By Frank J. Rich
Effective managers are usually good readers. But maybe reading wasn’t a strong suit growing up, and despite the fact that you are doing well in your field, you always wanted to be a better reader. Your instincts are right. Better readers are more successful. It’s true, for a lot of reasons, but for one in particular — good readers have more information on which to make better judgments. It’s that simple.
But, how do you become a good reader? For years my children and others would pose the question to me. So, I began to consider the question more carefully. And while there are many “tools” that aid the goal of becoming a good reader, a few simple basics can make a big difference. Consider the strategies below, compiled over the years, among the tools that improve your odds at success … in anything you do — not least, reading.
#1 Determine what you want to know — First ask: Why am I reading this text? Is it with a purpose (in learning) or just for pleasure? What do I want to know after reading it? Once you know this, you can examine the text to see whether it is going to satisfy your goal.
An easy way of doing this is to look at the introduction and the chapter headings. The introduction should reveal the target audience and what the material seeks to achieve. Chapter headings provide an overall view of the structure of the subject.
Finally, ask whether the book meets your needs. Does it presume too much or too little knowledge (on the part of the reader)? If it doesn’t fit your need, find another.
#2 Determine how deeply to study the material — When you only need the shallowest knowledge of the subject, you can skim material. Read only chapter headings, introductions and summaries when this is your goal.
If you need a moderate level of information on a subject, scan the text. Here, you would read the chapter introductions and summaries in detail. You may then “speed read” the contents of chapters, selecting and understanding key words and concepts. Diagrams and graphs help at this level.
Only when you need detailed knowledge of a subject must you study the text. First skim the material 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. This is the technique that follows a sequential method of examining any document, as outlined below.
Survey — Survey the document: scan the contents, introduction, chapter introductions and chapter summaries to pick up a shallow overview of the text. Form an opinion of whether it will be of any help. If it does not give you the information you want, discard it.
Question — Make a note of any questions on the subject that come to mind, or particularly interest you following your survey. Even scan the document again to see if any stand out. These questions may be considered as study goals; understanding the answers can help structure the information in your own mind.
Read — Now read the document. Read through useful sections in detail, taking care to understand all the points that are relevant. For some texts this reading may be very slow, especially when it contains a lot of dense and complicated information. While you are reading, it can help to take notes in “concept” or mind mapping format. (More on that next week)
Recall — Once you have read appropriate sections of the document, run through it in your mind several times. Isolate the core facts or the essential processes behind the subject and then see how other information fits around them.
Review — Once you have run through the exercise of recalling the information, you can move on to the stage of reviewing it. Reread the document, expand your notes, or discuss the material with colleagues. A particularly effective method of reviewing information is to teach it to someone else!
#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. This also helps to keep your mind focused on the material and keeps it from wandering.
If active reading helps, you may want to photocopy information in more expensive texts, then read and mark the photocopies. If the benefit you get by active reading reasonably exceeds the value of the book, then the book is disposable, so don’t buy it.
#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 a topical area. They typically concentrate on the most interesting and glamorous parts of a topic. This helps 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 articles of interest. 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 of three main types:
News Articles — Here, the most important information is presented first; the information is generally less useful as the article progresses. News articles are designed to explain the key points first, followed by detail.
Opinion Pieces — 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.
Features — 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.
#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. This is why left margin subtitles with right margin text make easy reading of this kind of material.
Background This project developed out of a need for easy access to playground equipment as a way to encourage physical activity in secondary school children.
Basic Science & Philosophy Exertion leads to accomplishment. Things not ventured are not gained. The natural urge to accomplish and fit in is more easily satisfied with simple exercise and equipment. Not everyone is a natural athlete, but most find acceptable levels of athleticism when exercise is cooperative and fun, such as pushing a merry-go-round and jumping on to join others in the accomplishment.
#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, again using “concept” mapping — a good study method for students.
Whatever your need or desire for reading, good readers are made, not born. Give it a try. If you do, I’m betting that you’ll be reading more success in your tealeaves.