i fuckin love to effortpost. one of the reasons i like wddp so much is we’ve got a real diverse pool of knowledge & specializations, and i like to have conversations with people about stuff they know lots about. i really like the excuse to quit doing my own academic research and instead research a random damn thing for a post. but, like, it takes a lot of effort & requires a lot of skills i picked up in garde skull. so i’d like to share some of those skills with y’all.
I. what is an effortpost?
if you’re writing an OP, you probably have knowledge about a thing already & you are dropping substantial chunks of it on your fellow posters. cool. this is more geared toward how to write good responses other than “interesting, thanks” (not that these aren’t appreciated), by doing some research & reporting back. in substantive threads we often ask questions like “well i wonder what lgbtq history is like in cuba” and folks are like “gosh idk but that’d be cool to find out.” so, go find out!!
“finding out” doesn’t need to be proposing a definitive answer. generally threads move fast enough that you really only need one or two good resources. plus, this is a conversation. you’re proposing one way of addressing the concern; other folks should be pitching in to help you. you’re not expected to be an authority, writing a fuckin dissertation. you’re just looking for some kind of evidence to draw into your conversation.
essentially, my effortposts are annotations: i find a piece of evidence and quote or summarize the key arguments, while keeping in mind who the author is and what kind of evidence they’re drawing on. my goal is to reproduce the text well enough for other folks to engage it too without having read the full thing. also, i really want to find something online, both for my convenience and everyone else’s; i don’t have to leave the house, and i can give everyone else access, too.
so let’s say someone posts a thing about identity politics and marxism, and we get into a conversation about specific historical communisms & how they address or fail to address oppressions other than class. someone asks the above question about how lgbtq folks have been treated in cuba.
II. i don’t know shit about crap so i gotta go look something up. where do i go?
shove a basic subject into google and see what pops up. in this case “lgbtq history cuba” pulls up a wiki entry, a bunch of articles, a site on the topic, and some amazon search results. any one of these results is fine. but what i usually go for first is:
as we all know, wiki is populated by insane libertarians (as well as uni profs who assign students to expand content, social justice folks who obsessively curate articles to keep them from turning into shit, etc–lots of good folks doing work here too) and the quality of articles is often uneven at best. i use the main article to give me a broad impression of the subject, but what i’m really looking for is the works cited & recommended bibliography because wiki editors really like to cite & recommend online resources. ie stuff i have access to immediately.
so on the lgbt rights in cuba wiki (http://en.wikipedia…._rights_in_Cuba), scroll to the bottom and you’ll see there are several films cited + 1 book. there are also a number of links in the “references” section. it’s totally fine to stop your search here! there’s a freakin ton of stuff available or reproduced in full online. pick one and proceed to IV.
C. google books and google scholar
also good places to do a basic subject search.
III. which one of these things do i pick?
A. personally, i prefer books & longer more comprehensive studies when i’m trying to get a picture of an overall problem (this is probably because i am an academic), so i’d be most interested in the books cited in the references section. i’m gonna try to pick the best combination between relevant title and recent date. my inclination wrt cuba specifically would be to prioritize spanish-language sources (or something that has been translated from spanish) because there is a lot at stake in what we say about Cuba in anglo-american ideology. i would also trust something from a Cuban website or a site about Cuba or LGBTQ issues more than i would a non-specialized site or something by white evangelical Floridians.
so, sort your results by: relevance, appropriate date, language (& accompanying ideological filters), publisher/platform (& accompanying ideological filters).
in this case, i’d be interested in Before Night Falls by Reinaldo Arenas, a memoir published in 1992, and Ian Lumsden’s Machos, Maricones, and Gays: Cuba and Homosexuality. as i’m selecting sources, i’m checking how they’re used in the article & i’m googling them to make sure they’re not unsavory. just by reading the works cited i know the Lumsden is problematic; but i still want a big recent-ish survey so i’m going to take it with another source (the memoir) and keeping in mind that it’s limited.
frankly these results aren’t great, so i went back to google books to see what i could find. “lgbtq history cuba” brought back “do you mean lgbt,” which is interesting, and that altered search brought up several gay history surveys + Gay Cuban Nation by Emilio Bejel. that’s published in 2001 and is by a Cuban author, meeting most of my criteria; it’s a study of literature, which isn’t quite what i wanted, but taken with the Lumsden and Arenas i think i have enough variety to compare & contrast.
IV. how can i find it if it’s not a CNN article or whatever?
A. google books and google scholar!
pop the title in. many times you’ll get either a full book or big preview. sometimes you’ll just get an abstract or summary of the thing. this is actually really good, hold onto it. Bejel and Lumsden are both available in limited previews, Arenas is just an abstract.
B. regular google, search “[title] pdf”
C. library.nu, create an account to see more results.
to locate physical copies near you, if you’re interested, but they also have some useful resources in their entries to help you figure out what the book’s about and what it says: summaries/abstracts, table of contents, and relevant subject headings.
III. i don’t fucking have time to read an entire book, goddamn.
read the table of contents, introduction, and conclusion. this will lay out what the author’s gonna do & how, and what they found/what their final conclusions are. if you don’t have the attention span, read the first and last sentence of every paragraph. if you don’t have the attention span for that, read the first paragraph and last paragraph of the intro and conclusion.
B. search or skim within the book for particular keywords if you just want one piece of information
the abstract tells you what the thing is about, what argument it makes, and what info it’s pulling on.
D. author’s site & cv
if all you got is an abstract you can also google the author to figure out what discipline they’re in (so what kind of evidence they’re using), plus sometimes their faculty or personal site will have a) other publications and b) samples. both of these help you contextualize the thing you’re reading b/c they tell you who the author is, what they’re interested in proving, and how this might fit into that larger project.
E. book reviews
check amazon, goodreads, google scholar, and jstor (whether you have access to full articles or not; book reviews are often short & available in full in the preview). stuff on google scholar & jstor is probably going to be written by fellow academics in the field who can tell you whether the book is legit from the pov of other specialists; they are not going to be overwhelmingly negative b/c everyone knows each other and kind of has to get along. amazon and goodreads are likely going to be more critical, but may also be less informed about the topic.
read book reviews, at least one, even if you skimmed or read the whole thing. they’re super useful for exposing weak points you may never have noticed on your own.
IV. so what do i say once i’ve done this reading?
A. what’s the thesis?
the main argument or assertion of the work. this should be underlined in the intro & abstract.
B. how is the argument made?
what kind of things is the author citing, what discipline are they writing from, what assumptions underly the text?
C. who is the author & what authority do they have/what biases do they bring to the subject?
sometimes this is just real obvious from the way they write and you don’t even have to google them.
D. what, specifically, is useful for our conversation?
pull quotes, include a link.
E. what’s the point?
pose a question or answer based on the previous discussion & your new knowledge.
congratulations! you have contributed significantly to a discussion & you have learned something new. this process doesn’t need to take long, and it won’t once you’re familiar with these resources! or might take up your entire day, but who cares, you’re learning a thing and doing something slightly less miserable than whatever it is you’re supposed to be doing.
obviously these aren’t the only research methods or the only way to contribute cool productive content to a conversation. this is one avenue & hopefully it seems less intimidating now.