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How to read to extract the maximum out of it?

Image credit: Photo by Lina Kivaka from Pexels

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Shubhankar Kulkarni
Shubhankar Kulkarni Nov 10, 2020
There is a lot of material one needs to read. The to-read list starts piling up. How can you read fast and still extract the maximum from whatever you read?

What hacks or protocols do you follow to read? Is there a difference between the way you read a book vs the way you read the news? The way in which you read a book faster can be different from the one used to read a research article.

Can you share your methods? Do mention the type of literature (blogs, news, books, articles, etc.) along with your method.
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Speed reading

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Povilas S
Povilas S Nov 29, 2020

The paradox of "the faster you read the more you remember/understand" can become a reality if you learn how to speed read. There might be different techniques and approaches towards learning it, but essentially there are two main things one should focus on perfecting to learn speed reading:

1.Improving peripheral vision. We are very used to following lines of text horizontally from one side to another and usually we only grasp one or few words at a time. It's possible to grasp more and more if you practice widening your sight field. Eventually, you'd be able to grasp the entire line of text at once and thus read vertically - from top to bottom of the page instead of following separate lines from left to right. This might sound utopic, but there are people who can read like that.

It's probably not so much about widening your sight, but more about learning to grasp bigger chunks of it with your attention, because we actually see a lot of text at once, we simply focus on narrow parts of it at a time. When we first learn to read we can only grasp one letter at a time and slowly build words from separate letters. Now when we read, we instantly grasp and understand at least one word at a time, we don't go from left to right letter by letter. So comparing first-grader reading with normal reading is like comparing normal reading with speed reading. One word is like a letter and many words compose a sentence just like many letters compose a word. When you learn the meaning of the word and how it looks like (a certain combination of letters) - the appearance of the word becomes a symbol for that meaning. So it's entirely possible to grasp a wider meaning (a sentence) composed of those separate symbols (words) just like it's possible to instantly get the meaning of the word which is composed of letters (we don't even hear or pronounce in our minds each separate letter anymore when we read the word).

2. And thus we come to the second thing to learn - inaudible reading. Inaudible here means not only externally, but also (and most importantly) - in your mind. You should learn to read without pronouncing words in your head. Once again - this might sound very difficult to achieve, but it's possible - just like you look at things around you (or in a picture or painting) and instantly get what they are (eg. a chair, a computer, a shoe, etc.) without pronouncing that in your head, you can also see a word (once again - as a visual symbol, a combination of letters) and get its meaning without pronouncing it. This is difficult at first, because of such a strong habit of pronouncing words when you see them, but with practice it can be done. Why this is helpful for speed reading? Because it saves a lot of time and mental energy. We are doing two things at the same time - reading words and pronouncing them. This seems like the same thing, but it's not. Because of that mental chatter, we can't pay so much attention to the visual part, so when you are able to quiet it down, reading faster becomes much easier.

Learning to efficiently speed read may take a lot of time and persistence, but it's a very valuable skill to learn that pays off. It's especially useful if your profession requires reading a lot, but in any case, it's a super-skill to have.
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Martina Pesce
Martina Pesce5 months ago
Thank you so much, I'm actually trying to practice that and it's slowly improving!
You may have just given me the key to be into reading again.
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Povilas S
Povilas S5 months ago
Martina Pesce
You are very welcome. It might require a lot of determination to learn it properly, but you can definitely improve your normal reading skills just by giving some time to practice:)

Build a habit of skimming through the whole text before committing to read it

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Subash Chapagain
Subash Chapagain Nov 10, 2020
The human brain has been best adapted to the visual cues from geometric features and the structure of any chunk of the text. It has been suggested that before directly jumping in to read from the first sentence, our mind can handle the texts in an easier manner if we first skim through the whole body prior to beginning to read. This might help us extract more by a) priming our brain to the very act of reading b) developing a tentative idea of the length and depth of the body of text we are about to read. c) familiarising with the structural patterns and the attention that the text demands if we are to read it. Though this might not sound feasible for someone who has just started out on the habit of reading, once we have accustomed ourselves with the habit, skimming the text can greatly help us in order to mind-map the amount of dedication and time we need to invest for the reading. This way, we save ourselves from being overwhelmed, especially when we are expected to churn down large volumes. Another usefulness of skimming comes from the very nature of our photographic memory which enables us to subconsciously record flow of the text. Though we may not directly notice, more than often, skimming through all the major headlines/titles within a book prepares us for the full-on reading session by instilling the basic ideas and structure of the issue dealt in the book/article.

Make a wiser use of appendices and the bibliography (applicable for non-fiction)

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Subash Chapagain
Subash Chapagain Nov 10, 2020
Non-fiction books are laden with a number of distinct and subtle ideas, nevertheless with intricate relation to each other. Mostly, the ideas in the latter chapters are dependent on the ideas on the former ones, building an epistemological ladder that leads to the end of the book. Sometimes, the case is that we already are familiar with the basics of the initial chapters. To save ourselves from wasting our time, and to reduce redundancy of intellectual investment, we can directly jump to the portions of the book/article that we want to learn about. This is where the appendices and bibliography that are listed at the end of the book come to use. Using the appendix, we can directly find out where to look for the subject matter that we want to know. Since some ideas, owing to their nuanced nature can appear more than once across different chapters of the book, using appendices wisely means we can learn to relate the ideas in a larger context within the book. This way, we can shuttle between chapters, thereof extracting the complete picture of the issue in different related contexts.

Unlike fiction that needs to be read linearly, non-fiction allows us ample degrees of freedom to jump directly into the topic that we want to look at. If we find that we have yet not acquired an adequate understanding of the basics, we can always revert back to starting out from the initial pages. If we are confident that we already know the basics, we can dedicate the time to go into the more detailed portions of the book/article. For this, we have to develop the habit of using the resources at the end of the book more wisely. Writers and researchers painstakingly devise these portions for exactly the same reason.

Read with a purpose

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Shubhankar Kulkarni
Shubhankar Kulkarni Nov 10, 2020
Knowing what you are looking for makes things easier. You may be overwhelmed with information if you start reading without having a clue of what you want.

If you know what you want, make a mental list of all the keywords associated with that topic. Initially, you may need to do it consciously; as it becomes habitual, your brain does it automatically for you. Look for the keywords in what you read. Spend more time around those keywords and you can read the rest of the stuff rapidly.

When you read the title of whatever you are reading, your mind predicts what you will learn from it. Sometimes, you only take up the book/ blog/ article if the title lies in your field of interest (learning more about your field of interest is basically your purpose). After reading, compare what you read with what you had in mind before you started reading it. Calculate the amount of value added. This will also help you critically analyze the book/ blog/ article - Does the title give you an exact idea of what lies within?

Take notes

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Shubhankar Kulkarni
Shubhankar Kulkarni Nov 10, 2020
Your memory can often deceive you. It is useful to jot down important points while you are reading. Writing down does not only help fetch the summary of the book you read after a while but when you write, you revisit the thought and that helps strengthen its memory in your brain. Systematically, you can create sections in your notes. I usually have the following sections:
  1. Quotes: You like certain lines by the author and pick them as they are (with due credit). You can use them when you construct your write-up/ review of the topic and cite the original reference. You feel that some quotes are even good to be remembered and implemented.
  2. Novel ideas: Novel ideas are noted down by most who have the habit of taking notes. You can use them or research them in detail later.
  3. References: Sometimes you have a hunch, an anecdote but you cannot back it up with a reference. When I find such a reference, I note it down for later use. Even if you have a reference, you can note down if you find a better or a recent one. Sometimes, the more references you have, the stronger is your argument. I note down such references, too.
  4. People: You feel the need to follow/ look up some people mentioned in the text you read.
  5. Words/ phrases: I encounter words or phrases that I have never heard before. If I think they are important (they precisely explain a particular thought, better than their synonyms), I note them down.
  6. Your thoughts: When reading something, you are hit by another parallel or a one-step-ahead idea. I note such ideas down as well. I find such ideas especially easy to forget.
  7. Photos/ images: Speak louder than words.
  8. Material to add to your to-read list: Mentions of books, articles, etc. When reading online, there are links to other pages. If you find them worthy, note them down.
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Spook Louw
Spook Louw23 days ago
Actually rewriting the text word for word forces you to really read every word as well. So if the purpose is making sure that you concentrate on what you are reading, I'd suggest rewriting it.

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Shubhankar Kulkarni
Shubhankar Kulkarni22 days ago
Spook Louw Rewriting word for word will consume more time than summarizing it. So if the motive is to remember everything that you have read, then yes, rewriting everything will help. However, if your motive is to extract only the important stuff (or stuff unknown) then summarizing might be the better option.

Start reading from the front cover

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Shubhankar Kulkarni
Shubhankar Kulkarni Nov 11, 2020
I like it when the front covers have a photo/ image. They provoke you to think what they might mean, to draw the author's/ publisher's intentions of using that image. Even the smallest of images have the greatest impact. As an example, the cover of the book "Sapiens" has a human thumbprint on it - that is it - just the thumbprint. But it immediately tells you what the book is all about. Then come the publishing details, copyright details, and the ISBNs, etc. For authors, the publisher details are important. Even for readers, remembering the publisher of the books they liked is useful. They can read more books from the same publisher. The "dedication", if any, is a good read most of the times. It can be funny, it may have good quotes, it may tell you more about the author. The contents are there for you to select and read the parts you are interested in.

Even while reading research articles, I read the author's names (we associate the articles with the authors) and the affiliations (they are useful for forming collaborations).

Read articles on the same topic in one go

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Shubhankar Kulkarni
Shubhankar Kulkarni Nov 11, 2020
You remember the most of what you have just read and can skip the parts in the second article that were covered in the first. You can directly jump to the novel concepts and save time.

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