Tuesday, January 12, 2016

How to Read an Article

Applying sound analytics and critical thinking skills are the foundation upon which all Western thought is built. They are the inerrant methods for establishing authority for truth in the modern world. The way we approach analytics is critical to our understanding of content and context, and in how we ought to respond in relation to information. Therefore it is necessary to recognize the importance of several key elements of analytical study or critical deconstruction, interpretation, and application in order to extract the most value from reading a given article. 


The wrong question to ask: What does it mean to me? 
  • This question implies that authority rests with me. 
  • It therefore means what the reader wants it to mean. 
The right question to ask: What is the author's intended meaning? 
  • This question examines the information for its intended content/context. 
  • It is thus interpreted in relation to the author's intended meaning. The author is the individual sharing the information. 
A further question to ask: How does the author's meaning apply to me? 
  • This question recognizes the author's knowledge of, or perspective on a given subject, and their purpose for writing the article. 
  • The "take away" is the principle meaning which can affect an reader's interpretation of a given subject. 

Analytics is not judging, but rather interpreting.


What is meant when an author writes, "I'm blue." 
  • My skin is covered in blue paint. 
  • I am an Avatar. 
  • My skin is turning blue, and I'm going to pass out. 
  • I'm feeling down. 
The context of the information is directly related to the specific situation in view and has significant bearing on what the author intends to convey. 

If the author's skin is turning blue and he or she is about to pass out, the author may also be feeling down. However, when the author claims he or she is blue, it is the readers job to understand that the author is not requesting that someone sit down and counsel him or her about how to feel better; he or she wants someone to call 911 or get them medical assistance quick! 

While additional interpretations may be made by observation and associated implication from a specific way in which an article or sentence is worded, statements typically have one intended meaning (unless they are double entendres). 


Articles are filled with intended meanings to reveal to us how we ought to think about a given subject from another individual's perspective and design. I like to think of reading articles as discovering the underlining principles held by another in order to examine my own thinking on, or knowledge of a subject. 

The intended meanings are golden nuggets of additional perspectives that we must extract from the text. Like an archaeologist mining for fragments of an incomplete story, no one perspective, not even our own, holds ultimate authority. Each piece merely provides additional context in an ever evolving unfolding of information for our consideration. The truth claims (pieces) are aspects of many complex ideas and cannot always be cross-examined without the advent of additional truth claims to further our understanding. 

Some comment (on articles) rashly, agreeing or disagreeing with the text. These readers are very close to the surface of the subject matter; others, such as those who click "like" and think about rather than comment on a given subject are typically those who recognize another perspective, appreciate or reject that perspective, and move onto the next thought that interests them. They may revisit the thought again later, or simply file it away, allow it to fade into the recesses of their subconscious, inside the mind's massive, continually overwritten processing vault. 

Whether or not we choose to affirm/reject the perspectives of others as being in alignment/contrast with our own, articles and their corresponding perspectives are presented (often times for free) for our consideration. They have as many interpretations as readers, but most are misinterpreted. 

To fully understand an article one must invest the time, patience, and commitment it takes to consider the perspectives and their intended meanings; these perspectives are treasures and worthy of the effort, in particular when the activity results in an enhancement to our own perspectives or knowledge of a subject. 

New ideas are fresh ideas...

When reading an article most of us simply skim the information for take aways. We instantly recognize familiar wording as complementary, while divergent concepts stand out. Many argue and disagree with that which they do not understand or with that which they disagree rather than asking the author why the information was presented in a certain context. Asking questions requires us to engage our critical thinking skills. 

Through careful reading and critical examination we can arrive at an accurate interpretation of an article, but this analysis requires a time commitment that few of us are wiling to invest given the demands on our time (our most precious resource). Thus, the most clearly written articles are those most easily understood. These articles can be revisited when we have more time (and the desire) to consider their deeper meanings and relevance to our own way of thinking. 


"Sign up for Free!"  This is advice shared across the advertising world. This advice intends to persuade a specific action, namely, to sign up [for something]. If we begin our observation from a broader scope before signing up, this phrase illuminates a process: 

  1. Is the advice current? 
    • If yes, the advice may or may not be followed. 
    • If no, the advice is outdated and inapplicable. 
  2. For which activity is this advice applicable? 
    • Is the author authorized to give the advice? 
    • Are there clues in the text that further describe or imply what will happen after taking the advice? 
    • Does the author clearly identify who should take the advice? 
    • Are there clues in this advice or in similar advice that further describe the context and the conditions under which this advice should be accepted or rejected? 
    • Are there clues indicating the benefit or cost associated with taking this advice? 
    • What is the author's purpose for giving this advice? 
  3. Is the advice contained in a particular section of a larger context? 
    • Are there any clues that would indicate what the author is trying to achieve by offering this advice? 
    • What sections surround the section in which the advice is found? 
    • Sections do not necessarily abide by intent, because articles/advertisements are sometimes later edited to help clarify the text; articles are not always "inspired". 
  4. What is the context of the passage containing the advice? 
    • What is the main idea of the passage? 
    • Are there clues or sub-points that support the main idea? 
    • (These questions can only be answered after utilizing the smaller units of the article.)
      • What information surrounds the advice? 
      • Have I properly grouped/classified the information to carry across the whole idea of the article? 
      • Articles may also contain links to other articles. Have I investigated additional information prior to making an informed decision/conclusion? 

It is sometimes necessary to reexamine commonly utilized words for additional meaning. Language style differs from one author to the next. Do not assume that a word utilized by one author is utilized in the same way as another. 

One does not need to be a literary scholar to read an article (but it helps). By investing a little more time in the articles that interest us, we can interpret and ultimately contribute more to further the intent of the article in the comments section. We can also use this section to clarify - not attack - what the author has shared. 

An analytical approach to reading articles allows us to interpret and consider information in a way we may not have previously considered. Reading is not an exercise in dramatic theater. It is an activity by which we bring in new information for our mind's consideration, elucidation, and ultimately, for our intended use or purpose in a furtherance of our goals, be those edification or utility. 


After arriving at the main point of an article using a broader scope as well as examining the fine details, it is important to be able to bring the information shared by the author into our present context for application. For example, if the reader is skilled in the task of analytical interpretation and takes away nothing else from this article other than Thomas Paine's keen insight: "... a long habit of not thinking a thing wrong gives it a superficial appearance of being right," which references a particular habit of mind, then this thought alone is one of value as it provides the ready with information worthy of deeper consideration. It is also practical to examine how we think given the thousands of rationalizations and interpretations we make on a daily basis.

Whenever we are confronted with new information, certain information is immediately apparent. What is not readily apparent is the more complex associations one can make when stepping back to consider a subject in a different light.

What we recognize in the perspectives of others is largely based on our habits of mind, the information our mind's encompass, and the understanding that has developed and deepened as we have worked through these ideas. 

The keys to extracting more from an article are found in the following habits: 
  • persistence
  • managing impulsivity
  • listening with empathy and understanding
  • thinking flexibly
  • thinking about your thinking (metacognition)
  • striving for accuracy
  • applying past knowledge
  • questioning and posing problems
  • thinking and communicating with clarity and precision
  • gathering data through multiple senses
  • creating
  • imagining and innovating
  • responding with wonderment and awe
  • taking reasonable risks
  • finding humor
  • thinking interdependently
  • and remaining open to continuous learning. 

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