Twin goals of FASRI are helping researchers to understand standard setters and to communicate complex research findings in a way the standard setters can understand.  Part of the challenge is knowing how to read and write.  Here is a bit of advice on each one.

How to Read.

There is an old Jewish saying:

According to Rabbi Bunim of P’shiskha, everyone should have two pockets, each containing a slip of paper. On one should be written: I am but dust and ashes, and on the other: For my sake was the world created. From time to time we must reach into one pocket, or the other. The secret of living comes from knowing when to reach into each.

Several times I have shared this saying with doctoral students, advising them on how to read research papers.  One secret of reading research is to read every paper twice.  Read first with humility:  the authors have spent untold hours studying an issue and crafting their arguments, and you must be humble enough (you are but dust and ashes) to devote your efforts to learning from them.  But read again with the pride: you have been trained to evaluate and improve upon the work, and you must be proud enough to provide constructive criticism and point out directions for future work (for your sake was the world created).

This advice often seems even more appropriate when researchers read accounting standards.  The work that goes into a single research paper is nothing compared to that required to develop an accounting standard.  I think we researchers all too often forget about the “ashes” pocket.

By the way, the same advice works very well for presenting our research.  If you are all pride, you won’t learn anything from your audience.  If you are all humility, they won’t learn anything from you.

How to write.

The CEO of 37Signals (a developer of collaborative software) says it well:

The class I’d Like to Teach

Today I gave my last conference talk for a while. Next year I’m going to focus on our own 37signals events. It feels good to not have any external speaking obligations in 2011.

At the end of the talk I took some Q&A. The last question was asked by a guy in the front row. He said “What’s your take on the true value of a university education?” I shared my general opinion (summary: great socially, but not realistic enough academically) and ended with a description of a course I’d like to see taught in college. In fact, I’d like to teach it.

It would be a writing course. Every assignment would be delivered in five versions: A three page version, a one page version, a three paragraph version, a one paragraph version, and a one sentence version.

I don’t care about the topic. I care about the editing. I care about the constant refinement and compression. I care about taking three pages and turning it one page. Then from one page into three paragraphs. Then from three paragraphs into one paragraph. And finally, from one paragraph into one perfectly distilled sentence.

Along the way you’d trade detail for brevity. Hopefully adding clarity at each point. This is important because I believe editing is an essential skill that is often overlooked and under appreciated. The future belongs to the best editors.

Each step requires asking “What’s really important?” That’s the most important question you can ask yourself about anything. The class would really be about answering that very question at each step of the way. Whittling it all down until all that’s left is the point.

I hope to be able to teach this class one day.

This is great advice for communicating to researchers; it is even better for communicating with standard setters, who will be all too happy to trade detail for brevity, as long as they know you are telling them what’s really important.