Use the the same strategy for text assignments and bureaucratic verbiage as for reading anything intelligently (laid out my 11/23/12 post): Mess around, which evolves into BFAR – Browse, Focus, Absorb, Reinforce. Looking-before-leaping, is almost always a good idea.
Here are two more ways to take charge. Taking charge, of course, is what the Mess-Around method really is. After all, unless you are some sort of a wimp, you are the one who decides what you want out of that page of print or from that long weblog. No sane person starts in reading word for word, line by line. Right? How are you going to find gold if you don’t even know that’s what you’re after?
1. Read Backwards
If you have far less time than you think you need, try starting at the back of the chapter or article . . . or whatever. If I were you, I’d leaf through fast anyway just for an overview, but then take a look at the last paragraph or so. The gist is often bunched in the summary. If you’re in a really big hurry, that might give you at least an overview, some idea of what the piece is all about. Better than nothing, for sure. Busy professionals routinely look through piles of stuff one their desks that way. Then they decide for themselves how much time they give to a piece.
And if you keep on browsing toward the front, skipping, skimming, you may feel pretty comfortable half way through.
Reading backwards isn’t all that nutty:Reading backwards has to be active reading. It forces you to pay attention; you can’t do this passively. You have to translate it into your own understanding as you go. A lot of what’s in that article may be stuff you already know, so what’s new? And do you care? You decide what you want.
This kind of messing around is active processing of information. The point is, if you have some system, it will work much better than if you don’t. I’d bet you already know that. It’s your show; you’re not dominated by someone who decided to write a book – who may or may not have something to say. You are in this for yourself, not for your teacher or your boss.
You are free to get meaning any way you can dream up.
2. Read the Bold Print and Look at Pictures
If you have your wits about you, this might work. Certain books don’t deserve more. If that’s the case, this much preparation may be all you need. Check out the bold print and pictures.
This approach will give you the pattern of the chapter and the author’s main points. (See? That’s one of my main points, so it’s in bold print.) You will also learn whether you may already have enough background to supply your own supporting evidence. No one comes totally empty-handed to any new experience, so put your own knowledge into the mix. If the main ideas make sense to you, you may not need the author’s explanation.
But such an overview also reveals how the ideas are structured and how they are related. So, you are forming in your mind the pattern you’ll need for storing what you find. That’s a memory device. You’re not making a meaningless pile of trivia.
Meanwhile, you can’t help but begin to connect the ideas you find in the print and ideas of your own. That’s you the mind works. Next time you try this out, watch your mind at work.
Finally, if you still have some time, a bold-print-and-picture approach will have revealed what’s still fuzzy and just where it is. Now you can go back and mess around with that.