Paul Kei Matsuda

Read Everything

One of the stock pieces of advice that I give gradaute students is to "read everything." Of course it's impossible to read everything that has ever been written, but I do expect researchers to have read everything--literally everything--on subtopics within the field on which they are writing.

When I start a new project, I usually begin by collecting all the books and articles that have anything to do with that topic. I prefer to buy those books--especially those that are often cited in one of my own fields--rather than check them out from the library or through the ILL. I need to have all my intellectual tools at my disposal. That has always been my preference--even when I was a poor graduate student. Building a good professional library is an important investment.

I scan through them to explore the intertextuality--which sources get mentioned more frequently and how. I then collect more sources if I don't have them handy. Without this process, it wouldn't be possible to come up with viable research questions or to know what questions or concerns reviewers and readers might have.

Reading everything is especially important at the beginning of a researcher's career. One of the problem of novice researchers trying to read selectively is that they are not likely to have developed appropriate criteria for choosing what is important and what is not. The discernment in reading scholarly books and articles can come only from an extensive knowledge of the field, which is, after all, a synthesis of the diverse bodies of knowledge held by everyone who identifies herself or himself as a member of the field.

A novice researcher who doesn't try to read everything is like someone watching Star Wars Episode III without having watched the other five episodes. The main plot and some of the details might still be entertaining, but the person's appreciation of the film is necessarily limited by the lack of background knowledge and intertextual awareness.

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Blogger gcpemberton said...

Keep the wonderful advice coming. Your "random thoughts" are very helpful for young researchers.

Tuesday, August 22, 2006 8:13:00 PM  
Blogger Collin said...

I just gave copies, as I do every year, of your chapter from Casanave's and Vandrick's Writing for Scholarly Publication, where you describe exactly this process from your MA days. I'll be talking to our new doctoral students this week, about doing just this and about using digital tools to explore the intertextuality you describe...


Sunday, September 03, 2006 8:53:00 PM  
Blogger Paul said...

Thanks, Collin, for your comment. I also asked my students in the course on Research Methods in Composition this semester to read that chapter.

I'd be curious to find out how you present the use of digital tools for exploring the intertextuality.


Sunday, September 03, 2006 10:30:00 PM  
Anonymous jeff said...

Absolutely. Reading widely - if not always completely - generates a very different writing ability than reading sporadically (if at all). 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.

I also experience the collection/database that Collin writes about in his post/response. It is this point I stress in both undergrad and grad courses. Research as internal. database. It's not that you have all the "plots" of all the academic stories memorized (I'm not that kind of scholar). It's that I've learned how to build and negotiate the database of academics.

Monday, September 04, 2006 5:27:00 AM  
Blogger Paul said...

Hi, Jeff. It was good to meet you in Chicago. Yes, it's that build-up that makes all the difference, isn't it?

Monday, September 04, 2006 8:14:00 AM  

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