How to Read a Book r6

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  • HowtoReadaBook,v5.0PaulN.Edwards

    SchoolofInformationUniversityofMichigan

    pne.people.si.umich.edu

    ThisworkislicensedunderaCreativeCommonsAttribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike4.0International

    License.Thetermsofthislicenceallowyoutoremix,tweak,andbuilduponthisworknon-commercially,aslongasyoucreditmeandlicenseyournewcreationsundertheidenticalterms.

    Quasi-permanentURL:pne.people.si.umich.edu/PDF/howtoread.pdf

  • PaulN.Edwards HowtoReadaBook1

    Howcanyoulearnthemostfromabookoranyotherpieceofwritingwhenyou'rereadingforinformation,ratherthanforpleasure?Itssatisfyingtostartatthebeginningandreadstraightthroughtotheend.Somebooks,suchasnovels,havetobereadthisway,sinceabasicprincipleoffictionistoholdthereaderinsuspense.Yourwholepurposeinreadingfictionistofollowthewriterslead,allowinghimorhertospinastorybitbybit.Butmanyofthebooks,articles,andotherdocumentsyoullreadduringyourundergraduateandgraduateyears,andpossiblyduringtherestofyourprofessionallife,wontbenovels.Instead,theyllbenon-fiction:textbooks,manuals,journalarticles,histories,academicstudies,andsoon.Thepurposeofreadingthingslikethisistogain,andretain,information.Here,findingoutwhathappensasquicklyandeasilyaspossibleisyourmaingoal.Sounlessyourestuckinprisonwithnothingelsetodo,NEVERreadanon-fictionbookorarticlefrombeginningtoend.Instead,whenyourereadingforinformation,youshouldALWAYSjumpahead,skiparound,anduseeveryavailablestrategytodiscover,thentounderstand,andfinallytorememberwhatthewriterhastosay.Thisishowyoullgetthemostoutofabookinthesmallestamountoftime.Usingthemethodsdescribedhere,youshouldbeabletoreada300-pagebookinsixtoeighthours.Ofcourse,themoretimeyouspend,themoreyoulllearnandthebetteryoullunderstandthebook.Butyourtimeislimited.Herearesomestrategiestohelpyoudothiseffectively.Mostofthesecanbeappliednotonlytobooks,butalsotoanyotherkindofnon-fictionreading,fromarticlestowebsites.Table1,onthenextpage,summarizesthetechniques,andthefollowingpagesexplaintheminmoredetail.

    Readthewholething!

    Inreadingtolearn,yourgoalshouldalwaysbetogetallthewaythroughtheassignment.Itsmuchmoreimportanttohaveageneralgraspoftheargumentsorhypotheses,evidence,andconclusionsthantounderstandeverydetail.Infact,nomatterhowcarefullyyouread,youwontremembermostofthedetailsanyway.Whatyoucandoisrememberandrecordthemainpoints.Andifyourememberthose,youknowenoughtofindthematerialagainifyoueverdoneedtorecallthedetails.

  • PaulN.Edwards HowtoReadaBook2

    Table1.Summaryofreadingstrategiesandtechniques

    Strategiesandtechniques Rationale

    ReadthewholethingMajorargumentsandevidencemattermorethandetails.Graspingthestructureofthewholeismoreimportantthanreadingeveryword.

    Decidehowmuchtimeyouwillspend

    Real-worldtimeislimited.Ifyouknowexactlyhowlongyoucanactuallyspendonreading,youcanplanhowmuchtimetodevotetoeachitem.

    Haveapurposeandastrategy

    You'llenjoyreadingmore,andrememberitbetter,ifyouknowexactlywhyyou'rereading.

    ReadactivelyNeverrelyontheauthor'sstructuresalone.Movearoundinthetext,followingyourowngoals.

    ReaditthreetimesFirsttimeforoverviewanddiscovery.Secondtimefordetailandunderstanding.Thirdtimefornote-takinginyourownwords.

    Focusonpartswithhighinformationcontent

    Tablesofcontents,pictures,charts,headings,andotherelementscontainmoreinformationthanbodytext.

    UsePTML(personaltextmarkuplanguage)

    Markupyourreadingwithyourownnotes.Thishelpsyoulearnandalsohelpsyoufindimportantpassageslater.

    Knowtheauthor(s)andorganizations

    Authorsarepeoplewithbackgroundsandbiases.Theyworkinorganizationsthatgivethemcontextanddepth.

    Knowtheintellectualcontext

    Mostacademicwritingispartofanongoingintellectualconversation,withdebates,keyfigures,andparadigmaticconcepts.

    UseyourunconsciousmindLeavetimebetweenreadingsessionsforyourmindtoprocessthematerial.

    Rehearse,andusemultiplemodes

    Talking,visualizing,orwritingaboutwhatyou'vereadhelpsyourememberit.

    Decidehowmuchtimeyouwillspend

    Ifyouknowinadvancethatyouhaveonlysixhourstoread,itllbeeasiertopaceyourself.Remember,youregoingtoreadthewholebook(orthewholeassignment).

  • PaulN.Edwards HowtoReadaBook3

    Infact,themoredirectlyandrealisticallyyouconfrontyourlimits,themoreeffectiveyouwillbeatpracticallyeverything.Settingtimelimitsandkeepingtothem(whileaccomplishingyourgoals)isoneofthemostimportantlifeskillsyoucanlearn.Soneverstarttoreadwithoutplanningwhentostop.

    Haveapurposeandastrategy

    Beforeyoubegin,figureoutwhyyouarereadingthisparticularbook,andhowyouaregoingtoreadit.Ifyoudonthavereasonsandstrategiesofyourownnotjustthoseofyourteacheryouwontlearnasmuch.Assoonasyoustarttoread,begintryingtofindoutfourthings:

    Whoistheauthor?Whatarethebooksarguments?Whatistheevidencethatsupportsthese?Whatarethebooksconclusions?

    Onceyouvegotagriponthese,starttryingtodetermine:

    Whataretheweaknessesofthesearguments,evidence,andconclusions?Whatdoyouthinkaboutthearguments,evidence,andconclusions?Howdoes(orhowcould)theauthorrespondtotheseweaknesses,andto

    yourowncriticisms?

    Keepcomingbacktothesequestionsasyouread.Bythetimeyoufinish,youshouldbeabletoanswerthemall.Threegoodwaystothinkaboutthisare:

    a)Imaginethatyouregoingtoreviewthebookforamagazine.b)Imaginethatyourehavingaconversation,oraformaldebate,withthe

    author.c)Imagineanexaminationonthebook.Whatwouldthequestionsbe,andhow

    wouldyouanswerthem?

    ReadactivelyDontwaitfortheauthortohammeryouoverthehead.Instead,fromtheverybeginning,constantlygeneratehypotheses(themainpointofthebookisthat...)andquestions(Howdoestheauthorknowthat...?)aboutthebook.Makingbriefnotesaboutthesecanhelp.Asyouread,trytoconfirmyourhypothesesandansweryourquestions.Onceyoufinish,reviewthese.

    Knowtheauthor(s)andorganizations

    Knowingwhowroteabookhelpsyoujudgeitsqualityandunderstanditsfullsignificance.

  • PaulN.Edwards HowtoReadaBook4

    Authorsarepeople.Likeanyoneelse,theirviewsareshapedbytheireducations,theirjobs,theirearlylives,andtherestoftheirexperiences.Alsolikeanyoneelse,theyhaveprejudices,blindspots,desperatemoments,failings,anddesiresaswellasinsights,brilliance,objectivity,andsuccesses.Noticeallofit.Mostauthorsbelongtoorganizations:universities,corporations,governments,newspapers,magazines.Theseorganizationseachhavecultures,hierarchiesofpower,andsocialnorms.Organizationsshapebothhowaworkiswrittenandthecontentofwhatitsays.Forexample,universityprofessorsareexpectedtowritebooksand/orjournalarticlesinordertogettenure.Thesepiecesofwritingmustmeetcertainstandardsofquality,definedchieflybyotherprofessors;forthem,contentusuallymattersmorethangoodwriting.Journalists,bycontrast,areoftendrivenbydeadlinesandtheneedtopleaselargeaudiences.Becauseofthis,theirstandardsofqualityareoftendirectedmoretowardclearandengagingwritingthantowardunimpeachablecontent;theirsourcesareusuallyoralratherthanwritten.Themoreyouknowabouttheauthorandhis/herorganizationand/ordiscipline,thebetteryouwillbeabletoevaluatewhatyouread.Trytoanswerquestionslikethese:Whatshapedtheauthorsintellectualperspective?Whatishisorherprofession?Istheauthoranacademic,ajournalist,aprofessional(doctor,lawyer,industrialscientist,etc.)?Expertise?Otherbooksandarticles?Intellectualnetwork(s)?Gender?Race?Class?Politicalaffiliation?Whydidtheauthordecidetowritethisbook?When?Forwhataudience(s)?Whopaidfortheresearchwork(privatefoundations,governmentgrantagencies,industrialsponsors,etc.)?Whowrotejacketblurbsinsupportofthebook?Youcanoften(thoughnotalways)learnaboutmuchofthisfromtheacknowledgments,thebibliography,andtheauthorsbiographicalstatement.

    Knowtheintellectualcontext

    Knowingtheauthorandhis/herorganizationalsohelpsyouunderstandthebooksintellectualcontext.Thisincludestheacademicdiscipline(s)fromwhichitdraws,schoolsofthoughtwithinthatdiscipline,andotherswhoagreewithoropposetheauthorsviewpoint.Abookisalmostalwayspartlyaresponsetootherwriters,soyoullunderstandabookmuchbetterifyoucanfigureoutwhat,andwhom,itisanswering.Payspecialattentiontopointswheretheauthortellsyoudirectlythats/heisdisagreeingwithothers:Conventionalwisdomholdsthatx,butIargueinsteadthaty.(Isxreallyconventionalwisdom?Amongwhatgroupofpeople?)FamousJaneScholarsaysthatx,butIwillshowthaty.(WhosFamousJane,andwhydootherpeoplebelieveher?Howplausiblearexandy?Istheauthorstrainingtofindsomethingoriginaltosay,orhass/hegenuinelyconvincedyouthatFamousJaneiswrong?)Equallyimportantarethepeopleandwritingstheauthorcitesinsupportofhis/herarguments.

    Readitthreetimes

    Thisisthekeytechnique.Youllgetthemostoutofthebookifyoureaditthreetimeseachtimeforadifferentpurpose.

  • PaulN.Edwards HowtoReadaBook5

    a)Overview:discovery(5-10percentoftotaltime) Hereyoureadveryquickly,followingtheprinciple(describedbelow)of

    readingforhighinformationcontent.Yourgoalistodiscoverthebook.Youwantaquick-and-dirty,unsophisticated,generalpictureofthewriterspurpose,methods,andconclusions.

    Markwithoutreadingcarefullyheadings,passages,andphrasesthatseemimportant(youllreadthesemorecloselythesecondtimearound.)Generatequestionstoansweronyoursecondreading:whatdoestermorphraseXmean?WhydoesnttheauthorcoversubjectY?WhoisZ?

    b)Detail:understanding(70-80percentoftotaltime) Withinyourtimeconstraints,readthebookasecondtime.Thistime,your

    goalisunderstanding:togetacareful,critical,thoughtfulgraspofthekeypoints,andtoevaluatetheauthorsevidenceforhis/herpoints.

    Focusespeciallyonthebeginningsandendsofchaptersandmajorsections.Payspecialattentiontothepassagesyoumarkedonthefirstround.Trytoansweranyquestionsyougeneratedonthefirstround.

    c)Notes:recallandnote-taking(10-20percentoftotaltime)

    Thepurposeofyourthirdandfinalreadingistocommittomemorythemostimportantelementsofthebook.Thistime,makebriefnotesaboutthearguments,evidence,andconclusions.Thisisnotatallthesamethingastextmarkup;yourgoalhereistoprocessthematerialbytranslatingintoyourownmentalframework,whichmeansusingyourownwords