distracted and figety (is that a word?) and not disciplined as I ought. I also have to take time off to let the content simmer in my head, lest it just "go in one ear and out the next."

I like your research style. It seems much more refined than mine. Actually, I can't really say that I have a style, given that it has changed every attempt I have made in writing a paper.

You said: "Writing is hard work."

This is so true. Just last week I heard Dr. Wright in our Puritanism class talk about how there were less than a handful of people he knew he could call naturally gifted writers. The rest simply apply themselves and work at it, revising, editing, reworking over and over again. It is tedious, and there are no short-cuts to it - and the discerning reader when know when such short-cuts have taken place. One of the benefits of writing daily on this blog has taught me to interact and organize my thoughts as a discipline. I hope this is paying off. We'll see about that. :)

Thanks again for your thoughts!

3/22/2006 05:42:00 PM

Blogger Nathan said...

Yes it is a word, but it is fidgety.

3/23/2006 10:15:00 AM

Blogger Mark said...

I was just talking to a friend and mentor of mine who mentioned reading McBeth's Baptist History text book (a big one) the evening before his class started... he also mentioned reading nine books on Paul and the law one day! I just can't fathom having that ability. I would love to be able to move through a book that quickly - and then have the choice to slow down and reflect when I wanted to. As of now, I have no choice. I've tried reading a speed reading book, but it was of no help.

On the writing issue... I heard Dr. Wright say the same thing in a class I have with him. The only person I have ever heard say that he really enjoys writing is Dr. Rainer.

3/24/2006 12:44:00 AM


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