What do you think of students who read “Cliff’s Notes,” instead of the full book?

August 5, 2008

Want to read a secret? It is a common practice among graduate students who don’t have enough time (or are too lazy) for all of their assigned reading to occasionally read book reviews instead of the books themselves. This way they can talk intelligently on works they have not actually read.  Many grad students go on to become professors. If these individuals were then to make a big deal about students reading Cliff’s Notes, well, I don’t know that I have a lot of respect for that.

Cliff's NotesI don’t get too worked over the issue of Cliff’s Notes. I know some of my colleagues will disagree, but I would rather fight other battles. I take a hard line against cheaters, so I have little energy or inclination to go after those who are merely guilty of cutting corners.

That being said, if you are majoring or minoring in Literature, and all of your readings are in Cliff, then I wonder what it is you’re trying to accomplish in life. You’re not just supposed to be figuring out things like which one is the whale and which one is the ship captain when you study Moby Dick. You’re supposed to be learning how the big name authors communicate. You’re supposed to be learning about style and conjuring up your own metaphors and symbolism and what not. What is your goal in school? If it’s to be a scholar, you won’t get there by just reading the Cliff’s Notes version of everything. 


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Timothy D. Holder, Ph. D., is the co-author of Ask the Professor: What Freshmen need to Know” and author of Nixon and His Men.” Visit his website at


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