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The books students are told to read

On 3 February 2016, The Washington Post ran an interesting little piece on an online initiative in the US called The Open Syllabus Project.

Elements of Style

The Open Syllabus Project (OSP) is essentially a big data project designed to capture as much information possible about the books students are instructed to read by academic institutions during their studies.

The OSP describe the initiative as “an effort to make the intellectual judgment embedded in syllabi relevant to broader explorations of teaching, publishing, and intellectual history.” The dataset used by the OSP, which at present amounts to around 1.1million syllabi, was complied by “crawling and scraping of publicly-accessible university websites.”

For anyone interested in books and reading, it’s well worth taking a look at the site. The dataset can be interrogated according to a range of criteria, including the field of study, institution and country. I was quite pleased to see that a number of UK higher education are included in the mix.

I’m a little unsure about the results the OSP pulled back when I asked for the top-ranking titles in the UK: the title ranked at #1 was Doing Your Research Project : A Guide for First-Time Researchers in Education and Social Science Bell, Judith, 1930 (I can’t say I’ve read this one myself). However, the results generated on a search of the US were quite interesting and had more of the “books you must read before you’re dead”-vibe about it. 

top10US

I’m loathe to show my ignorance twice in one blog post (the first instance being the fact that I’ve never heard of Judith Bell’s Guide for First-Time Researchers), but I’d never heard of  The Elements of Style by William Strunk either until I looked at this list.

I had a quick look on Amazon to find out more and learned that Elements of Style is a classic work on the cultivation of good writing. There’s something quite pleasing about the circularity of the most recommended read being all about writing.

It’s an interesting project, but I’m uncertain as to the accuracy of the results. Could Paul Craig’s EU Law: Text, Cases and Materials really be the most commonly occurring title in the English legal syllabus?

 

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About the Author

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I am a law reporter employed by the Incorporated Council of Law Reporting for England & Wales. I write law reports for the Official Law Reports, the Weekly Law Reports and the Public and Third Sector Reports. I also write on a freelance basis for the Road Traffic Reports and the Times Reports.

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