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Reading heuristics: Finding a core idea in a paragraph by searching for keywords/terms

This fall, I’m going to be teaching my Public Policy Analysis class (as per usual), but I promised the 4 cohorts of our Bachelors in Public Policy that I would give them a few tips on how to read better/faster/absorb the material more easily/in-depth. I had noticed that my blog had fewer resources for undergraduate students than I would like. This is an oversight that I’d like to fix throughout the fall and perhaps in 2020. This series of blog posts on reading techniques for undergraduates is an attempt to “beef up” my Resources for Undergraduates page.

Highlighting and scribbling

This blog post describes a heuristic I use when I am reading under time pressure and two other conditions apply: what I am reading is a key piece for what I’m working on, and it’s not structured in a way that would allow me to do an AIC (Abstract-Introduction-Conclusion) content abstraction. What I do then is, I screen the paper (I also said “comb” on Twitter, because what better metaphor than sifting through, combing or screening?) for keywords or specific phrases or terms that are relevant.

The paper I am reading right now is a book chapter in the following edited volume: Guha-Khasnobis, Basudeb, Ravi Kanbur, and Elinor Ostrom. “Linking The Formal And Informal Economy: Concepts And Policies”, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2006.

This is a chapter on informality, important for a paper I am working on, but not THE key reading for my work. This is what I call a piece worthy of “meso-level” reading (i.e. because I don’t have the time to really read this paper in great depth and it is not the most important one for my research, I will need to scan the text for keywords so that where I see definitions or explanations of these concepts, I can stop and read more deeply). I show my heuristic in the following Twitter thread.

As my Twitter thread shows, my heuristic consists of scanning the text for keyword definitions, explanations, key phrases, lists of concepts, ideas, etc. Then I highlight the text that is important to me, and I leave the rest for a second, “at a later time” read. Hopefully this heuristic will help my (and others’) undergraduate students read faster and absorb the material better!

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Posted in academia.

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