Thursday, August 13, 2015

The art of nonlinear reading - How to read research notes/papers/books?

Reading a text can be linear - you start reading from page 1 and go to 2, 3, and so on till you finish the text. Novels, Stories etc. are read in this fashion. The sequence does matter as they represent the evolution with time.

When we read a paper, book or notes given by a student, our objective is to understand what the text wants to say. For this kind of technical content, there may be paragraphs which we need to read twice or more; some of the paragraphs need not be read as we already understand what is written in them. Reading the content in an order decided by us is what I call Non-linear reading. It is suitable for studying the research papers, books, notes. I found it very useful for studying the notes/papers given to me by students.

There exist a third category of reading - skimming. In this we just skim at fast pace through entire content just to get an idea of what the text is all about. This does not help in understanding it,  but to decide that whether I should spend time in reading it.

Since the text is usually organized in paragraphs, we can decide the read a para at a time. One can repeat a para if needed. Viewing the index at the beginning is very helpful in deciding what section to be read first. Within a section, we can use skimming to identify which para to study first. I found that this technique allows us to understand the content in perspectives. I could find lot of flaws in papers written by my students when I used non-linear reading, as it seems to allow us to also have a big picture of what we are discussing in the paper.

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