Reading at the Graduate Level

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Reading at the Graduate Level

Over the next two years you will be exposed to many readings, books, journal articles, websites and more!

Here are some excerpts from “Reading as a Graduate Student” by Richard Jacobs at Villanova University.

At the graduate level – and especially for those graduate students seeking degrees in professional studies – it is important to progress beyond this immature [i.e, undergraduate] approach to reading textbooks and journal articles. These students need to consider two issues as they engage in reading. One of the most crucial issues focuses upon how to read a textbook. The second issue focuses upon why one is reading a textbook or journal article in the first place.

Yes, graduate students read books and journal articles to know what the author is communicating, that is, to become more competent not only in reading more advanced textual materials but also in one's knowledge of a scholarly field of inquiry. As important as this competency is (after all, the facts are the facts and knowing them is crucial), that is not the primary purpose for engaging in reading. At the graduate level, required reading is explicitly intended to introduce students systematically to a field of scholarly inquiry and through the exercise of reading, to inculcate in students the ability to converse intelligently about the content of that field, that is, to be conversant with it. Specifically, this means inculcating in the graduate student – through the process of reading – knowledge, understanding, and conversancy with intellectual history.

What they (learners) often fail to recognize is that if only they would engage in reading purposefully, they would then not only develop greater competence in reading more advanced textual material but also in expressing what they know and understand as a consequence of reading. In addition, this process makes students quite conversant in scholarly dialogue and not only with the authors they are reading but also with others, especially their professors and classmates.

Some tips...

  • Read the text or article as if it is a prescription for actual professional practice. That is, what is the literature telling you to do in actual practice?
  • Decide whether the text or article is theoretical or practical in its intent. That is, what is the author's intent? To theorize? To prescribe?
  • Classify the text or article according to the major strands of intellectual history. That is, does the literature give primary emphasis to general ideas that authors argue about?
  • Decide whether the text or article is about general issues or about more specific problems. That is, does the literature have as its objective to orient the reader and the reader's subsequent practice to deal with global issues or to provide tools to solve specific problems?
  • Identify the author's perspective. That is, what is the implicit philosophy embedded in the text or article?
  • Specify what the text or article advocates you to do. That is, ask yourself, "What does the author want me to do?"
  • Identify the purpose for which this is to be done. That is, ask yourself, "Why does the author want me to do this?"
  • Make an informed judgment about the validity of these matters for actual practice. That is, ask yourself, "Do I believe that what the text or article suggests is a good thing? Is this better than what I am doing at present?"

For another excellent resource on reading, check out Stephen Brookfield’s article “Reading Theory Critically".