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How to read research paper, textbook, long text content?
145 points by shivajikobardan 9 days ago | hide | past | favorite | 88 comments
I can read less text content easily. my way of reading it is to make slides of all those texts and learn from the slides.

But I have issue with reading huge huge texts as you know in this case it will require too much time when I do this. Is there way to simplify this reading style?

eg-: of sth that I want to read is this.

https://static.googleusercontent.com/media/research.google.c...

It takes me 45 minutes to read 3 paragraph and comprehend it at least.

If I go that way, you can imagine, how long it takes me to read a research paper. Probably a week to read a research paper lol. Even reading articles in internet is a hassle for me if they are longer. If I just read what I need to learn it is easy as it will be few paragraphs but if I have to learn sth else long it is pain to me as I can't do it timely manner.

Are there any udemy courses that teach how to read textbooks for university students that you are aware of?






I strongly suggest “How to Read a Book” by Adler. It’s an excellent discussion of types and levels of reading.

When faced with a large, imposing text, my method is:

1. Read the title page, table of contents, index, and introduction several times. This should make it clear what the book is about and how it’s structure.

2. Read it straight through from start to end. No notes. Don’t worry about not understanding. Intellectually, I’m very passive. Just familiarizing myself with the terrain. Keep in mind the knowledge gained from the previous step.

3. Read through again, paying attention to key concepts and terms. Make a list of key concepts and terms. Try to understand and resolve the concepts and terms in relation to each other and the structure of the text. This is still very passive reading. You shouldn’t be forming any opinions at this point.

4. Create your own outline of the text. If the table of contents is well thought out, this might be redundant. Still very passive. No opinions yet.

5. Go through again, summarizing all the key ideas. Still very passive, you’re just trying to map out the text. Not forming opinions.

6. Rewrite the outline, now including your summaries.

7 and above. Now, if necessary, start actively critiquing. That’s a whole different matter. And usually involves playing the author off other authors. You usually don’t get to this part. I’ll refer you back to “How to Read a Book.”

The key thing is to focus on passively understanding, rather than opinion formation.


The first and most important step is to determine if the book is worth your time!

Most subjects have countless written material. Skimming many first to decide which is worth it's weight will lead to a better outcome. It's more motivating too when you know you've found a gem.


Agreed. I highly recommend the 1940 edition. There's an online version from the Internet Archive here: https://archive.org/details/howtoreadabook1940edition/page/n...

why this edition specifically?

It was rewritten with a coauthor later on. The changes were substantial.

This is really solid advice. I normally make it to number 2 sometimes 3 when I'm dealing with large amounts of information. I've found that 2 gets me far enough to operate in most circumstances and when I encounter specifics in the future I can easily dive deeper into detail.

I second the suggestion. Never thought I would read a book so meta, but I did and it was worth it.

Thanks!

One should understand that not all processes in life take 45 minutes. Learning meaningful content is like going to the gym or playing the piano - you cannot expect to see any meaningful results in a day. You'll have to put in the work for a very long time, but you'll get better at it as you go.

Analogy aside, not all text is written to be read in a 45 min session. Set your mind that reading and absorbing content from a text book can take anywhere between 3 months to 3 years. Some concepts may take decades to really click in your mind. Luckily, the content in text books is usually broken down in chapters and sections for you, so consider each of those a "less text" content, and read "less text" every day. Set a goal of understanding a single section or chapter per day/week. At the end of a year you'll have read "long text" without ever reading much in a single reading session.

Research papers can be read in anywhere from minutes to a couple weeks. But if you are new to the field, you may have to read them over and over, and that time can extend to months until you understand the implications of what is written.

Don't rush it.


It should not take someone a week to read a research paper. Depending on the paper maybe a day but usually a few hours. Carefully studying it is something else and that might take a week, but not every paper needs that kind of attention and it's a valuable skill to learn skimming and differentiating between un-/valuable and un-/interesting papers.

> It should not take someone a week to read a research paper

Either you have never read a research paper, or you are gifted, or you have been doing that for so long in your field that you forgot how hard it can be when you start.


Before arguing for or against this statement, perhaps we should precise what kind of research papers we're talking about. We're on HN, so I know most comments of this thread are dealing with scientific research papers; I'm a student in humanities myself, so I've never taken the time to analyze such papers and I am thus unable to defend or counter OP's claim on this particular question. However, their comment applies quite well to humanities. Except if you're totally unfamiliar with the subject, reading or understanding a humanitarian paper whether it be about linguistics, literature, history or whatnot should not take a week. Most papers are 20-page long and one day is far enough to analyze them. Some may take a bit longer, let's say a few days, if you want to catch and extract their very substance, but never much more than that. Counterexamples are welcomed.

As a counterexample, this [0] was a paper that I read and summarized for some colleagues a while back. It's fairly related to my area of expertise, so I didn't find it too bad -- maybe a couple of hours to grok it and do a write-up.

However, among my colleagues (all very talented in their own unrelated areas) it generated a fair amount of consternation, because although they had a week to read it, none of them felt like they had a good grasp of it until after I had presented it. The key takeaways that had jumped out at me immediately were lost in the noise.

Whether or not a week is the right time, I can definitely empathize with taking more than a day to evaluate a paper, particularly in an area not very near to your own as there might be a lot of missing background to fill in. In contrast, my PhD advisor could flip through a paper in 30 seconds and pick up the key points it took me an hour to extract. In that sense, I really think that reading papers is a skill that can be trained.

[0]: https://drops.dagstuhl.de/opus/volltexte/2020/13109/pdf/LIPI...


I took a graduate-level reading course where the point was to critically read and discuss two research papers per week. These were research papers at top computing conferences in areas related to IoT.

You definitely don't need a week for just one paper. I wasn't even a graduate student. Papers are usually around 16 pages. It would take me a good 4-5 hours to read and digest things, and even longer when it was my turn to present a paper, but never an entire week... Professors go over these things even faster.


Right - if the paper is really good, it might take a few years to understand.

Most papers can be read in < 10 seconds ("not interesting, next"). Most pretty good papers can be read in 5-10 minutes. Very good papers might take a few hours. And so on.

I'm caricaturing, but only a tiny bit, this is how I read. And for good stuff, that I want to understand, a page an hour is (often) pretty typical for my first fairly thorough read.

I've written two textbooks, and in both cases I thought of the book as the distilled outcome from reading about a dozen very important papers really thoroughly


Can you say more about this? What accounts for the difference in time spent on a pretty good vs a very good paper? Is it that you find the material in a very good paper more worthwhile, and thus are willing to expend more effort to understand it?

I know you don't believe in formal logic, but maybe give this paper a chance: https://obua.com/publications/philosophy-of-abstraction-logi...

Back when I was a TA if a student had come to me with the problem you are describing and the compensatory technique you are using I'd tell them they might have mild to moderate dyslexia.

If you're a university student you probably have access to a student support service that can assess you and advise you if that is the case. In the mean-time some people find using the [1] OpenDylsexic typeface helps and coloured overlays over text can be effective for some (Literally stick coloured acetate over what you're reading or change the font and background colours if on a screen). Other than that using various [2] notetaking methods will help with with both reading and retaining the knowledge. You're kind of already doing that with the slides BUT handwritten notes are generally more effective than notetaking on a computer.

[1]https://opendyslexic.org/ [2]https://medium.goodnotes.com/the-best-note-taking-methods-fo...


I definitely agree with this. I might have dyslexia of some sorts. But my psychaitrist rejects that idea as I could read books easily in the past(when the books contained numbers)...I am medicating for schizoid personality disorder as it seems so idk if that is affecting me..sizodon, proate, and zosert are the medications that I am using currently.

Could be, a lot of meds can effect your ability to concentrate. A psychiatrist will tend to see everything through a psychiatry lens. Sure dyslexia and mental illness are both brain related but psychiatrists generally only deal with the second, so that is where they will first look for an answer. Get tested anyway as it can't hurt.

https://web.stanford.edu/class/ee384m/Handouts/HowtoReadPape...

Keshav knows what’s up.

I tend to read the abstract, figures and captions, conclusion. Then i know if it’s worth really reading it, at which point i print it out and break out a pen.

if it’s really REALLY worth reading, ipython usually comes out to play, too


+1 for How to Read a Paper by Keshav. I have been using this method for the entirety of my academic and industry career. Now that I run a Data Science team, I have all my new hires read this as part of onboarding.

I'll just note that this pairs wonderfully with the Whitesides paper on Writing a Paper (https://gmwgroup.harvard.edu/files/gmwgroup/files/895.pdf), which is also required reading for my team members.


I like Kording, 2016 (doi.org/10.1101/088278) https://journals.plos.org/ploscompbiol/article?id=10.1371/jo... too, for the output side.

+1

The same technique with necessary modifications is also applicable to figuring out whether it is worthwhile to completely Read a Book. These days Books have so much unnecessary filler that a lot can be skipped with no loss of information/knowledge.

PS: The same author has also written two great books on Computer Networking; 1) An Engineering Approach to Computer Networking 2) Mathematical Foundations of Computer Networking


As a semi-pro writer, and on some of my longer comments, I've typically written something out, taken the last idea that came out as a result of that writing process, and pasted it to the top/front of the piece because that's the idea with the most time, effort and value I can add. Leading with that rewards the reader with the value up front, and then they read on for more, which includes my initial reaction and analogies that produced it.

Remember that most people who write are still sounding out ideas when they write, so the final paragraph or final chapter of a monograph is where to start with most things. Then I read them in reverse order.

If it's professionally edited, you can read the first few parts because the editor will have uncovered any buried ledes and popped them up into the front matter. In journalistic writing, the opinion ("context") they were trying to freight the piece with is at the end.


Research papers are supposed to be read in the following order:

1. Abstract 2. Introduction 3. Conclusions

Skipping to the end sounds counter-intuitive, but it will prevent you from getting lost in the nitty-gritty details of the paper. It makes rarely sense to read a paper front-to-back in one session. You have to pace yourself. Also, if you don't know the domain that well, you will get lost in trying to understand the "basics" and will have difficulties in making use of the paper's contents.

Similar for textbooks. Usually, an effort is made to structure them for learners, but they can't help but end up being reference works that require a study plan to really be of use.

Time is usually too short to try to learn everything. Thus my recommendation is to decide what you really want to focus on, and create a study plan of sorts.


> 1. Abstract 2. Introduction 3. Conclusions

I know this is what students are told, but I rarely manage to understand the topic of a paper by reading the introduction and conclusion. Too many buzzwords. I usually look for the "big picture" in the literal sense (e.g. a figure showing the architecture the authors have designed etc.) and, life pro tip, the axes of the plots ("ah, there are doing something with latency and number of threads") :)


If you're reading a biology paper, do Abstract > Intro > Graphs/Images > Conclusion

I am a scientist and I have to read sometimes hundreds of pages of dense scientific literature in a given week while doing other things that my job requires. I also find reading long difficult text to be hard. However, over the years I found two things that allowed me to get better at it:

1. Just read A LOT. There is no way around it. If you push yourself to do this, eventually your mind will figure out a way.

2. Markup the text you are reading. I do this on an iPad with a stylus. I underline key points, circle important paragraphs, jot down a quick summary of lengthy thoughts.

Good luck!


>1. Just read A LOT. There is no way around it. If you push yourself to do this, eventually your mind will figure out a way.

Part of what slows people down reading scientific papers is akin to that person's absorptive capacity. When you start reading something, you come in with a host of prior knowledge: terms, phrases, principles, etc that you know and understand. The more of these things you have when reading relevant to the piece you're reading, the more quickly you can read, digest, critize, etc.

I've read this particular GFS paper a long time ago and this is a domain I can read through fairly rapidly (pro tip: read the abstract and conclusions first to make sure it's worth your time to read the meat of the paper given academic incentives to publish anything anymore).

I've worked with some medical professionals doing work on partial arthroplasty related techniques (adding 3D volume reconstructive techniques) and the paper took me forever to get through and contribute to because like you, every paragraph was me looking up medical terminology and trying to incorporate that into my baseline knowledge. My absorptive capacity was very low in that context.

In general, the more generalized scientific knowledge you have, the easier it is to pickup and read these papers quickly (if they've been written for a general scientific audience). If they're CS papers, clearly CS foundations help (theory, nomenclature, current and past popular trends, etc.).


Full agree on both points. I’d also add that if the papers are in any true experimental science field, a baseline understanding of probability and statistics will be necessary for the reader to really understand the results. For CS or theory papers, generally that is less or not necessary.

+1

It's never easy but it gets easier. Do it a lot.


Here's what I do: I start reading from the last paragraph.

I can barely get myself to read anything long, even exams! Somehow, starting from the last paragraph, and sometimes even the last sentence, and going back, makes me actually read the text. This also worked with research papers (conclusion -> 1st paragraph). Maybe give it a try?


I do this too. There’s something about reading things backwards that more actively engages and focuses my mind.

It’s partly because seeing the conclusions first triggers a “why”, that I then have to go back and discover in the previous explanations. Most research papers put the final conclusions in the abstract, but each subsequent section and paragraph also ends with intermediate conclusions. Read those first, then go backwards to find out why.

It’s also partly because it forces my mind to actively rearrange the knowledge coming into it, rather than having it all neatly pre-arranged by the author.

Maybe other things too, but for whatever reason it helps me be an active, rather than passive, reader.


Research papers demand more read-throughs compared to other genres. My fellow grad students had their own reading styles, but I think my approach was fairly typical:

- Review: amass several papers related to the topic, either through search (e.g. Google Scholar) or through a survey paper on the topic.

- Filter: read the abstracts and decide which papers are worth skimming.

- Skim: read the introduction, skim the figures and their captions, and conclusion. This step is another filter; ask yourself whether diving into the technical minutia is worth it.

- Read: read the paper in-depth, taking notes in your manner of choice (which seems to be slides for OP).

- Reread: read and skim the paper a few more times until you could summarize it to someone else. Divorce yourself from the paper by reading other papers, and revisit it to contextualize its contribution.


I upvoted the parent, and I would add another important step, namely:

- Compare: read similar papers (such as papers trying to solve the same problem both before and after the current paper) to get a sense of the whole space and range of methods tried to date. Also, look what later papers say about the paper under scrutiny.

Finally, reflect on how the various papers found in the 'Gather' phase related to each other: do they refine each other, refute, supersede etc.?


That's pretty close to my approach. I'd suggest not just limiting yourself to just the initial set of papers amassed in your "Review" step, though. Feel free to add new papers to your queue at any time if you come across an interesting term or citation. It's okay for this to be a breadth-first search.

I agree on this and definitely left this out, though I do find this step difficult - it’s a recursive loop with a fuzzy stopping condition that can get pretty deep.

Another comment mentions the possibility of a reading disorder. Since you have a pretty good measure of "45 minutes to read/comprehend 3 paragraphs", have you tried text-to-speech and seeing if you're faster that way?

Or maybe reformatting the text with layout, font, font-sizes that work better for you?

Not suggesting either solves the problem, but the small experiments might help identify an issue.

I have also had problems understanding some research papers, but the example one you linked is pretty straightforward to me. Reading the whole paper would take me some time, but not 45 minutes for 3 typical paragraphs. And I'm not that great at it. That's why I'm seconding the idea that maybe dyslexia or something similar is in play here.


I even went to doctor to see if I have reding dyslexia but I am just getting proate, zosert and sizodon tabs IDK if anyone of them is for dyslexia...PS in the past I could easily read textbooks(that used to have maths in them)..so I am not sure what it is. I am decent at reading slides as well. My problem is getting the gist by reading stuffs. I simply can't get what is the gist after reading paragraphs. brain extension as they say it.

For journal papers I get you completely dude. I am a PhD, and now a research scientist. Reading and writing journal papers is what I have been doing for close to a decade now - and yet to really get a paper - I often have to dedicate two-three days to that paper.

Many people in my field say that they have read a paper, but from my experience all they have done is read the abstract and the figure captions. That's not reading a paper.

Think of it this way - the work in the paper often took several months, and then a few more months to write, revise and polish it. It literally condenses one to two man-years worth of acquired knowledge in 10 pages - it should not shame you then that it takes a few days for you to digest it all.


> the work in the paper often took several months, and then a few more months to write, revise and polish it. It literally condenses one to two man-years worth of acquired knowledge in 10 pages - it should not shame you then that it takes a few days for you to digest it all.

Essential point, but in the interest of practicality: is there a way such knowledge could be communicated more efficietly?


> Essential point, but in the interest of practicality: is there a way such knowledge could be communicated more efficiently?

Papers could be restructured better in my opinion. Journal papers are still written as if they are for a print magazine - hyper tight and page constrained. Print scientific journals are basically dead, so why write them like that? The supplemental information should be a part of the main paper.


I think they could be translated to slides and videos, but researchers don't have time to do that...

I think of myself as an AI/deep learning practitioner, definitely not a researcher.

I am always on the lookout for papers that might help with something I need for work. I do a quick skim of papers and when I identify one or two that might be very useful, then I read them slowly and repeatedly. For me, the trick is finding material that is worth a lot of study time.


For non-fiction, I almost never read every word in order, from start to finish. I think about what question I want to answer, and how I can get that answer quickly. The table of contents tells you how the book is organized, and the index shows you what's in it. I usually look at those first, then flip to the parts I want to know about and read them.

For research papers, I almost always start by reading the abstract and the conclusion, then reading related sections to answer questions I have about that. I'm not editing papers, or checking their validity: I just want to know what they're going on about.

Another thing is to ask whether you're reading the right document. For that GFS paper, I wonder if it's the right place to start learning about GFS. Ideally, you'd come to it with enough knowledge already that you don't need puzzle over every word. Are there introductory explanations? Youtube videos? Go over those first and come back later, and the paper probably won't be as cryptic.

For fiction, the best advice I ever got from an English professor, which changed my relationship with books, is this: if you don't like it, and nobody is making you read it, then stop reading it. Read something you can't put down instead.

In general, I think you haven't actually read something until you've read it twice. So, read it through once quickly, to get the idea, then read it again more slowly to understand it.


actually I am decent at learning from videos. Problem occurs when there are no videos to learn. I sometimes wonder how will I learn after college?


Also found this set useful

==========

How to Read a Scientific Paper Efficiently and Critically https://youtu.be/lXJeU2dzzWo

How to Use Narrative Structure in a Scientific Paper https://youtu.be/XW77hpjNTvY

Writing Is Thinking https://youtu.be/tX9asHdFSv4

How to Write Clearly: Cohesion & Coherence https://youtu.be/FpOPA3GFeJg

==========


IMHO, reading just to know/remember/consume research paper, textbook or long text content is kinda unnatural. Usually, what I do is find a problem that I genuinely want to solve or a question I want to answer, then I'll read to find any information seem useful. If that information can solve my problem or lead me to right direction, I'll remember better and feel more natural.

So as a phd student I’ve learned the thing about reading research papers is that yes, it takes ages to read your first 2-3 major papers in a field, but after that, you’ve probably picked up a lot of the vocabulary and basic ideas, and you’ll be surprised at how little content many additional papers have once you’re actually steeped in the lingo.

This! So many other comments are basically describing shortcuts. Skim it, read the abstract, read the paragraphs backwards etc. Those tricks might be useful some day, but first you need to learn how to read a paper straight through.

Accept that you're going to be slow. Start with a paper you know will be worthwhile, something seminal in your field.

Get rid of all distractions, preferably by going to a different environment. Leave your phone at home or at the very least silence it and leave it in your bag. Print the paper out on dead trees, or otherwise display it on a medium that cannot display a web browser or other digital distractions.

Just start reading, deliberately reading every word. Underline or take notes in the margin if those might be your thing. When you get to something you don't understand, don't skip past it and figure you'll fill it in from context - read it again and make yourself figure out exactly what it means (exception: you can try figuring things out from context, but limit it to several sentences). You might have to look some things up to gain understanding, which un/fortunately today is via the web, but don't get distracted. If you're feeling overwhelmed you can take a break, but don't jump to another activity. Stick with it.

Eventually you will learn how to read dense things quicker, how to quickly figure out where something fits in a field, whether reading something in depth is worth it. But that will only come with experience.


The first thing to know is your goal. Your goal could be things such as: to glean core concepts and methodologies, to determine how a paper relates to another research work (such as your own), to find an answer to a specific question (or determine that the paper does not answer that question), to be able to implement what is in the paper in code, or to develop the material further in your own research.

Obviously, how you should read dense technical material will differ greatly depending on your goal.

For instance, if you are looking only for an answer to a specific question, you might prefer to do a sort of DFS on the paper. Read the intro material to get an impression of where in the paper the answer might lie, then go read those parts (in descending order of likelihood of containing the answer). A similar approach might work if you already know the area and are simply looking to see if the paper contains a particular result. Sometimes this process will still require some investment in understanding notation and terminology, but time spent doing this should be kept to a minimum.

On the other hand, if you intend to master the material and develop it further, then you might take a totally different approach where you prepare your own set of detailed notes on the paper (taking care to expand, in places where your own knowledge is lacking, techinical terms and concepts that are used in the paper but not explained using secondary references). This might also include working out many examples or thought experiments to help you internalize the logic and concepts. For a significant paper this process will take a long time, but it will be worthwhile if you truely want to understand the paper comprehensively and be able to build on it in a substantial way.

No matter your goal and approach, the point is that reading a paper productively is a systematic thing. Skimming technical papers lacksidasically is often a waste of time that doesn't produce value.


Lots of great advice already - here's what I do

First, I was introduced to this "type" of reading at a fairly young age (early-mid teens), so I've got over a quarter century of practice

The key to reading these types of things are threefold, imo:

- skim for major topics - don't try to "understand" yet

- read it as if it were of interest to you - you'll pick up a few things you didn't when skimming, but more importantly you'll become pretty familiar with the writing style employed, the author's/authors' voice, and be able to "guess" where they're going next (because you skimmed it already (right?), and actually do have an inkling of where it's going)

- convert it into something you want to impart to someone else - all learning is self-learning (https://www.electronicdesign.com/technologies/dsps/article/2...), and you don't really understand something until you can teach it to someone else

A bonus tip:

- read lots of similar[ish] types of materials to get the best understanding you can (or, at least, up to what you actually want to have)

Practice doesn't make perfect. But, if you plan it, it can make you proficient :)


When I was in grad school, I took over a month to go through a single paper [0]. I wasn't taking long breaks, I was trying to make headway almost every day. This wasn't procrastination or me being a slow reader. I don't need months to read 70 pages. I do need months to read 70 pages when each page has ideas that require filling several blackboards to understand.

[0] https://annals.math.princeton.edu/2005/161-1/p10


I quite enjoy the technique of transcribing a book into my own words. The benefit is at least threefold:

- writing out things you've learned helps with retention of information

- if you're putting the contents into your own words, you can't do that without understanding the words first. This forces you to truly consider the implications of what you're reading and to begin to systematise your understanding

- you end up with a much shorter crib notes version of the book to refer back to later, written in your own words for ease of access


> ...But I have issue with reading huge huge texts as you know in this case it will require too much time when I do this. Is there way to simplify this reading style?

I'd suggest you to start with figuring out why you need to face all that reading.

Is it to comply with some external requirement or is it motivated by your own need to find the knowledge?

Look at any printed material as some surrogate of a conversation. In fact most of books and papers are structured just for that. Abstracts are supposed to give an overview of context and touch on results. Conclusions are supposed to condense and underscore the findings. So reading papers is one way to learn how others solve(d) problems that may be similar to yours.

With books it may be harder to carve your pathway according to interest, as often the narrative may be progressive and assuming some degree of prior knowledge.

If you seem to blank on too many paragraphs and if you find it hard to paraphrase a passage, perhaps the material is too advanced for you at present. Mind that often papers do not show all intermediate details, simply mention them in passing or naming some stat package used. Well, take a note but treat that as some 'magic' box which turns to be some accepted practice. At the end the results should be summarized in plain language.


I just finished reading 'A Thousand Brains' by Jeff Hawkins and in the suggested readings he includes a bit on how to approach scientific papers that might be helpful to you:

"Only after you have learned the nomenclature, history, and concepts of a topic would I recommend reading individual scientific papers. The title and abstract of a paper are rarely sufficient to know if it has the information you are looking for. I typically read the abstract. Then I scan the images, which in a well-written paper should tell the same story as the text. Then I jump to the discussion section at the end. This section is often the only place where the authors plainly describe what the paper is about. Only after these preliminary steps will I consider reading the paper from beginning to end."

I think your intentions are a bit different though. You want to understand the complete text and all its nuances, while Jeff is interested in specific information.


Leave your phone at home, print out the material if it’s not already on paper, and go to a library. Also bring a notebook and pen for scaffolding your understanding on paper. Make sure you have nothing you need to do afterwards or that you block out 2x the amount of time you think it will take, so there is no time pressure or need for you to be thinking about the other tasks you will need to get to. When you need to take a break, take it.

And if it doesn’t work out that particular day, that’s fine too. Don’t beat yourself up over it or try to force it. Just re-attempt pretty soon, like “later in the same day” soon, or “the following morning” soon- the key to more steady and fluid accomplishments of lots of little tasks is winnowing down the timeframe for little feedback loops.

tl;dr: you already know everything you think you need to do it :)


"Don't beat yourself up over or try to force it" is really important when trying do things that takes time to cultivate as a habit where progress seems slow.

Read with a purpose, why are you reading the paper? Make sure you have clear questions going in, else you are just reading for the sake of reading and it is tedious and wasteful. If you read with purpose you can be much more pragmatic. Read the abstract and the conclusion (or last part of the discussion). Have you obtained the answers you were looking for? Probably not completely, so what are you missing? Not convinced look, at the methods! Not understanding things properly, read the introduction! Doubting the conclusion, read the whole discussion. Does this mean you don't have to read the whole paper, probably not.... but it will make you comprehend the whole thing much better and still faster, because, like you indicate, comprehension is the issue, rather than the text length.

Check out the book "How to Read a Book" I found it to be a great help in reading and digesting texts.


I was a very slow reader in college and found out later, after speaking to an eye doctor, that I had BVD (binocular vision disorder) which has a symptom of patients needing to read and reread text many times (in addition to general anxiety and walking problems, oddly). After getting corrective (prism) lenses my reading life improved drastically as well as a lot of other things. What's crazy to me is that I had no idea my eyes were pointing in different directions. How many people must go undiagnosed? Anyway, maybe something to look into.

There are books are “smooth” readings. Page-turner as they say. And then there are other books that one feels like one is wrestling with the author. An example of the first category for me is “The C Programming Language” it’s a great read, beautiful writing even if you’re not interested in C. An example of the second category is “The Power of Habit”. I couldn’t finish it. The parts that I read could have been said in a paragraph or two but that would have resulted in an article and not a book; no gain in that, is there, sometimes I wonder.

Research papers are written for professors and others in the field who are deeply familiar with the topic being investigated. They are not written for laymen or as general introductions to a topic.

Textbooks may be introductory in nature, or may be advanced and assume a lot of prerequisite knowledge.

If you are trying to learn about something new, you have to start with the basics.

If you are struggling and finding that the text makes no sense at all then ask yourself if you are diving too deep too fast.


> It takes me 45 minutes to read 3 paragraph and comprehend it at least.

Words per minute is a poor metric for judging your reading. Information density per word varies greatly, and if the information is new to you, it will take much more time.

But why judge you reading ability at all? It takes the time it takes. While there are ways to speed it up a bit, the inescapble question is, what is worth reading during our short lives?


Note that the paper you referred to is relatively dense. It should take a while to fully comprehend all of the details.

That said, sometimes you don’t need to comprehend all of the details. In those cases, use reading strategies that will let you tease out the main points quickly. Other folks in this thread have pointed to some good sources, so I won’t repeat them here.

Best of luck!


The secret sauce is to read slowly and not care about where you are in the paper. It’s the same with marathon running. If you keep thinking that you haven’t made much progress you’re quickly going to give up. What matters is progress. And then, out of nowhere, you’ll have read that paper. The more you do that the faster you’ll get.

You're complaining about reading 3 paragraphs. I think this problem is different from what other's are thinking.

People are thinking you don't have the attention span or self control to read something dense or heavy... I think it's something more than that. You could have a certain condition.


my issue is with getting gist after reading sth...i simply can't get that..i.e comprehend what I read properly in my own words. I try to memorize what is written in book as I don't get gist. So I prefer learning from slides from various US universities.

maybe it's dyslexia or something. You should see a doctor about it.

Also this is what "dyslexia" means:

"a general term for disorders that involve difficulty in learning to read or interpret words, letters, and other symbols, but that do not affect general intelligence."


I found this a very useful resource when learning to read a research paper: https://web.stanford.edu/class/ee384m/Handouts/HowtoReadPape...

If you’re in university your school probably offers student development classes. One or more of them should cover study habits.

You could also consider talking to a mental health professional. I can’t diagnose you, but a few things you mentioned make me wonder if you may have a mild form of one of these:

* ADHD

* Dyslexia

* Internet Addiction


I am taking proate, zosert and sizodon. I didn't have dyslexleia in the past and could read bookds(they used to contain lots of numbers tho).

If part of your issue is maintaining concentration when reading ‘walls of text’, you might try BeeLine Reader. [1]

1: http://www.beelinereader.com

I’m the founder, and happy to give an extended free trial to any HNers!


This might be helpful - How to Read a Technical Paper - https://www.cs.jhu.edu/~jason/advice/how-to-read-a-paper.htm...

While Keshav‘s paper was already recommended, the beginning of this talk by Andrew Ng is along the same ideas: https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=733m6qBH-jI

Is that an issue with willpower or concentration?

I think it's the latter. I would suggest you to do some meditation.

Throwing an arrow in the air but it might be the case that your mind is wandering too much when you start reading. Doing some concentration practice will help.


I don't think that's problem. My problem is getting gist by learning.

What really helped me was using the Zettelkasten system, as described in S. Ahrens "How to Take Smart Notes". I don't follow it exactly as described although the principles it describes were eye opeining to me.

Practice. And take it easy at first. I started reading them in the bathroom :).

This. Every academic field has its own language, culture, and body of knowledge it regards as "fundamental." To go from reading English to reading a CS paper involves learning these.

And this takes a metric fuck ton of practice. There is no royal road.

IMO, you should probably start with easier material until you strengthen these muscles. Some examples of friendly CS texts that comes to mind are Programming Pearls, the C programming language, or the SQL paper by Codd https://www.seas.upenn.edu/~zives/03f/cis550/codd.pdf

I'd be curious what texts other people would recommend for someone who is a student getting a bachelor's degree in CS.


The McCarthy paper on Lisps is also interesting and reasonably easy to follow (I'm not even a CS student).

http://www-formal.stanford.edu/jmc/recursive.html

Full title is - Recursive Functions of Symbolic Expressions and Their Computation by Machine.


For research papers: skim the abstract and end of the intro, read the images/graphs, then skim the conclusion.

Read the methods last.


Patience. I’m about to finish a technical book that is around 1000 pages. I have been reading it for 10 months already.

my god man...idk how much time it would take me lol.

15 minutes an hour + on the loo



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