Paul Kei Matsuda
http://pmatsuda.faculty.asu.edu/

"Read Everything" Again

My blog entry on reading everything seems to have generated some interesting discussion. I like what Derek Mueller says:

This paradox is the ongoing challenge, no? Read everything; to read everything is impossible. Still, one must. But cannot. Etc. The outlying factors bear down and raise related questions: write everything? How much to read before writing? While writing? How much to write while reading?
It is indeed paradoxical, especially because the professional literature keeps expanding. Nevertheless, it is important to "collect" everything, as Collin Brooke suggests, and to develop a mental map of the field that continues to evolve with the researcher's knowledge of the field.

Derek also poses an important question--when do we stop reading and start writing (or do we stop reading)? Of course the reading process never stops. As I write, I discover what I know as well as what I don't know or don't remember well, or inconsistencies in my thinking, prompting me to go back to various texts. (I sound like my dear friend Don Murray when I say this.)

When I was an MA student, I approached the process of reading to write as "information crunching"--and I had the image of defragmenting hard-drives in mind. I would type up relevant passages into the document, break them up into smaller clusters, rearrange them to fit the evolving organization of my own writing, and then paraphrase or summarize what I can, leaving the rest of the original texts as direct quotes.

After having read (and written) quite bit in the field (though still not enough), I began to experience what Jeff Rice describes:
At some point in my career, I found myself able to perform a pretty amazing (to me) feat when writing. I was able to pull out of my memory not details, but positions, ideas, arguments, stances from my past reading. That build-up is important. Out of it, I can write, and I can join the conversations.
My writing process changed quite a bit while I was working on my Ph.D. at Purdue. I would now just read, read, and read (though increasingly, I find myself drawing mostly on what I remember having read) and then, when I feel I have a good sense of the topic and my overall argument--the vision, if you will--for the entire article, I start drafting without looking at anything. I can often cite sources from memory, though I try to verify them later for accuracy. Then, as I read through my own writing numerous times, I keep adding more sources, this time checking the original sources for exact wording and page numbers.

I also feel that reading the professional literature has become much easier. I know what to read carefully (and several times) and what to skim through quickly because I can often predict where I might find certain arguments or pieces of information because of my genre knowledge. Sometimes I can even predict what the text is going to say before reading it based on my knowledge of what's been said and done; in those cases, reading is a matter of confirming my predictions and noting any discrepancies.

All of this may seem overwhelming to those who are only beginning to read--ahem--everything, but it'll come with practice. But it probably doesn't happen to those whose reading experience has not reached a critical mass.

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Last update: January 6, 2008