Francis Bacon once said “some books are to be tasted, others to be swallowed, and some few to be chewed and digested.”
I think what he was trying to say is, there is no one fit all approach to reading.
That is, you don’t want to approach a textbook like how you’d read an email.
And you don’t want to approach an email, like how you’d approach a training manual.
It’s important to gauge the material and adjust your reading according to the difficulty, importance, form, and genre.
You are probably thinking this is obvious.
It is very obvious.
As obvious as it seems though, people continue to read every material as if it were all the same.
The main reason for this is because we get habituated to reading a certain way. Especially if we are always reading the same type of material, such as a novel or textbook.
Once we get into a pattern, that pattern is used on all materials.
It’s not conscious, it just sort of happens.
As soon as we start, our habit takes over, and we’re in the habituated pattern.
And if our habituated pattern of reading doesn’t fit the material, we have a hard time reading or making sense of the content.
This causes us to assume we are not cut out for that subject, topic, or information.
It’s not that you’re not cut out, you just have to step back and adjust your reading process.
For example, if you are reading a technical manual with detailed procedures of how to do something, well you are going to want to chew and digest each line of text. It’s not something you can scan or skim through haphazardly.
If you are reading material related to your major or profession, you don’t have to pay as close attention, but still enough to fully understand the material. This can include taking notes and stopping regularly to review and test your knowledge.
The same goes if the text is complicated with big words and fancy grammar, or if you are new to the subject.
On the other hand, if you already know a lot about the topic or know a lot about the author’s other works, you can be relaxed in your approach.
You can also be relaxed if you are used to a certain type of material. Some people are used to reading textbooks. Whether its computer science or political science, they have no problems learning from such material. For others, textbooks are stale and boring, so they have to really change their pace and rhythm to follow along.
Another thing to consider is how long the information you’re reading will be relevant to you. If you are looking for a solution to a problem, and once solved, you could care less, this is where you can scan and skim.
So next time you pick up a book, don’t just start reading like you would any other material.
Step back and gauge the material and adjust your reading according.
This is why the last two articles on preview and purpose are so important. They help you step back to gauge the material and understand your purpose. If you get that down, adjusting your reading becomes easy.