Learning To Read Faster

By Robert Moskowitz

When you read through some material and you want to go through it faster, use these techniques:

Visualize a series of hills and valleys, like a path. The writer is taking you on a path through the topology of his information.

Tell'em what you're going to tell'em.
Tell'em what you told'em.

That's a kind of simple topology. Once you find out what he's going to tell you, you can look for that stuff and concentrate on it. You may or may not need to read the summary at the end, depending on how well you covered the high points in the middle.

Topologies grow much more complex. And they depend on the kind of materials. Novels and fiction are the most complex. The good information can be anywhere, and a single line "I killed him and threw him in the ditch" can spin the meaning and relevance of everything that comes after. If you miss that line, you miss all the rest of it. Very hard to move fast through a novel unless you're willing to miss important stuff. Movies and plays have a clearer topology, because you have to put something good just before the breaks. You need to get it started, and you need to wind it up.

Academic writing and studies often have signposts and labels to help you find the important stuff and skim the filler.
Read the executive summary. Then decide what's important and go read that in more detail. Do you really need to read every word of the methodology? Or the literature review? Read the bold and the italics. Just get a sense of what's being said. The analysis is good to read, but you can move quickly because there's lots of filler between the points of analysis.

Texts are good for this, too, because they are divided into topics and chapters and sub chapters and stuff like that. You may not care about, or you may already be expert in, whole chapters. Read all the topic headings in a chapter. What is this guy talking about? What do I need to learn? Go back and read the important stuff. While you're at it, go back (if necessary) and read what you need to read to understand all the important stuff. Read the summary to make sure you got it all.

Cases? They probably follow a format, too. Skim the description of the situation or the company. Pay attention to the initial use of terminology and detail so you understand the jargon as it is thrown at you later on in the piece. Then skim through for what the problem was, what they did, why it worked, and what lessons can be learned. They may also tell you what they could have done bette.r. Can you answer the questions? If not, you missed something important.

The science of "tracking" through information topology is a life-long skill, of course. But in some ways it's like typing. Once you get the basic understanding and skill, you just keep practicing and getting faster. And when you sniff a lion in the tall grass at a thousand yards, there's no thrill like tracking him down and pouncing from behind, wrestling him to the ground and mastering that most important piece of information without being torn to shreds by the thorns growing up all around it.

Have fun.