Put most simply, I believe in close reading put in context.
A scholar should always base the foundation of their argument within the text(s) of interest. Theory and interpretation are important, but they should never overtake the actual content of the work under consideration. This is where context comes in. If you want to apply a contemporary theory to a medieval text, that’s fine, but you absolutely must acknowledge the different contexts which produced the text and the theory. I personally tend more towards looking at authors, events, social conventions, education, and culture contemporary (or close to it) to the text I am working with.
One of the hardest lessons to learn as an academic is that you can’t be too attached to your ideas or words from the beginning. In order to come up with the best idea/paper possible, you have to be open to the possibility of changing your mind based on your reading or research, and changing the final product accordingly. An established professor once noted that, “That’s once of the biggest differences between undergraduates and graduate level research. As a graduate student (or beyond), you should not go into a text or project with a thesis already established.” It’s fine/necessary to have some idea of an argument when starting out, but you have to flexible.
In terms of research, it never ends, but you have to know when to stop. A scholar must read (or at least skim) as widely and in- depth as possible. Another established professor claims, “When you’re doing research, if you’re not spinning your wheels or wasting time at some point, you’re not doing it right.” Sometimes this means going through two hundred (or more) possible hits in a database search to find just the right source. Other times, it can mean finding great sources that don’t fit into the final project. Good research takes time.
Finally, always keep notes and keep track of everything you find. One of the most irritating situations a scholar can face is to remember a fantastic idea/quote from a source, but not remember exactly where the source is or what it was. Take notes on everything, and keep track of what you have reviewed and what might be useful to look at later.