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SUPPLEMENTARY MATERIALS FOR POLS 003 A. How to read a work of political theory . 1. Always read with a purpose. Simply picking up the assignment and plunging into it is the most difficult way to read a text on political theory. Instead, start with questions in mind--questions that you want the text to answer for you. The discussion questions are one good source of questions, as are many perennial themes that seem to come up over and over in political theory-- justice, equality, freedom, human nature, community, etc. If you have a purpose you will stand a better chance of keeping on track and staying interested. If you have no particular idea of why you are reading then you likely will become lost or confused. 2. Read critically. Every semester I give an early lecture on ways to critically appraise a text. Refer to your notes from this lecture often. If you missed it, get the notes. Reading critically works very much like reading with a purpose--it makes you an active reader rather than a passive reader, since you are trying to do something with the text you are reading, rather than sitting back and letting it flow passed you. 3. Purchase your books and then mark them up. DON'T do this with library books. Draw lines under key passages. Write question marks in the margin when you don't understand something. Write exclamation marks in the margins when you are excited by something. Highlight anything you come across that you think might be useful as a quote in a future paper. Etc. Another technique is to use post-its to insert notes in your book, without writing on the book itself. Or you may want to use a word processor as you read, to copy down quotations and notes and page numbers as you go. Successful students have used all these techniques. 4. If you do not understand a word, use a dictionary. If you try very hard to understand a passage and cannot, simply mark it and move on. Do not get bogged down. Chances are that others in the class also do not understand it, and it might make a great question (and an opportunity for participation) to ask in class. 5. Set aside different blocks of time that you devote to the reading for your different classes, and stick to them. Routine is a great antidote to procrastination--and it simplifies your life. Since it takes a while each time to get used to reading political theory, it probably is more efficient to read in one two hour block than two one hour blocks. 6. Read everything. But read some things more carefully than others. You cannot be expected to remember every detail of everything you read. So your strategy should be to read the whole assignment carefully enough to get the overall theories, while reading some favorite passages in sufficient depth to be able to come up with detailed examples 7. Form a study group with other students in the class. Read on your own, but them get together to talk over what you read. Often different students will get different things from the same reading.
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