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Graduate school ruined the way I read which made me a better writer.

stack of booksThat’s right. Graduate school ruined the way I read. I spent week after week cramming in 3-4 books, articles, and websites. 300-page text? Done. 25-page article? No problem. Two books and an article? Read in a Sunday afternoon.

In exchange, though, for some in-depth reading in the academic department, I started skimming through all the other text in my life. Emails from friends. Sales pitches from stores. Newsletters from schools. Yeah, even the important stuff started to get a cursory glance at best. Which means that now I poorly skim everything in my life that doesn’t have anything to do with theory, pedagogy, or research. A few weeks ago I thought I saw a coupon from my local bookstore for 40% off one item. Not the case. Turned out it was 25% off an order over $40. Yesterday I received a coupon in the mail from our vet that I thought was for $15, but I missed the detail that it was actually a $15 credit when we bring a referral.

And, when I say I do this even when the content is important, I mean in situations like, when is the little one’s basketball practice? 7-8:30 on the 9th or 8-9:30 on the 7th? It could go either way for me. Luckily, my husband has picked up on my graduate student reading style and follows behind my lackluster reading to pick up the details I miss. It’s happening too often, I know, and I need to retrain myself. But, I’m hoping that at some point my former ways of reading to appreciate in all areas of my life will return. Still, I’m not holding my breath that it will be any time soon.

But, I’ve found that there’s an up side: I can’t be the only one who reads like this, so I’d better start writing for this reader. As a trained writer, I’ve always been aware of the importance of document design, topic sentences, and organized content. Now,  I realize how important it really is. If I’m writing an email, I’m sure to use bold fonts for the important points. If I’m formatting a newsletter, I skim my own work first to see what stands out to me. When I’m providing feedback to my students, I get to the meat up front. I hope this new approach is working. (Those of you who receive emails from me, please let me know.)

More importantly, though, I’m able to pass this little life lesson on to my students from a new perspective. I can share with them my reading style as a broken reader and the resulting mistakes. Hopefully, they, too, will change the way they design and write–and maybe even read.

So, fellow grad students, if you read like I do, know you’re not alone. If you haven’t experienced this, please share with the rest of us your secrets to holding on to your thorough-reading strategies. And if you’re not a graduate student, keep us in mind when writing. Help us to skim for the correct message by using solid design and organization. We, and our reading clean-up crews, will appreciate it.

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