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How to Read Non-Fiction

By KP Mohanan

Reading lots of books doesn’t necessarily make you wiser. To make the most of 'reading', we, at ThinQ, have come up with a structured approach.

Here are some tips on "Higher Order Reading".

Reading for Understanding

a) Read the whole article/book once, and summarise the gist of it in a single sentence. Someone who hasn't read the book should understand from that sentence what YOU think the book is all about (the essence - the core message - of the book.)

b) Now, expand that sentence into a paragraph. Again, in a way that someone who hasn't read the book should get what YOU think is the essence of the book.

c) Formulate a set of questions such that the summary of the book would be the answers to those questions.

d) Drawing upon 1 (a)-(c), write a 2-3 page review that is worth publishing, summarising what the article/book says, with comments on its strengths and weaknesses.

Reading for Deep Comprehension

a) Read the book again, this time connecting one or more (but not more than five) central ideas (concepts and statements) of the book to what ALREADY exists in YOUR mind (the memory of your experiences, your understanding of what you think you already know, ...).

b) Ask questions of the form "What is X?" where X is one of the concepts in (2a). Your answer should shed light on the similarities and differences between these concepts and related concepts and analogous concepts are unified. (e.g. what is 'linear' such that 'lines' in your experiential knowledge, 'linear' in linear correlation, 'linear’ in ‘linear algebra' and 'linear' in 'non-linear dynamics', etc form a single concept?)

Reading for Knowledge

a) Articulate the central claims of the article/book (a single primary claim, with two or three secondary claims if needed. Not more than three.)

b) Identify and articulate the arguments (proof / rational justification /evidence and arguments) that the author offers in support of the claims.

c) Critically evaluate the soundness of the arguments (evaluate the validity of the reasoning and the credibility of the premises).

d) On the basis of (2), think of additional arguments in support of or against (3a).

e) On the basis of 3 (a-d), decide whether you should accept or reject (or keep on hold) the claims in (3a).

Voila! Now, if you decide to accept a claim, it becomes part of YOUR knowledge.

If you follow this approach, you might end up reading fewer books than before. But you will most certainly KNOW a lot more.


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