Master Log 06: How to read

and how to extract from a text what you need

In June I will have to hand in my Master thesis and final project. Here I keep a diary on my progress and show how certain techniques are applicable in non-academic life.

I love reading, but I’m a very slow reader. I always have a book that I am currently reading. I read it line by line, page by page, and it goes very slowly but I enjoy it. I feel a big lack if I don’t read for a week.

With academic texts it’s different. By now I have collected heaps of texts for the thesis. Most of them are from academic journals, some are books. Those I read differently. I have my research questions in mind and I tackle the texts on the search for the answers.

Choosing what is relevant

I prefer reading on paper instead of the computer screen, therefore I print out the texts. But instead of printing all I found, I carefully read the abstracts first. Only if it sounds really relevant and if I’m sure I will quote it more than once, I will print them.

The same goes for books. Instead of borrowing the entire shelf from the library, I go through the table of content and I quickly find out whether the book will help me or not.

Skipping paragraphs, scanning pages

Then it requires butt glue to read all the material. But I never read the entire text. I skip historical outlines, I jump tables and hardly read long quotes. Sometimes I skip the methodology, too. Only if they use methods that might be helpful for my own work as well, I will read them.

The findings are often helpful, but even more so are conclusions and discussions. There they usually summarize what has been done in the study and which findings occurred, and from there I can jump back if I need something laid out in greater detail.

I often read the first sentence of a paragraph and then jump to the end of it. If it sounds relevant, I go back and read the whole thing. Otherwise I just fly over.
That all sounds as if I’m not reading properly at all, but that’s not true. With my low speed of reading I had to come up with a system that allows me to cover the relevant parts of literature in the shortest time possible.

Mark – or forget!

What proofs that I really read and gain something from the text are the markings that I make. That’s why I like to have the texts on paper: I mark and highlight keywords and scribble summaries on the margins. If I don’t do that, I would have to read the text all over again. I wouldn’t be able to remember everything. I try to mark as little as possible, however as specific and relevant as possible.

A text is a piece of working material. It needs to be chosen well and then worked through, so that it can be of benefit for your own work. You will extract the most important points that will push your thesis further in the right direction.

So, what are you currently reading? And how do you read? Let me know in the comments! (My current book is The Fourty Rules of Love by Elif Shafak.)

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