Making a Good Impression: Efficient Reading

These days, doing a good job as an ICT or Technology Co- ordinator/Subject Leader is not enough. In order to get on in your career, you have to be seen to be doing a good job. In this series, Alison Skymes looks at ways of making a good impression.Today: how to read more efficiently.

Alison SkymesWhen it comes to reading, most people approach the material in the same way they approach a packet of cornflakes. In an age of information overload, that just ain't good enough. You have a job to do: not only to keep up-to-date for your own sake, but to do so in order to keep your supervisor and others informed. How you gonna do it?

Here are 9 great tips.

If the material is well-structured -- in other words, if the person writing it was more concerned with making sure you could get the gist quickly than with his own ego -- efficient reading should be as easy as falling off a log. But even if the writer spent more time thinking of flowery descriptions than worrying about your need to get stuff done, you can still save time by reading it properly.

Here's what you do:

1. Don't even open the document. That's right: just keep it closed, and spend 5 minutes thinking about what you're looking for, and what you think the document might contain in relation to that. Sounds like a waste of time, right? But it ain't, because what you're doing is setting up some mental hooks on which to hang ideas as they come up from the material, or from your interaction with the material.

2. Read the table of contents, if there is one, as that will help you get a feel for what the document contains. Well, with any luck: if the author has used totally unhelpful section or chapter headings, like "All's well that ends well", you won't have much joy.

3. Always start at the end. Well, at the summary, to be more precise. That often comes at the beginning, in the form of an Executive Summary. Whatever. Read it first, because you'll be able to cut to the chase without all the intervening argument. Like the man said: Just gimme the facts, ma'am.

4. If you still don't have what you need, well, you're going to have to read more of it. Start by reading the first and last paragraphs in each section. The first one should say what is covered. If you've chosen a good source, the final paragraph will summarise what's just been covered.

5. Still not enough? OK, start again, but this time read the first sentences in each paragraph too.

6. Put these techniques together to read the newspaper quickly: the headline and first paragraph, plus the picture and picture caption, should tell you all you need to know.

7. Good website articles and blogs should help in two other ways: firstly, they ought to be short; secondly, they should be tagged -- and the tags should give you a good idea of what the piece is about.

Efficient reading isn't the same as speed reading, but you can always do some things to help you read faster:

1. Ask yourself if you really need all the detail. If the answer is "no", then you can skim-read the document. A good way of doing this is to train yourself to look out for certain "signpost" words -- and then ignore the rest of the sentence. For example, "for example" is an obvious kind of signpost: it tells you that there is an example coming up. Duh. Well, if you already get the point, or you don't need the detail, why waste time reading an example? Another signpost word is "Moreover": that is often used to embellish a point, and whilst it isn't the same as an example, if you're in a real hurry you might want to skip it. At least for now.

2. Another thing you can do is to read more words at once. You can train yourself to do this, and there is software that can help you. I tried out Rocket Reader. It's a program that tests your reading speed and comprehension, and trains you to see more words at once. The reading/comprehension test is a little artificial: in a real context, you would probably have some familiarity with the subject matter, hopefully some interest in it, and almost certainly some forewarning of it. As for the section that trains you to read more words at once, I'm not sure how permanent the results are, but there's nothing to be lost by trying it out -- especially as there is a ten day free trial of the program. 

By reading efficiently, you can become more knowledgeable about more things. That will help you a lot when your boss starts asking for your opinions on things.

It comes in handy at parties too.

I hope you've enjoyed this series. What strategies have not been covered in your opinion? Do leave a comment if you have any suggestions.