How to read

Here is an approach.

  • Skim. First skim over the reading to get a sense of the themes it covers.
    • In one minute a good abstract should give you a sense of the goals of the work. Before reading further, jot down what questions you hope the reading will be able to answer for you.
    • Next, read the introduction and conclusion. This is normally enough to get a sense of the big picture. By now you should know what the main claims are going to be. Ask yourself: Are the claims in the text surprising? Do you believe them? Can you think of examples of cases that do not seem consistent with the logic of the argument? Is the reading answering the questions you hoped it would answer? If not, is it answering more or less interesting questions than you had thought of?
  • Then Predict: Next ask yourself: What types of evidence or arguments would you need to see in order to be convinced of the results? For an empirical paper try to think of the sort of data you might want to get. For a formal paper try to sketch out the contours of a model.
  • Now read the heart: Only now read through the whole text, checking as you go through how the arguments used support the claims of the author.Of course you hardly ever really read the whole text. Instead:
    • For many empirical pieces you read the whole text by going straight to the tables and figures and assessing the evidence, then cross check in the main text for interpretation and other issues. Do not rely on the authors interpretation of tables.
    • For theoretical pieces you read by going straight to the propositions and theorems.
  • Skip the literature: The literature review is read last if at all. This is marketing. you want to check that the article is making the contributions it says it is, but the literature review is sometimes only of limited help for this.
  • Recreation: In all cases when it is possible you are encouraged to download data, replicate results and use it to probe and test the arguments you bring to class. For theoretical papers you are encouraged to simulate results to get a feel for the moving parts.
  • Assessment: It is rare to find a piece of writing that you agree with entirely. So:
    • As you come across issues that you are not convinced by, write them down as points for discussion.
    • Also note when you are pleasantly surprised, when the author produced a convincing argument that you had not thought of.
    • For a checklist of things to look out for as you read see here: checklist