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The Reading Assignment Move

The “Reading Assignment” Move:

You can’t establish or refute a point of contention in real-time, so you saddle other people with lengthy reading assignments.

“If you read Smith (1947) and Jones (1955), you would know that I’m right. I recommend that you read the books.”

It is an excellent rhetorical strategy because it allows you to pose as an expert without having to show the fruits of that expertise.

Here, you do not assert the relevant points made by Smith or Jones, but rather just imply that there are great points that someone can unlock if they invest the 20 hours required to review the material.

The best part is that you can’t be refuted on the spot, and the existence of these excellent arguments to which you are alluding can’t be verified until well after the discussion is completed.

Whenever someone asserts that they are right and you are wrong based on simple reference to publications, without details of their theoretical and empirical content, you are justified in treating these as disguised ungrounded assertions.

They look like they are proving a point without doing so. If the person understands the piece, they should be able to explain it and its relevance in the context of the discussion.

As I’m sure many colleagues will agree, it is a move that gets pulled on you early in your career. You look up the first few, find a very modest hit rate with people who make these arguments, and then they become tiresome.


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