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    I really love reading papers. Ten years ago when I started grad school I set myself a goal of reading a paper a week, which I have achieved (excepting the occasional vacation). Despite this, I still find it disappointing how many great ideas are hidden behind overly-complex and overly-formal writing. Many papers use the language that they do not because it’s the best language to explain and share their ideas, but because it’s the voice of academia or the voice of research. I have no problem with precise language and jargon where they improve communication, but using language and jargon to signal “this work is important” or “I am important” is both extremely common and very distracting from engaging with the underlying ideas.

    I really like these points:

    In other words: you can’t be “too dumb” to read a paper. Anyone can read any paper at any time. Don’t be afraid, be encouraged. You will learn something.

    The person or people who wrote it aren’t necessarily “smarter” than you.

    Many people I have spoken to, including great smart engineers, feel like they are “too dumb” to read a paper. That’s not because they don’t understand the underlying concepts, or don’t understand the math, or are in any way dumb. Generally, it’s because they are intimidated by the language and formalisms of academic publication. That’s not good, because a stronger conversation between academia and industry, and between practitioners and theoreticians would be good for both.

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      In case you didn’t see it, this entertaining essay by Steven Pinker might be of interest: http://chronicle.com/article/Why-Academics-Writing-Stinks/148989/

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        May I propose that this very essay is an illustration of the mistake academics make? There is, for example, no summary paragraph at the start, which would help me understand what the author’s answer to the title question is. Expecting this to be an informative article - rather than verbose prose meant to be read for enjoyment in itself - I found it difficult to maintain my attention and read the whole article. I skimmed to the conclusion, but was not enlightened. I was indeed too dumb to understand THIS paper. Alas.

        Also, I’m a big fan of the snowflake method of writing and I like to keep the one line, one paragraph summaries in place to allow folks to quickly decide if this is what they want to read. Unless it’s a prose of mystery.

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      (I worked at SAP Research where I read a lot of papers and later with a professor with a very great reading list)

      One issue I see a bit glossed over: there are papers that are hard to understand, badly worded and they often put people off. Pretty often, I got them forced on my during uni, maybe because the professor or his associates were the authors. That, for a long time, left the taste in my mouth that papers are incredibly hard and crafted to sound smarter then they are. I only later figured out: those are bad papers. As simple as it is.

      A good paper makes a difficult or unknown topic approachable, even to those not in the topic. That’s very relevant, because also researchers are often not experts in the domain they are currently reading up on. The clearer and easier the language and the explanation, the less mentally taxing it is to the reader. A lot of good papers are also just writeup of approaches tried, taken and described. So, feel free to skip stuff that you don’t grasp, go to the reading list, read someone elses paper on the same topic. You’re not dumb, it’s just not your paper. Next!

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        I fully agree you should be working to understand the universe around you, I feel like at this point I’m probably better off reading textbooks than papers though.

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          Reading textbooks is cool, too. The obvious advantage is that you can get a much wider view for the same amount of reading, and take advantage of an expert’s view on what material is “important”. The exercises are also a great way to test your understanding.

          One advantage of papers, almost counter intuitively, is that they aren’t filtered in the same way. Papers give a more direct view of a point in time in a particular field, which can tell you a lot about that field and it’s history. They also tend to feel like a more personal connection with the researcher and their thinking, which can be a great way to learn good methods for thinking.

          Either way, though, the important thing (in my opinion) is to be learning. If it’s papers, textbooks or youtube videos of conference talks, the benefits are clear.

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            I disagree. I find textbooks suffer from their form a lot. For example, many include an introduction into the topic. If you read or work through two of them, you have to skip through the basics at least once.

            That’s my common frustration with programming books (yes, they are not textbooks, but for the sake of an example): many explain how printing strings work in the beginning. I’m an advanced prog language learner, I don’t want that.

            Papers are quick and to the point. They don’t necessarily teach me something, but just explain a thing I hadn’t heard about before.