(via nytimes) Gerald Graff describes what most successful college students do. In his experience they cut through the clutter of jargons, methods and ideological differences to locate the common practices of argument and analysis hidden behind it all.
1. Recognize that knowing a lot of stuff won’t do you much good unless you can do something with what you know by turning it into an argument.
2. Pay close attention to what others are saying and writing and then summarize their arguments and assumptions in a recognizable way. Work especially on summarizing the views that go most against your own.
3. As you summarize, look not only for the thesis of an argument, but for who or what provoked it — the points of controversy.
4. Use these summaries to motivate what you say and to indicate why it needs saying. Don’t be afraid to give your own opinion, especially if you can back it up with reasons and evidence, but don’t disagree with anything without carefully summarizing it first.