December 19, 2015

How do you read—rapidly, slowly, for content, do you skim instead of read?  Do you read a novel in the same manner in which you read a newspaper, a math book, a magazine, an on-line post?  How about retention of material and for how long:  two hours, eight hours, three days, a month?

Several months ago I visited our downtown public library to research a project I was working for a client.  I discovered fairly quickly that I definitely was in the wrong “stacks”.   Instead of finding the book I was after, I came across a book entitled “Effective Reading”.   Most of the consulting work I do requires a great deal of preliminary research.  I always have my nose in a book or other written material looking for information, either resource material or needing information from specific vendors.   The title “Effective Reading” certainly caught my attention so I pulled it out to take a look.

Introductory information in the book indicated we still, for the most part, gain the most useful information by reading the written word.  Let me restate, the most useful information.  Several chapters in the book were devoted to the following subjects:

  • The need for improving the effectiveness of reading.  Due to the tremendous volume of information available, we definitely need to improve our efficiency just to stay up.  Having stacks of trade publications cluttering up the floor is not advisable.
  • Rapid reading.  The book indicated that most people read between 250 and 350 words per minute.  “Effective Reading” also indicated that 1,000 words per minute is absolutely possible with training and rigor. Let’s look at several facts:
    • The average person in business reads no faster than people did 100 years ago.
    • The average reading speed is 200 to 250 words a minute in non-technical material,roughly 2 minutes per page.
    • In technical material, the average reading rate is approx 50 to 75 words a minute, roughly  five (5) to six  (6 )minutes per page.
    • Total information is doubling every 9 months.
    • We have to process information faster and faster just to maintain our existing knowledge level.
    • 500 000 new titles are published each year in the English language alone.
    • The average adult in the United States reads approximately five books in one year, according to the Pew Research Internet Group’s poll from January 2014. These figures include e-books, audio books and hard copies, but what if you could read more AND retain what you read?  Would it not make life easier?
    • We therefore end up knowing more and more about less, and less and less about just about everything else.
  • Retention of information.  Most people retain as little as ten percent (10 %) of the material after one week. Our minds have developed so that we remember the items that really make an imprint.  Also, emotional events are very well remembered by us.  You learn so much of what you teach to others because big pressure is on you at that time to not seem clueless while explaining the content.
  • Improvement of memory for names, dates, faces, numbers, and how we can improve our memory for those areas of need.
  • Techniques for improving effectiveness.

The last subject was the most fascinating and the most useful to me.  The author demonstrated methods for reading: 1.) A research paper, 2.) A text book, 3.) A newspaper, 4.) The Bible, 5.) On-line material, etc.  As a result of this book and several others on the subject, I have discovered for my work, the very best method may be summarized by “ P Q R S T.  Let’s take a look.

P—Preview: Spend time previewing the content of the material.  Look at the introductory statements, the table of contents, notice the number of chapters and pages, and quickly read the references used, if available.  Skim the material noting chapter titles, paragraph headings and sub-headings and read one or two sentences in each paragraph, preferably the first and the last.

Q—Question: After previewing the text, you should know enough to write down questions you want answered from the material.  You might start with Who, What, When, Where, and Why.  What important questions relative to your needs do you want answered?  What are you looking for in the body of material?  NOTE: If you are reading a fiction novel, you probably do not want to follow these guidelines.  The element of surprise is always great when reading fiction.  This method is primarily used for obtaining pure facts and researching a specific topic.

R—Read: Read the text using your normal reading speed. Remember, you are reading for content hoping to pick up ideas and needed information.  You are reading to find answers to the questions you have previously written.

S—Summarize:  Quickly summarize what you have read.  Use bullet points or structure a “mind-map” to produce your summary. There is plenty of information on structuring mind-maps on the internet and several very good books  as to their use.  They are tremendously helpful for summary and documentation.   It’s best to do this without looking back at the text you have just read.

T—Test: Have all of the questions previously written been answered? After reading, go back and add to your summary additional information important to you.  Add additional questions to the ones you wrote prior to reading.

This may seem very time-consuming but after practicing a few times you will develop methods for speeding up the process. I have found this procedure to be invaluable and if you make a mind-map, you can go back days or weeks to re-familiarize yourself with the material read.  The summary document and the test can provide the basis for learning the material and quick recognition when remembering is necessary.

As always, I welcome your comments.

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