5 Tips on How To Read Stuff on the Internet

computerThe internet is a funny place–particularly the blogosphere. Recently, I’ve been forced to reflect on the way that people read things the internet–about the way I read things on the internet–and I thought it worthwhile to share a few of the tips I’ve been learning to work on.

  1. The words “A” and “The” are different words. – Seriously, read carefully. Pay attention to whether an author is making broad or specific claims. Is it an absolute or conditional statement? It’s good to be careful about those sorts of things.
  2. Don’t always assume the author knows you personally and is obviously writing about your experience. There have been a number of instances where I have misread an author’s intent by immediately connecting whatever they’re writing about with my personal history. In other words, don’t be narcissistic in your reading. Obviously, you will always come to the text with your own personal history. It’s important to stop and realize that your life does not and can not encompass the sum total of human wisdom and experience. The author might have a whole different set of experiences that they’re drawing on and addressing that have nothing to do with you.*
  3. Read the whole article, not just particular paragraphs. This point should be obvious as well. Still, I can’t tell you how many times I have had to come back to an article and realize that the author wasn’t saying what I thought they were saying because I, with my myopic tendencies, had fixated on some particular phrase instead of catching the whole shape of the argument. Instead, it’s good to make sure and read the whole thing before coming to a firm judgement. You don’t know the way that the author might balance or correct for your concerns later on.
  4. Calm down and read it again. This one is implied in the last one, but sometimes it pays to read an article more than once. I know for myself, I’ve approached certain authors or articles with controversial titles with a grid in place that skewed even a thorough first reading. It pays to read it again and again to make sure you’re hearing properly.
  5. Read as you’d like to be read. This is simply the golden rule in practice. If you’d like others to pay attention to what you say, give grace for your linguistic infelicities, and ask for clarifications before making final judgments about your pieces, then go ahead and do the same for others.

*If you’re offended right now because you think I’m writing this post about you, please refer back to #2.