Reading & Writing
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Reading Efficiently by Reading Intelligently Whether they're project documents, trade journals, blogs, business books or ebooks, most of us read regularly as part of our jobs, and to develop our skills and knowledge. But do you ever read what should be a useful document, yet fail to gain any helpful information from it? Or, do you have to re-read something several times to get a full understanding of the content? In this article, we're looking at strategies that will help you read more effectively. These approaches will help you get the maximum benefit from your reading, with the minimum effort.
Think About What You Want to Know Before you start reading anything, ask yourself why you're reading it. Are you reading with a purpose, or just for pleasure? What do you want to know after you've read it? Once you know your purpose, you can examine the resource to see whether it's going to help you. For example, with a book, an easy way of doing this is to look at the introduction and the chapter headings. The introduction should let you know who the book is intended for, and what it covers. Chapter headings will give you an overall view of the structure of the subject.
Ask yourself whether the resource meets your needs, and try to work out if it will give you the right amount of knowledge. If you think that the resource isn't ideal, don't waste time reading it. Remember that this also applies to content that you subscribe to, such as journals or magazines, and web-based RSS and social media news feeds â€“ don't be afraid to prune these resources if you are not getting value from some publishers.
Know How Deeply to Study the Material Where you only need the shallowest knowledge of a subject, you can skim material. Here you read only chapter headings, introductions, and summaries. If you need a moderate level of information on a subject, then you can scan the text. This is when you read the chapter introductions and summaries in detail. You can then speed read the contents of the chapters, picking out and understanding key words and concepts. (When looking at material in this way, it's often worth paying attention to diagrams and graphs.) Only when you need full knowledge of a subject is it worth studying the text in detail. Here it's best to skim the material first to get an overview of the subject. This gives you an understanding of its structure, into which you can then fit the detail gained from a full reading of the material. (SQ3R is a good technique for getting a deep understanding of a text.)
Read Actively When you're reading a document or book in detail, it helps if you practice "active reading" by highlighting and underlining key information, and taking notes as you progress. (Mind Maps are great for this). This emphasizes information in your mind, and helps you to review important points later. Doing this also helps you keep your mind focused on the material, and stops you thinking about other things. Tip:
If you're worried about damaging a book by marking it up, ask yourself how much your investment of time is worth. If the book is inexpensive, or if the benefit that you get from the book substantially exceeds its value, then don't worry too much about marking it. (Of course, only do this if it belongs to you!)
Know How to Study Different Types of Material Different types of documents hold information in different places and in different ways, and they have different depths and breadths of coverage.
By understanding the layout of the material you're reading, you can extract the information you want efficiently. Magazines and Newspapers
These tend to give a fragmented coverage of an area. They will typically only concentrate on the most interesting and glamorous parts of a topic – this helps them boost circulation! As such, they will often ignore less interesting information that may be essential to a full understanding of a subject, and they may include low value content to "pad out" advertising. The most effective way of getting information from magazines is to scan the contents tables or indexes and turn directly to interesting articles. 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 quickly learn which sections are useful, and which ones you can skip altogether. Tip:
You can apply the same strategies to reading online versions of newspapers and magazines. However, you need to make sure that you don't get distracted by links to other, non-relevant material. Reading Individual Articles
There are three main types of article in magazines and newspapers:
News Articles – these are designed to explain the key points first, and then flesh these out with detail. So, the most important information is presented first, with information being less and less useful as the article progresses. Opinion Articles – these 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. Feature Articles – 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 get information from it quickly and efficiently. Tip 1:
Nowadays, you probably read many articles online. You can easily save links to these in a bookmark folder to reference later. Make sure that you title folders so that you can easily find the link again. For instance, you could have separate folders for project research, marketing, client prospects, trade information, and professional growth. Or, it might be helpful to title folders using the website or publication name.
Remember that there are many online articles and electronic documents that weren't originally designed to be read on a screen. (This will also include documents that are emailed to you.) If you find it hard to read these on screen, print them out. This is especially important for long or detailed documents.
Make Your Own Table of Contents When you're reading a document or book, it's easy to accept the writer's structure of thought. This means that you may not notice when important information has been left out, or that an irrelevant detail has been included. An effective way to combat this is to make up your own table of contents before you start reading. Ask yourself what sections or topics you are expecting to see in this document, and what questions you want to have answered by the end of the text. Although doing this before you start reading the document may sound like a strange strategy, it's useful, because it helps you spot holes in the author's argument. Writing out your own table of contents also helps you address your own questions, and think about what you're expecting to learn from the text.
Use Glossaries with Technical Documents If you're reading large amounts of difficult technical material, it may be useful to use or compile a glossary. Keep this beside you as you read. It's also useful to note down the key concepts in your own words, and refer to these when necessary.
Further Reading Tips
The time when you read a document plays a role in how easy the reading will be, and how much information you'll retain. If you need to read a text that is tedious, or requires a great deal of concentration, it's best to tackle it when you have the most energy in the day. Our article, Is This a Morning Task? , helps you work out when this is, so that you can schedule your reading time accordingly.
Where you read is also important. Reading at night, in bed, doesn't work for many people because it makes them sleepy (which means that you may not remember the information). Everyone is different, however, so read in a place that's comfortable, free of distractions, and that has good light – this is important even if you're reading from a screen. It can be helpful to review the information when you've finished reading. When you're done, write a paragraph that explains, in your own words, what you just learned. Often, putting pen to paper can help strengthen your recall of new information, so that you retain it more effectively.
Key Points If you want to read more effectively, identify what you want to learn from each resource you read, and know how deeply you want to study the material. And, consider "active reading" by making notes and marking-up the material as you go along. It's also useful to know how to study different types of material. Making your own table of contents before you read material, and using glossaries for technical resources, are other useful reading strategies. Remember that it takes practice to develop your reading skills â€“ the more you use these strategies, the more effective you'll become.
Organizing and pre-writing
Seven stages of writing assignments Prewriting exercises provide key words, meaning, and structure to your research before you write your first draft, and may help you overcome "writers block." These exercises can help you
Focus intellectually and clear distractions while opening your mind to ideas within your subject
Narrow and define topics for your paper and begin the process of translating research into your own words. Develop logical or architectural structure to topics you have identified. This provides a visual and verbal document for reaction, review, discussion, and/or further development in your rough draft. However, these exercises are dynamic or subject to change in the actual writing process as you understand, develop, and build your argument. Some topics will go, some will stay, some will be revised
Provide a context for "project management" to further define the topic, set timelines, identify gaps in information, etc.
Use one of these four processes, free writing, mind mapping, brain storming, or listing and outlines to both develop your topic and get started. Better yet, try them all to see which suits your style and/or the topic.
10 Steps for Editing Your Own Writing by Mark Nichol
You’ve done it. You’ve finally, triumphantly, typed out “The End.” Congratulations! Now comes the hard part: revision. Revising is often more laborious than the writing process itself, but it’s essential — assuming, that is, that you want your writing to get published. Whether you write nonfiction, fiction, or poetry, you must evaluate your own writing and transform it from something that is complete but nothing more to something that is completely compelling. The process will involve multiple task-specific passes (not necessarily in the order presented) intended to achieve various goals. Let’s get you started:
1. Wait Oops — hold on. Not yet. You deserve a break. Step away from the computer. Give yourself a few days to let your win sink in. Pursue another writing project, perhaps, or catch up on the rest of your life, before circling back and manipulating your manuscript. One exception: If you have not written a synopsis or an abstract, do it now, before you revise your work. If, after reading the manuscript, you realize that you didn’t write out what you set out to write, decide whether the precis is precisely what you wanted, or whether the finished product is the real deal.
2. Hands Off Read the entire manuscript without changing anything — or, at the most, make notes about major fixes or other key corrections for later attention. Shift from your writer
mode to your reader setting. Remember, you tackled this writing project because nobody else would (or you thought you could do it better, or at least differently), so now it’s time to read it from cover page to conclusion (because you followed my advice from a previous post to not do that until you were finished, right?). Some people recommend printing your piece out in hard copy because they claim that you notice the details more when you read your work in print, but that’s impractical for a 100,000-word novel, and some people are more comfortable with on-screen reading than others, so take or leave that advice.
3. Parts of Speech Focus, one type at a time, on the parts of speech: Notice nouns, and choose more precise terms and employ elegant variation. Is one of your characters a pirate? Refer to them as a corsair, a buccaneer, or an adventurer now and then. Use a dictionary with synonyms listed, or a thesaurus or a synonym finder. Veer from your verbs, finding opportunities to use more vivid, compelling action words. Resist the urge to go overboard, especially with variations of “he said” (which you should minimize in dialogue as much as possible anyway by using narrative to identify the speaker), but don’t let your characters get away with walking — have them stroll, strut, stalk, amble, caper, or mince instead. Search for forms of “to be” (is, are, was, were) and strive for more active sentence construction: “She looked in and saw that he was idly handling the device” becomes “She peered in to find him fiddling with the gadget.” Attack adjectives and adverbs. Don’t omit them without justification, but do make sure they’re not a crutch for your unwillingness to enhance descriptive language in other ways. Instead of referring to a hazy sky, describe how it reminds the character of when she used to play around the house as a child wearing a veil. Rather than mentioning a slowly flowing river as such, tell the reader about how it doesn’t seem in a particular hurry to get anywhere. Are you sure you know the precise meaning of every word you use? As you read, be alert for terms — whether newly acquired or long since adopted — that may not express what you think they do, and look them up to confirm or deny your suspicion.
4. Sentence Structure Are your sentences particularly complicated and convoluted, or notably short and stubby? Don’t strive for a strictly limited word range, but minimize outliers: Sentences with a word count you can tabulate on the fingers of one hand should have a punctuating purpose. Sentences that last an entire paragraph need to be snipped into palatable pieces. Are your sentences generally active? Passive sentences are used by great writers, but you and they both know that too many sentences structured that way produce an enervating effect. Also, parenthetical phrases are better inserted mid-sentence than tacked on at the end; save the last position for the impact. The same goes for
paragraphs — which, by the way, should be cloven in two if they’re more than ten or twelve lines in a Word document — half of that for Web-bound words. And unless you’re consciously incorporating iambic pentameter, beware of sentence rhythms that may subconsciously sap readers’ energy. Too much alliteration (guilty) or assonance can weary the most dedicated reader. You’re writing prose or poetry, not constructing an obstacle or dog-agility course.
5. Deemphasize Emphasis Do you use “scare quotes”? Frighten them away. Italics? Too many are an eyesore — and weaken the cumulative impact. Exclamation points? Omit unless OMGs are also part of the package — an exclamation point can be a crutch that takes the place of high-impact prose.
6. Tone and Voice Eloquent literature has been laden with slang, and serious nonfiction writing can be laced with humor. But honestly appraise your writing for its personality. If you’re writing a how-to, you can be conversational, but don’t throw away your authority with your austerity. If you’re writing period fiction, be alert for anachronisms. Do a word check. Are you concerned that perhaps you use a particular word too often? Do a search, and if you find it liberally sprinkled throughout your manuscript, cull it so that it appears with reasonable frequency.
7. Reconstruction You may find as you read for some other purpose that a major structural flaw exists: In fiction, you may decide to add an adventure or subtract a subplot or alter the sequence of plot elements — or at least the order in which they appear if you shift from one plot thread to one or more others. Your nonfiction piece may cry out for a major reorganization. You might decide to insert instructions or develop details, or discard a digression. Don’t hesitate to undertake significant revisions like these. Yes, you’ve spent a lot of time getting your manuscript to where it is now, but that doesn’t mean it’s where it should be. Go with your instincts.
8. Keywords Now is the time you really search inside yourself about whether your hero’s name really fits them, or whether they kick back with one too many sidekicks or could really use a new nemesis. Or maybe a place name seems out of place, or the term for a talisman is too tortuous. Are your chapter titles or subheadings really working for you, or are you trying too hard to line them up with some grammatical gimmick?
9. Recite Makes Right Just when you think you’ve finally nailed it, read it one more time — aloud. A recitation lets you listen to the rhythm of your writing and catch any clunky or laboriously long sentences you missed or words you omitted.
10. Editor’s Notes Now, it’s time to send your manuscript out into the world, but unless you’re selfpublishing in print or online, an editor is in its future — and, likely, so is a revision on your part based on the editor’s comments. But you’re also likely to get focused requests for rewrites, so though you may feel by now that you never want to read it again, take heart that you have some direction.