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Authors, Authorities and Reading in Focus

By Daniel Hubbard | October 6, 2009

One of the most exciting things in researching any topic occurs when one stumbles across an unexpected bit of information, information that seems beyond the topic but that is interesting nonetheless. In a perfect world we would live happily ever after with our new found fact firmly in hand—but the world isn’t perfect.

Authors are often authorities but not always on every item they happen to weave into their writing. They have a defined topic and it is important as a reader to develop the skill of recognizing what is within the author’s focus and what lies outside—what is literally out of focus. Writing and the research that goes into it, take time and often those little tangential bits of information are true enough for the purposes of an author writing about something else. They move the narrative along. They bind together more important sections. Maybe they aren’t 100 percent correct. With only slight exaggeration we can say that if it wasn’t so, every book and article would run the risk of spinning off into endless digressions. Outright mistakes lurk far more often in the tangents and interconnects than in the authors main thrust. As tempting as it is to grab a little obscure fact on the edges, those little facts are the ones least likely to be ideally worded, sufficiently covered and adequately checked.

Sometimes out of focus information will make you elated, other times depressed but either way, remember that it is out of the author’s focus. Whenever an important point is discovered, it should be double checked; when we as readers detect that we are reading “out of focus” we need to be extra dubious. Checking those facts from a source were they are in focus is usually far less time consuming than being led astray and all the missteps that follow.

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Topics: Genealogy, Methods | No Comments »

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