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Thread: What are some tips to reading highly technical academic texts?

  1. #1

    Default What are some tips to reading highly technical academic texts?


  2. #3
    Plumage and Moult Array proteanmix's Avatar
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    Apr 2007


    Is this a thread?

    I have to read a lot of clinical studies and trials and what not for work. I use wikipedia, google, and the Medline/Pubmed glossaries. If you're in the US, the various .gov sites have pretty good glossaries to explain jargon. If you're talking about those tables with all those weird and unearthly symbols I ignore them and hope nothing of import is there. That's why I'm OK with looking like a semi-doofus, but a complete one is a big no-no.
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  3. #4
    Feline Member Array kelric's Avatar
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    Sep 2007


    Give yourself a LOT more time to read them than you would for pretty much anything else of a similar length. Be very thorough - and especially, if these are the sorts of texts (I'm thinking mostly journals, here), where data is presented and the text exists primarily to describe conclusions based on the data, *do* spend extra effort to make the link in your mind between the data and the conclusions (those little graphs and tables are quite boring most of the time, but really taking the time to match the conclusions with the data *will* help you learn the material better). After you've finished reading, go back and describe in your own mind a number of conclusions as to what was said, and *why* you think those conclusions are either correct or incorrect in light of the data or context.

    I admit - I don't particularly enjoy reading highly technical stuff - but I've done quite a bit of it over the years, and if you spend the effort on it, you'll get a LOT more out of it than just plowing through it. Better to read one thing in depth than three in "skim mode". It's often heavily jargonized and difficult to understand - but you can get useful information out of it that you sometimes can't get any other way.

  4. #5


    Thank you, I was thinking about scientific texts so that works. I am currently "The Origin of Species" and much of the language is hard to comprehend for me, haha.

  5. #6
    Protocol Droid Array Athenian200's Avatar
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    Jul 2007


    Well, I'd use a dictionary, and attempt to research any background information or context I seem to be missing as I read. For instance, I'm not usually good at math, but I might look up relevant mathematical concepts as I'm reading a research or theory paper that uses them, and learn just enough to understand what I'm reading as I go along (though I'll probably forget it later). It works pretty well.

    Basically, just read, and look up anything you don't understand as you go along. Doesn't matter how complicated it is, it will just fall into place eventually if you keep at it.

  6. #7


    IME, read it, then read it again a day later, after you've slept. Sleeping on it helps a lot if the subject is something that you find puzzling.

  7. #8
    324B21 Array nonsequitur's Avatar
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    Sep 2008
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    I read a lot of scientific papers just by nature of my "job" as a grad student. I'd suggest going through the introduction, then the discussion before looking at the results in detail and deciding if the conclusions drawn are over-reaching/false, or define the specific conditions of those conclusions. Then I'd look for loopholes in methods for the experiments conducted, and think about other possible experiments that could be done to prove/disprove the authors' assertion.

    That's generally how I read technical papers. I also make short notes as I read the intro/discussion with references, so that when I write my own papers, I can easily find references.

    I've never read On the Origin of Species, though. It seems more like a thesis than a specific technical paper.

  8. #9
    (☞゚∀゚)☞ Array The Decline's Avatar
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    Jun 2009


    Some brief tips for scientific articles:

    The title and abstract reveals the objective in a straightforward fashion.

    Don't skip the table of contents. Seriously look it over.

    After that, just head to the conclusion. You can check over the results and methodology if you're really interested.
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  9. #10
    Feelin' FiNe Array speculative's Avatar
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    Jul 2008


    I guess this depends on whether you mean technical as in computers, engineering, etc., or whether you mean any kind of academic writing where the presentation is technical. For example, some international relations texts we read were presented in very academic language. There is a style to this kind of writing. You should try to read as much of this kind of writing as you can to gain a sense of the style and structure of this kind of writing. Generally, I found that most academic prose followed similar structures and styles, to the point that I could skim through the prose quickly to get to the "main point" of the section or chapter. However, I would not recommend this if you are getting acquainted with this kind of prose. Some texts we read, especially international relations texts, contained concepts that were presented like Russian nesting dolls. Any given sentence or paragraph my not make sense in and of itself; it may only make sense in the context of the section of chapter. Some paragraphs would start in the middle of one page and continue onto the next page, so this structure was even present within single paragraphs.

    The main thing to remember is that just like first-year freshman who try to pad their page count with big margins and large fonts to meet the page requirement for their English papers, professors are in a "publish or perish" environment, so for them brevity is not the soul of wit.
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