- Apr 2021
As I was gearing up to start my PhD last fall, I received a piece of advice that made a lot of sense at the time, and continues to do so. My colleague, Inba told me to 'write while I read', meaning that I should take notes and summarize research while I read it, and not just read and underline article after article. That way, not only do I not lose my thoughts while I'm reading an article, but I am actively thinking through the arguments in the paper while I am reading it and my writing is thoroughly grounded in the literature.
This is generally fantastic advice! It's also the general underpinning behind the idea of Luhmann's zettelkasten method.
I'll also mention that it's not too dissimilar to Benjamin Franklin's writing advice about taking what others have written and working with that yourself, though there he doesn't take it as far as others have since.
- Feb 2014
The Benjamin Franklin Programming Practice Model
- Find a program that you greatly admire and read it.
- Takes note on the roles, inputs, and outputs of each major component.
- Take notes on how the components interact.
- Rewrite the program.
- Compare your code with the original.
- Note where you can improve and study accordingly.
Benjamin developed his method in his early teens and worked hard at practicing his craft. Here is the exceprt with a few added line breaks for legibility. About this time I met with an odd volume of the Spectator. It was the third. I had never before seen any of them. I bought it, read it over and over, and was much delighted with it. I thought the writing excellent, and wished, if possible, to imitate it. With this view I took some of the papers, and, making short hints of the sentiment in each sentence, laid them by a few days, and then, without looking at the book, try'd to compleat the papers again, by expressing each hinted sentiment at length, and as fully as it had been expressed before, in any suitable words that should come to hand. Then I compared my Spectator with the original, discovered some of my faults, and corrected them. But I found I wanted a stock of words, or a readiness in recollecting and using them, which I thought I should have acquired before that time if I had gone on making verses; since the continual occasion for words of the same import, but of different length, to suit the measure, or of different sound for the rhyme, would have laid me under a constant necessity of searching for variety, and also have tended to fix that variety in my mind, and make me master of it. Therefore I took some of the tales and turned them into verse; and, after a time, when I had pretty well forgotten the prose, turned them back again. I also sometimes jumbled my collections of hints into confusion, and after some weeks endeavored to reduce them into the best order, before I began to form the full sentences and compleat the paper. This was to teach me method in the arrangement of thoughts.
Benjamin Franklin on developing proficiency.
The hard part is teaching the consequences of each choice.
Once you get the syntax and basic language idioms out of the way this is the real problem that faces us no matter what language we pick.