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After all, we all learned how to read fairly early in life, usually in elementar y school, right? But do you know how to really read? More importantly, are you really reading? Reading can make you a better writer, as long as you re paying attention and leavi ng time to actually write. But what we re talking about here is what you say, rath er than how you say it. If you haven t noticed, competition in the world of online content is fierce. Anyo ne playing to win is searching high and low for information that others don t have , which for many means subscribing to a ridiculous number of RSS feeds. While seeking out novel information from a wide variety of sources is admirable, it doesn t necessarily give you an advantage. The ancient Greeks had a label for those who were widely read but not well read they called them sophomores. As in sophomoric not a second-year college student (I suppose there s not really mu ch of a distinction). Scanners and Pleasure Seekers We know that people don t read well online. They ruthlessly scan for interesting c hunks of information rather than digesting the whole, and they want to be entert ained in the process. This is the reality that online publishers deal with, so w e disguise our nuggets of wisdom with friendly formatting and clever analogies. But that doesn t mean you should read that way. If you ve been publishing online for even a small amount of time, you ve seen someon e leave a comment that clearly demonstrates they didn t read or understand the con tent. Even more painful is when someone writes a responsive post that clearly mi sses the entire point of the original article. While it happens to us all from time to time, you do not want to consistently be one of these people. Credibility is hard enough to establish without routinely demonstrating that you fail to grasp a topic you ve chosen to write about, whether in an article or a comment. Plus, if you re doing nothing but scanning hundreds of RSS feeds and reading purel y to be entertained, you re at a disadvantage. Someone in your niche or industry i s likely reading books and reading deeper to become the higher authority. Or they will after they read this article. Information vs. Understanding People often think of learning as an information-gathering and retention process . But being able to recall and regurgitate information is low-level learning com pared with insightful understanding. Bloggers are big on regurgitation. These cut-and-paste creatives add value to th e world through a mash-up of sources, right? Maybe, but without the ability to u nderstand and communicate what it all means for the reader, you re simply passing on your reading obligations to others, and that s not giving people what they look for in a publication. On the other hand, if you understand everything you read upon a casual once over
You re basically priming yourself to read again at a higher level if the Scanning and superficial reading are not evil. elementary reading consists of remedial liter acy. Elementary Reading Aptly named. Adler jolted the widely read into realizing they might not be well read with a book called How to Read a Book. next time you read a challenging blog post and you re not clear on a point. For example. Sadly. The same can be done with a book go beyond the dust jacket and peruse the table of contents and each chapter. You can read other books. and I guarantee you re really learning in the process. For example. are you truly learning anything new? The material that gives you an edge in th e insight department is the stuff that s harder to understand. The Four Levels of Reading Back in 1940. you can dive into the book again and read more carefully. you re on an entirely different level of understanding and can likely engage in a meaning ful dialogue with the author. and you re selectiv ely dipping in and out of content to gauge interest. But true understanding comes from your own exploration and discovery along the path. You do that by moving beyond learning by instruction. If it s still not clear. and it s your job to close the expertise gap by reading well. At that point. read the post again. Inspection piece of writing a quick yet meaningful advance review merits of a deeper reading experience. * Superficial: Superficial reading is just that you simply read. You can go to supplemental resources. 2. the subheads. Then when you finally do ask a question. . Instea d. Inspectional Reading s approached as an active al reading means giving a in order to evaluate the There are two types: * Skimming: This is the equivalent of scanning a blog post to see if you wan t to read it carefully. many high schools and colleges must offer remedial reading courses to ensure that ele mentary reading levels are maintained. a guy named Mortimer J. You don t pond er. you read a challenging book full of grea t information. If you don t get something.. the writer is your superior when it comes to that particular subject matter. 1. and increasing your true u nderstanding by discovery. You can t progress to a higher level w ithout mastering the levels that come before. Instruction is important and beneficial. and you don t stop to look things up. Updated in 19 73 and still going strong today. but give yourself a set amount of time to do it. and it s usually achieved during the elementary schooling years. your first inclination might be to ask a question in the comments. In other words. and you understand enough of it to know that you don t understand a ll of it. you don t worry about it. as long a process that serves an appropriate purpose. You re checking the title. but very little instruction in advanced r eading is offered. All that matters is you do the work rather than asking someone. How to Read a Book identifies four levels of re ading: * * * * Elementary Inspectional Analytical Syntopical Each of these reading levels is cumulative. go do some research on your own t o see if you can figure it out.
illogical or incomplete You ll note that the inspectional reading you did perfectly sets the stage for an analytical reading. But so far. Analytical Reading At this level of reading. you will become an expert on what five authors have said.subject matter is worthy. thereby expanding the issue and hopefully adding unique value). you identify the author s chosen langua ge by spotting the author s terms of art and key words. This may require that you draw inferences if any particular author does not directly addr ess one of your questions. and come to your own conclusion (which may differ from everyon e else. you would: * * * * * * * * Identify and classify the subject matter as a whole Divide it into main parts and outline those parts Define the problem(s) the author is trying to solve Understand the author s terms and key words Grasp the author s important propositions Know the author s arguments Determine whether the author solves the intended problems Show where the author is uninformed. the books you read are simply tools that allow you to form an unders tanding that s never quite existed before. misinformed. In other words. whether by agreeing with the language of one author or devising your own termin ology. 3. in this case for your own readers. Here are the five steps to syntopical reading: * Inspection: Inspectional reading is critical to syntopical reading. the focus is on what questions you want answered (pr oblems solved). You re now engaging your critical mind to d ig down into the meaning and motivation beyond the text. my friend. To get a true understan ding of a book. you assimilate the language of each author into the terms of art and key words that you choose. we re talking about reading one book. It s about y ou and the problems you re trying to solve. You. You ve melded the information in those bo oks with your own life experience and other knowledge to make novel connections and new insights. you messed up at the inspection stage. * Assimilation: In analytical reading. This time. If you read those five books analytically. That may be true. * Issues: When you ask a good question. you will develop your own unique perspective and expertise in the field. this is all the reading some people do in preparation f or their own writing. based on the existing literature. When you unde rstand multiple perspectives within an individual issue. you can intelligently d iscuss the issue. . * Questions: This time. Unfortunately. In this sense. syntopical reading is not about the existing experts. Stopping at inspectional reading is only appropriate if you find no use for the material. When exper ts have differing or contradictory responses to the same question. If any one author fails to address any of your questi ons. but how you read those five books will make al l the difference. are now an expert in your own right. you ve moved beyond superficial re ading and mere information absorption. Then you must also quickly identify the relevant parts and passage s that satisfy your unique focus. The highest level of reading allows you to synthesize knowledge from a comparative reading o f several books about the same subject. You mu st quickly indentify which five (or 15) books you need to read from a sea of unw orthy titles. you re able to flesh out all sides of an issue. as opposed to the problems each author wants to solve. If you read five books syntopically. 4. Syntopical Reading It s been said that anyone can read five books on a topic an d be an expert. you ve identified an issue.
it does. well you re right. looking for answers. and you re not looking to be part of that scene. easy to read.* Conversation: Determining the truth via syntopical reading is not really the point. and you re now conversant enough to hold your own in a discus sion of experts. You re on it. at its fundamental essence. It s abou t asking questions. and you quickly realize how th is allows you to deliver unique value to your readers as a publisher. just like most people will never blog or publish online in the fi rst place. And most peo ple won t do it. But mostly. since disagreements about truth abound with just about any topic. then make it simple. and entertaining. Be a Demanding Reader for the Win Reading. and sometimes. right? . They need you to do the work for them. This is what the online conversation was supposed to look like ac cording to early bloggers. If you think all of this sounds like a lot of work. Think of reading this way. understanding the various answers. it s your job to understand the complex and grasp the essentials. unsubstantiated opinions of the ill-informed. and deciding for yourself. is not about absorbing information. So. The va lue is found within the discussion among competing view points concerning the sa me root information. because t hey don t want to become an expert. the online conver sation looks like the unqualified. That s why your readers need you.
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