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Guide to Effective Reading (maartenvandoorn.nl)
201 points by accountLost on Dec 4, 2020 | hide | past | favorite | 21 comments



For what it’s worth, I’ve never met a successful academic or PhD who takes such a laborious approach to reading and taking notes for research papers. There’s not enough time in the world to spend four hours on one article, unless perhaps you’re a student ... and even then.

I had one professor whose advice (specifically for occasions when someone was visiting to present a paper) was to read until you had a question to ask, and then stop.


I've spent so much time reading articles and books, and I can only recall / share a tiny tiny fraction of the insights. I'm at a point where I'd rather spend four hours on one valuable article and really absorb / remember it (plus extra time for spaced repetition over the following weeks / months) — vs. normally reading however many articles that quickly fade from memory.


My experience with academics has been different.

The joke was that if you had ten papers to read, you'd spend ten minutes on all but one - and that one would take ten hours.


This was my experience as an RA in grad school. I could churn out paper summaries until I hit one that really challenged what I thought I knew about the topic and then I'd spend forever on it.


This is a fine guide for beginner and intermediate self-learners.

To extend it, consider how to "go beyond the text". It is not enough to read in order to think better (upgrading mental models). The wise read in order to live better.

"How can I connect the concepts in the text to an image, action, or experience?" "How do ideas in the form of words advance the progress of one's life and work?"

Knowledge (concepts, ideas, theory, language) is valuable insofar as it shapes the practice of life. When there is a clear path from learning to doing, attention, focus, and engagement are naturally piqued. And without a clear means of applying knowledge, it's natural for attention to flow towards "distractions", because at a deeper level one knows that this knowledge, while perhaps generally valuable, isn't specifically valuable in the present moment.

With the goal of extending the value of information beyond the sanitized realm of theory, reading becomes more fluid and joyful, and what were once "distractions" or "intrusive thoughts" become "flashes of inspiration" and "connecting the dots".

With earnest intention to apply newly acquired knowledge to life beyond language, one simplifies the process of integrating new knowledge with old.


They speak about ROI. But if one think about it a little, what is your investment? It is time, isn't it? So why every reading guide I've read talks about how to spend even more time on each book increasing investment, instead of how to read from book just the most valuable key points in no time?

To be fair, the author of this guide mentions this. One should ask himself "why I'm reading" and to choose right approach. The guide even quotes Naval Ravikant:

> As Naval Ravikant points out on the Farnam Street podcast, most books have the one point to make and it’s fine to fast-forward and skip and skim and do all these other sinful things.

But there are no information how to do it. It is just like the situation described at the beginning of this guide: we tell you that you should learn, but we don't expect us to tell you how you should learn.


> So why every reading guide I've read talks about how to spend even more time on each book increasing investment, instead of how to read from book just the most valuable key points in no time?

The classic "How to Read a Book" kind of recommends this. They recommend skimming the book really quickly (e.g. one or two days) to get an idea of what it's about and the big picture - skipping anything you don't understand. And only then should you ponder whether it's worth a proper detailed read. They imply that most books will not be.


Summarization of the article:

Meta-learning: one must learn how to most effectively learn before they can effectively read.

1. Learning is a combination of recall and understanding. One must have the ideas in their mind before they can process them and put pieces together. Use mental models to effectively partition articles and integrate bits of information.

Effective reading: using active learning processes results in enhanced information processing.

1. Know why you're reading.

2. Actively reading is a combination of adding information to existing knowledge branches and picking information which is relevant to you.

3. Approaches to do this: mind mapping, [question, evidence, reflection] -> asking questions about the stuff you're reading and answering them.

4. Remember through active recall/repetition.

It's a decent guide but quite verbose. Most readers are better off learning how to speed read and use memory palaces. Effective reading is built off those 2 pieces.


I like how the author specifically distinguishes between long-term memory and long-term understanding. A lot of memory helping resources that I've been checking do sell the false notion of 'you'll remember everything', when it is more 'you'll understand most of the stuff if you run on something similar in the future'.


I'm trying to read the article but I'm distracted by the awful body text justification on mobile.

I usually justify my ebooks so I'm well aware that automated justification is hard, but this is a whole new level.

There are lines with two four letter words stretched across the line, while the next line has spaces large enough to fit two more words comfortably or vice versa.

    anineliminable aspect to learning
    that                      takes
    place after the glorious flow state.
There are lines with large spaces between words followed by lines with no justification whatsoever that just end before the right side of the screen. The unjustified lines aren't even the last line in the paragraph, and when the next line isn't the end of the paragraph it goes back to being justified!

    attention to the material at hand is
    essential. Graspingcomplex
    information is hard.
Then there's the words with no spaces between them, like graspingcomplex or anineliminable from the previous examples.

It all adds up to make the post very difficult to read. I hope it's not something intentional, like "I'll force the speedreaders to slow down and think about what they're reading.". Intentional friction never seems to have the intended effect unless the intent is to drive people away entirely.


The text is full of non-breaking spaces between words instead of normal spaces, which very much restricts the browser's choice in where to put line breaks. Together with spaces sometimes completely missing between words, it makes it impossible for the browser to layout the text nicely. Trying to justify it only makes things worse.


Thanks, that explains it. Couldn't inspect it from mobile to track it down myself.

This helps cement my view of "don't use   unless you really know what you're doing", as in, you're an expert in textual design.

Does it look like perhaps it's an artifact of automatic translation from one source to another?


> Does it look like perhaps it's an artifact of automatic translation from one source to another?

Not that I can see. But I can't see how it could be anything else: I hope nobody is going to painstakingly insert " " manually everywhere.


There is a pre-requisite article that is missing from all these how to learn better: how to change the way you learn. The way we learn is like a habit, and by someone telling us this is the new way to learn is like someone telling to to break that habit because is good for you. We all will regress to the habit eventually unless that person has a way to break that habit of learning


Good point. Often by truly commiting to some goal or task that we'd like to develop into a habit for just ~21 days in a row, we can build that new habit.

Again, easier said than done however.

Might be time for me to revist the book The Power of Habit, but from what I remember, the main idea is to:

1. Identify what actions/events/stimuli cause us to fall back into old habits that we'd like to change.

2. Notice when those events are happening, and

3. Take some simple action to change our default mode response to the habit we'd like to develop

Edit: Cue -> Routine -> Reward is the main pathway for habit formation in the brain.




Are you hosting on Wordpress? You just need to install caching so each visit doesn’t query the DB.

Or what are you hosting on?


‘How to read a book’ by Adler was a game changer in the productivity of my reading.


I filed this article under a personal category of "slow is better." I think there's too much emphasis on speed, which is really just a bias to think that the goal of doing something is merely to have completed doing it.

It's not just speed reading that gets this wrong, it's also book summaries, and listening to podcasts on 1.5x.

The point of a lot of writing is to transform you either directly or by allowing you time to think and make connections between the book and what's in your own head already.

Articles like this reframe the goal to be about quality. What bigger goal is reading supposed to do for you? A lot of times slowing down and applying reading skills (even note taking) is actually a better way to achieve your bigger goal for why you want to read something.

And if it's not worth slowing down, then is it worth reading at all?


"listening to podcasts on 1.5x."

Some people just talk waaaayyy tooo sssllloooow for my liking. If I want to think about what was just said I can pause it and think. But if they talk so slow that I've already forgotten what the beginning of the sentence was... we've got an issue.

The mediums are different, and I think you should use the strengths of the medium when available.




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