Reading is of enormous importance in today’s society. Whether it is newspapers, work reports, school assignments or even texts and emails, we encounter reading in every corner of our lives. We read to learn new things, to build up our vocabulary, to hold our own in highly intellectual conversations, or simply to lose ourselves in a world of fantasy and imagination. Different reasons, yet the act is the same.
However, how many times do we find ourselves holding a book when our concentration wavers and the words on the page swim before our eyes, or reading pages and pages but when we look back we realize that there was no comprehension involved so, we lose interest and give up on the whole book! In this day and age and with the advent of technology it is important that we invest our time in fruitful and effective activities. And to do so, we need to improve our reading skills so as to make our reading fast and at the same time efficient.
Fast and accurate reading is the result of the application of basic techniques that help us extract thoughts quickly and effectively. Furthermore, it is our determination and purpose that make our reading better. That is why we need to devise a plan to help us. But, before we proceed to these techniques and how to employ them, we need to divide the reading materials into three units: a paragraph, a chapter and a book. Now let’s learn the basic techniques:
1. How to read a paragraph
Consider a paragraph as a unit of reading: A paragraph is a set of sentences that signifies the introduction of a new thought. It starts with a marginal indentation. These are the ones we will keep an eye out for to better notice a paragraph because it will help us notice which of the paragraphs are of great importance and which are irrelevant.
Read the first sentence carefully: From the structure of a paragraph we distinguish three types of sentences: a principal, or topic sentence, an explanatory sentence and a dud or immaterial sentence. Usually the first sentence is the one to introduce the main thought discussed in the paragraph. So reading it should give us the general idea behind the words.
Read the last sentence: Because sometimes this sentence summarizes what has been said throughout the whole paragraph.
Consider the facts of the paragraph collectively: Because the sentences contain related thoughts. In doing so we will be able to note the logical sequence of the ideas and actually anticipate it. Hence, it helps us build speed into our reading.
Watch for dud sentences: These are sentences which do not contribute directly to the main idea, a sort of accessory sentences that can be left out without harming the coherence of the paragraph.
Note the words in italics or bold: The so-marked words can be important or specialized terms, so we should take note of them and keep them aside, then look them up and learn them.
Finally, we should summarize our findings by re-reading the main idea and noting down the facts we found.
2. How to read a chapter
Note the chapter heading carefully: We should scrutinize the title of the chapter to be aware of what we are about to read.
Turn to the table of contents: In order to know how this chapter relates to the rest of the chapters, to stay oriented to what might precede this one and keep track of the author’s thoughts.
Look for typographical clues: Sometimes the author will keep part of the text in italics; this is to stress the importance of the idea expounded. So we should give emphasize to it as well.
Look for an end-of-chapter summary: The summary is the bird’s-eye-view, so we should read it first to have a general idea.
Return to the beginning of the chapter and skim its main idea through the paragraphs: A chapter is a collection of paragraphs, so we should proceed with the same steps stated above for reading the paragraph.
Having read the chapter, repeat steps 2 and 4: This is important, as the quick review will help us master the chapter.
3. How to read a book
Read the title page: Every book deals with a particular area. So we should read the title page looking for any details that might give away the general idea of the book and see if it meets our needs.
Study the table of contents analytically: The table of the contents is the master plan of the book. Therefore, it will help us understand in which way the book is organized and laid out, allowing us to better know our way through it.
Read the preface (front matter): to have an insight into the author’s take on the book, their reasons for writing it, its purpose and their explanation of the methods used.
Look for end matter: This consists of appendixes, tables of supplementary data, glossaries, etc. It is really important to consult these because they make our browsing the book a lot easier and faster.
Proceed now to read the book following the steps suggested for reading the paragraph and chapter.
These were the techniques to use to read with speed and effective comprehension. So, it is not a ‘wade through the whole reading material’ approach that makes our reading efficient, like a beaver going through a piece of wood. Rapid, precise reading is a skill that is worth a lot throughout life. With effective reading, we will get better grades in school, save ourselves time and be able to be more efficient in our work, and it will make our reading experience much more enjoyable. Therefore it is important that we make some effort to develop this skill.