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.

 

Before Reading

-Consider purpose

-are you looking for specific skill, broadening general knowledge

 -Generate a question, if you can’t yet formulate a question, follow your interests

 -Read selectively

            -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

 

During Reading

-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

            -book’s thesis

            -identify the question the book purports to answer

 -Prevent boredom

            -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

 

After Reading

-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

 

Sources

 

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:

 http://sachachua.com/blog/wp-content/uploads/2012/03/20120306-visual-book-notes-how-to-read-a-book.png

 http://www.farnamstreetblog.com/how-to-read-a-book/

 http://www.farnamstreetblog.com/tag/mortimer-adler/

 http://www.oxfordtutorials.com/How%20to%20Read%20a%20Book%20Outline.htm

 http://www.thesimpledollar.com/review-how-to-read-a-book/

 http://www.artofmanliness.com/2013/06/17/how-to-read-a-book/

 

Other Sources

 http://www.aaronsw.com/weblog/morebooks

 http://www.overcomingbias.com/2010/05/chase-your-reading.html

 http://pne.people.si.umich.edu/PDF/howtoread.pdf

 http://lesswrong.com/r/discussion/lw/i9p/improving_enjoyment_and_retention_reading/

 http://violentmetaphors.com/2013/08/25/how-to-read-and-understand-a-scientific-paper-2/

 

 

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I appreciate your effort doing this, thanks!

Another try in a condensed, less redundant form:

You didn't mention mnemonic systems: mnemonic major, method of loci, peg system, acronyms, acrostics etc. Does nobody else use these and are they too obvious/useless to mention?

For ankifying knowledge, these rules are essential. Do people disagree?

Planning what to read should probably include time estimation and you should select for the lowest hanging fruit for whatever purpose you're reading, i.e. priorization. There are neat applications for this purpose. You could also list other applications that people use, there are various alternatives for spaced repetition and mind mapping for example. There are also applications for keeping your notes organized.

Some criticism:

  • I don't think the things you mention for preventing boredom are primarily used for that purpose.
  • The article might be more readable if you used the bullet point system provided by the source code or figured some other way to list these things.

Thanks for the criticism.

I just tried to edit the post to use the bullet point system provided by the source code, but I couldn't get it to look the way I wanted it to--things wouldn't space out right, there were vertical lines popping up when I would indent, weird stuff I don't know how to fix.

I wrote the text in 2003 Word. I always have trouble with bullets, especially trying to change from one version of Word to another, or to an online word editor. I don't want to write pieces in the Less Wrong text editor because I'm afraid they will get erased accidentally. If you have any advice, please let me know.

I agree that the things I recommended to fight boredom aren't used primarily for that purpose. I see that as a strength; they deepen comprehension while also forcing you to do something, (hopefully) providing you with a task more stimulating than just reading.

If you want the indentation to work consistently, one indentation is 4 spaces, two is 8, etc. Remember to put a space after the * or it will not work either.

Word formatting will not directly translate to web formatting. If you want to copy the text without formatting, use ctrl+shift+v when pasting it. I recommend writing future texts in notepad, or disabling all formatting options in Word.

If you want to quickly try to edit the bullet points of this article in Word, you can use the "find and replace" option to find - and replace it with *^s.

http://wiki.lesswrong.com/wiki/Comment_formatting

they deepen comprehension while also forcing you to do something, (hopefully) providing you with a task more stimulating than just reading.

While I agree with this point, I think it applies to most of the techniques that you listed.

Thank you for your formatting suggestions.

I tried to copy "text only" from Word, I'm not sure if this is the same as ctrl+shift+v.

I think I'll just write future posts in notepad and then format on Less Wrong, very good suggestion.

You didn't mention mnemonic systems: mnemonic major, method of loci, peg system, acronyms, acrostics etc. Does nobody else use these and are they too obvious/useless to mention?

I don't use those, I never learnt any mnemonics system (though I'm aware of them). I expect that mnemonics aren't nearly as popular here as spaced repetition is.

For ankifying knowledge, these rules are essential. Do people disagree?

Nope, I rely on those all the time (I remember reading that specific article at least three times, and wish more people would use them when I try using an Anki deck made by someone else (which I usually avoid anyway, making your own is more effective).

I'm looking to build up a “tool-box” of strategies/techniques/habits for reading non-fiction effectively and efficiently.

My literal tool-box sometimes consists of multiple versions of the same material/book, specifically for technical books.

Either hard copy of the book plus individual chapters downloaded from subscription service (in some cases every chapter of a particular book) or hard copy of the book and purchased Ebook version. I don't have a hard copy for every electronic version, but if I particularly like/want for extra reinforcement the physical copy, I'll make space for it. I only do this with technical books, I've rarely (intentionally) bought a print version of non-tech non fiction or fiction for the last 2 years.

Three benefits:

  1. Convenience/portability: I don't want to lug a physical copy certain places, especially the really big ones.
  2. Reinforcement: Call me old school, but certain topics, I know I'm not going to mentally synthesize in electronic format. The multiple formats helps solidify those topics.
  3. I'm a heavily linguistic learner, so the multiple versions is exciting.

Thanks for putting this together. I came across a couple related links recently that I've found helpful : Ryan Holiday's note taking methods Ryan Holiday on "Digesting books above your level"

I did not see this up there. I cannot think of a dense was of saying this at the moment, so I'll go ahead and ramble and hope someone finds it useful.

I am currently slogging through Causality by Pearl. It's probably a little above my level, but I'm getting most of it. However, just a little bit into the first chapter, he throws in stuff about covariance and regression coefficients that go way over my head. I almost gave up. Fortunately, I recognized them as terms from statistics. I inferred from his rapid coverage of it that it was included as an 'ooh, shiny!' moment for people who are already familiar with the terms. So I glazed over it and moved on. So far it hasn't been a problem, but I'm not terribly far into it either.

So maybe, don't dwell on stuff that you don't really need to? Focus on the important stuff?

However, just a little bit into the first chapter, he throws in stuff about covariance and regression coefficients that go way over my head.

M, my usual reflex in situations like that is to pause, look up the terms in question, as well as associated wikipedia pages, and see if I'm missing any basic knowledge; and once I'm more comfortable with those, go back to the more advanced book/article.

This is, of course, more ideal. Sadly, I get most of my books from unrenewable inter-library loans and therefore require an unfortunate focus on speed.

And now that I type this, I realize that nothing stops me from requesting a different edition of it a week or two before my current one is due......

[-][anonymous]8y -2

As a hereustic, I refer to Wikipedia only on some topics.

"

Several studies have been done to assess the reliability of Wikipedia. An early study in the journal Nature said that in 2005, Wikipedia’s scientific articles came close to the level of accuracy in Encyclopædia Britannica and had a similar rate of “serious errors”.[2] The study by Nature was disputed by Encyclopædia Britannica,[3] and later Nature replied to this refutation with both a formal response and a point-by-point rebuttal of Britannica’s main objections.[4] Between 2008 and 2012, articles in medical and scientific fields such as pathology,[5]toxicology,[6]oncology,[7]pharmaceuticals,[8] and psychiatry[9] comparing Wikipedia to professional and peer-reviewed sources found that Wikipedia’s depth and coverage were of a high standard. According to a study published in the European Journal of Gastroenterology and Hepatology, however, Wikipedia articles about gastroenterology and hepatology were not reliable for medical students.[10] Concerns regarding readability were raised in a study published by the American Society of Clinical Oncology[11] and a study published in Psychological Medicine (2012).[9]

Reavley et al. (2012) compared the quality of articles on select mental health topics on Wikipedia with corresponding articles in Encyclopaedia Britannica and a psychiatry textbook. They asked experts to rate article content with regard to accuracy, up-to-dateness, breadth of coverage, referencing and readability. Wikipedia scored highest on all criteria except readability, and the authors concluded that Wikipedia is as good as or better than Britannica and a standard textbook.[9]"