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On skimming reading material and the importance of The Second Round of in-depth reading

One of my main concerns when I see students seek advice online, as I’ve made explicit in earlier blog posts of mine, is that many folks recommend that they should ALWAYS SKIM EVERYTHING and later (at some undetermined point in time) they should choose which readings they must come back to and read in more depth. As I’ve said repeatedly, students and scholars alike should develop a broad repertoire of reading strategies. There is no magic bullet, and there are risks to the ALWAYS SKIM strategy which I outlined in a Twitter thread earlier this week.

Reading writing working

I have read a ton of my fellow professors encourage students to “just skim and when you find the right article/book, THEN you can read in more depth”. I would be down with this strategy if students were used to reading in depth throughout their studies. I am not certain they are. There is a lot of heterogeneity in reading speeds/material density but also on the purpose of said reading materials. For example, in my class, I always tell my students: “this lecture will ABSOLUTELY REQUIRE that you read very much in depth article A, B and C. Skim D if need be”.

Example: if it’s a class on foundations of institutional theory, I can easily tell my students: “read Ostrom 1990 Ch 3 in depth, North 1990 Ch1 in depth, and Hall and Taylor 1996 – from H&T you should totally do a synthetic note that includes a table on 3 neoinstitutionalisms”. People who teach institutional theory may frown at the fact I didn’t include Williamson. Personally, I believe one can learn institutions with Ostrom, North, Hall and Taylor. THEN go in more depth with Williamson. Anyhow, this is just an example of guidance I offer my students.

I really do hope that folks in higher education will take to heart the message that if you teach your students to strategically choose and skim, you should also teach them to do The Second Round of in-depth reading.

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