Reading efficiently by reading intelligently
Good reading strategies help you to read in a very efficient way. Using them, you aim to get the maximum benefit from your reading with the minimum effort. This section will show you how to use 6 different strategies to read intelligently.
Strategy 1: Knowing what you want to know
The first thing to ask yourself is: Why you are reading the text? Are you reading with a purpose or just for pleasure? What do you want to know after reading it?
Once you know this, you can examine the text to see whether it is going to move you towards this goal.
An easy way of doing this is to look at the introduction and the chapter headings. The introduction should let you know at whom the book is targeted, and what it seeks to achieve. Chapter headings will give you an overall view of the structure of the subject.
Ask yourself whether the book meets your needs. Ask yourself if it assumes too much or too little knowledge. If the book isn’t ideal, would it be better to find a better one?
Strategy 2: Knowing how deeply to study the material
Where you only need the shallowest knowledge of the subject, you can skim material. Here you read only chapter headings, introductions and summaries.
If you need a moderate level of information on a subject, then you can scan the text. Here you read the chapter introductions and summaries in detail. You may then speed read the contents of the chapters, picking out and understanding key words and concepts. At this level of looking at the document it is worth paying attention to diagrams and graphs.
Only when you need detailed knowledge of a subject is it worth studying the text. Here it is best to skim the material first to get an overview of the subject. This gives you an understanding of its structure, into which you can fit the detail gained from a full reading of the material. SQ3R is a good technique for getting a deep understanding of a text.
Strategy 3: Active Reading
When you are reading a document in detail, it often helps if you highlight, underline and annotate it as you go on. This emphasizes information in your mind, and helps you to review important points later.
Doing this also helps to keep your mind focused on the material and stops it wandering.
This is obviously only something to do if you own the document! If you own the book and find that active reading helps, then it may be worth photocopying information in more expensive texts. You can then read and mark the photocopies.
If you are worried about destroying the material, ask yourself how much your investment of time is worth. If the benefit you get by active reading reasonably exceeds the value of the book, then the book is disposable.
Strategy 4: How to study different sorts of material
Different sorts of documents hold information in different places and in different ways. They have different depths and breadths of coverage. By understanding the layout of the material you are reading, you can extract useful information much more efficiently.
Reading Magazines and Newspapers:
These tend to give a very fragmented coverage of an area. They will typically only concentrate on the most interesting and glamorous parts of a topic – this helps them to sell copies! They will often ignore less interesting information that may be essential to a full understanding of a subject. Typically areas of useful information are padded out with large amounts of irrelevant waffle or with advertising.
The most effective way of getting information from magazines is to scan the contents tables or indexes and turn directly to interesting articles. If you find an article useful, then cut it out and file it in a folder specifically covering that sort of information. In this way you will build up sets of related articles that may begin to explain the subject.
Newspapers tend to be arranged in sections. If you read a paper often, you can learn quickly which sections are useful and which ones you can skip altogether.
Reading Individual Articles:
Articles within newspapers and magazines tend to be in three main types:
- News Articles:
Here the most important information is presented first, with information being less and less useful as the article progresses. News articles are designed to explain the key points first, and then flesh them out with detail.
- Opinion Articles:
Opinion articles present a point of view. Here the most important information is contained in the introduction and the summary, with the middle of the article containing supporting arguments.
- Feature Articles:
These are written to provide entertainment or background on a subject. Typically the most important information is in the body of the text.
If you know what you want from an article, and recognize its type, you can extract information from it quickly and efficiently.
Strategy 5: Reading ‘whole subject’ documents
When you are reading an important document, it is easy to accept the writer’s structure of thought. This can mean that you may not notice that important information has been omitted or that irrelevant detail has been included. A good way of recognizing this is to compile your own table of contents before you open the document. You can then use this table of contents to read the document in the order that you want. You will be able to spot omissions quickly.
Strategy 6: Using glossaries with technical documents
If you are reading large amounts of difficult technical material, it may be useful to photocopy or compile a glossary. Keep this beside you as you read. It will probably also be useful to note down the key concepts in your own words, and refer to them when necessary.
Usually it is best to make notes as you go. The most effective ways of doing this may be to use Concept Maps.
This section shows 6 different strategies and techniques that you can use to read more effectively.
- Knowing what you need to know, and reading appropriately.
- Knowing how deeply to read the document: skimming, scanning or studying.
- Using active reading techniques to pick out key points and keep your mind focused on the material.
- Using the table of contents for reading magazines and newspapers, and clipping useful articles.
- Understanding how to extract information from different article types.
- Creating your own table of contents for reviewing material.
- Using indexes, tables of contents, and glossaries to help you assimilate technical information.