I'm looking to build up a “tool-box” of strategies/techniques/habits for reading non-fiction effectively and efficiently.
I’ve already posted on this topic; below, I’ve tried to distill/summarize some of strategies shared by Less Wrong users and those contained in the resources they recommended. Thanks to those who contributed.
As far as I know, the strategies below are not supported by a research/experimental literature. If you know of any such evidence, please link to it.
I know that there are many people on Less Wrong who read (and mentally integrate!) incredible amounts. I’m hoping more users will contribute to this post. I welcome any additional strategies/habits in the comments.
Please feel free to comment on the structure/writing of the post, and if you think it’s a topic worthy of being posted on the main page.
I’ve tried to break strategies down into things you should do before, during, and after reading, but I think some strategies are applicable across these divisions.
-are you looking for specific skill, broadening general knowledge
-Generate a question, if you can’t yet formulate a question, follow your interests
-ask good readers to explain the thesis of a book, reevaluate your interest in a text
-select books that are frequently cited in bibliographies of texts related to your topic of interest
-read the Wikipedia page, gauge interest
-Assemble reading materials
-Create a bibliography for the topic of interest
-Quickly inspect the books (author, table of contents, index, Wikipedia page), as you consider the question “does this book deserve a lot of time and attention?”
-Select a few texts to read closely (though you won’t necessarily read them cover to cover)
-remove distractions (people, websites, wear noise canceling headphones)
-Make reading enjoyable
-when possible, read books you find inherently enjoyable
-read when energy levels are high
-open to a random page and see if you like the author’s voice before extensive reading
-set time aside, and set time limits to avoid fatigue/reading without comprehension
-learn as much as you can before you read the text in earnest
-research author’s bio, biases, intellectual context
-identify genre, consider genre conventions
-scan table of contents/index for key words and concepts; study unfamiliar items
-identify the question the book purports to answer
-mind map concepts (http://freeplane.sourceforge.net/wiki/index.php/Main_Page)
-visualize/anthropomorphize to increase vividness/memorability of concepts you have trouble with
-make predictions about the book’s content, the way the author will argue for the thesis, check for accuracy of these predictions
-write out how what you read connects or diverges from your current understanding of the topic
-summarize the text in small chunks to monitor understanding
- restate the argument/evidence from the past three page
-explain how the section relates to the primary thesis
-depending on your purpose, just read until you find what you need to know
-note what you don’t understand, for further review or reading, or immediate study if necessary
-don’t read what you already know; skip a section if you already have it down
-authors repeat things, skip this if you got it the first time
-recreate the author’s argument thus far (I’m halfway through the book, this is the argument so far…)
-take notes on the structure of the book, the concepts in the book, and how the book relates to other books
-Spaced repetition of ideas/concepts (don’t cram)
-discuss what you’ve read with an expert (or someone knowledgeable)on the topic
-seek to understand (recreate an argument in good faith, and grasp its’ (perhaps flawed) logic) before you disagree
-you don’t need to have an opinion on a book; it’s ok not to understand or not to have enough background to make an informed claim
-read other books on the topic and try to identify the relationships between the various arguments and claims you find about a subject
-teach someone else the material
-do exercises (if the book contains them)
-summarize the thesis
-walk through author’s arguments
-relate thesis to background knowledge/other texts
-explain how this author’s thesis stands relates to that of other authors who’ve written on the topic
Most of the ideas I’ve outlined above, and the sources I’ve listed below come from the first post I made on the topic: http://lesswrong.com/r/discussion/lw/imr/please_share_your_reading/ Thanks to those who contributed to that discussion.
Summaries of How to Read a Book, Mortimer J. Adler & Charles Van Doren: