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March 08, 2016

Free E-Book or Expensive Critical Edition - Why You Should Even Bother

    It is tempting to download a file of a classical novel, say, Mary Shelley's Frankenstein, to your e-reader, phone, or tablet for free when a critical edition by a good publisher is almost twenty euros. An e-text is searchable, easy to access. When you want to work with the text intensely, however, an annotated edition with an authoritative text may be well worth the investment. This article will tell you how to get the best of both worlds.

There are advantages to e-books, of course. The text is immediately available, without your leaving the house, often at low or no cost. If you are looking for a particular passage, it can be located within a second of hitting the SEARCH button. Also, e-readers weigh less than most books, although you can carry your whole library around with you. Even a broken wrist will not stop you using an e-reader, as it can be operated with one hand. Reading comprehension is not normally dependent on the medium, however, recent research suggests that there might be a cognitive difference between reading a text on a screen and reading the same text in a book.[1]


What is a critical edition (and why bother with it)?


A critical edition is "any edition that attempts to construct a text of a work using all the available evidence […]. Critical editions require collation of the different manuscript witnesses, and the construction of a reading text out of the results of that collation. […] Critical editions encourage readers to think about the work, more than about its specific manuscript presentation, and may well be more informative on such topics as the work's sources, historical context, form, style, and other literary matters".[2]


First of all, you get an authoritative text you can quote from. Some works, such as Shelley's, have been heavily edited, others (such as William Godwin's Caleb Williams) have two different endings. With an electronic file or a cheap printed version, you never know which text you get and if your edition is complete. If you still prefer an electronic text, make sure you use an edition meeting academic standards, and one with page numbers corresponding to the print edition.

Also, consider what you need the book for. If this is your first semester and you read Romeo and Juliet in class, a cheap bilingual paperback will probably suffice. When writing a paper, however, your budget version will not be accepted for quoting, so you will have to get the Arden edition from the library anyway (as will everyone else in your seminar at the same time). Secondly, your text is annotated. Unless you are an expert in Elizabethan English, annotations on specific meanings of words in a particular context, neologisms, or obsolete meanings will come in handy when reading Shakespeare. Thirdly, some editions will provide an overview of secondary sources and criticism in the appendix. This will save you time when you prepare for an exam.


[1] Stephen Hayman, " Reading Literature on Screen: A Price for Convenience?". New York Times, 13 August 2014.

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February 20, 2016

Getting Started On Your Term Paper

Writing a paper is not about your feelings about the text. Neither are you to demonstrate your reading skills by concocting a summary from the books and articles written by others.

A paper is supposed to teach you the tools of the trade of academic work - this can be a daunting task. Where do you start? 

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January 15, 2016

Presenting in Class

In some course types, such as seminars, we will ask you to introduce a text, an aspect, a theory, or a problem in the form of a presentation, either alone or in a team. Although it can be quite refreshing when someone else stands in front of a class, evaluations show that student presentations are often perceived as boring or unhelpful. Need tips for your next presentation?

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