Who needs to learn how to read?
After all, we all learned how to read fairly early in life, usually in elementary school, right?
But do you know how to read?
More importantly, you really reading?
Reading can , as long as you’re paying attention
and leaving time to actually .
But what we’re talking about here is , rather than how you say it.
If you haven’t noticed, competition in the world of online content is fierce.
Anyone playing to win is searching high and low for information that others don’t have,
which for many means subscribing to a ridiculous number of RSS feeds.
While seeking out novel information from a wide variety of sources is admirable,
it doesn’t necessarily give you an advantage. The ancient Greeks had a label for those
who were widely read but not read—they called them sophomores.
As in … not a second-year college student
(I suppose there’s not really much of a distinction).
Scanners and Pleasure Seekers
We know that people don’t read well online. They ruthlessly scan for interesting chunks
of information rather than digesting the whole, and they want to be entertained in the process.
This is the reality that online publishers deal with,
so we disguise our nuggets of wisdom with friendly formatting and clever analogies.
But that doesn’t mean should read that way.
If you’ve been publishing online for even a small amount of time, you’ve seen someone
leave a comment that clearly demonstrates they didn’t read or understand the content.
Even more painful is when someone writes a responsive post that clearly misses the entire point
of the original article.
While it happens to us all from time to time, you do not want to consistently be one of these people. Credibility is hard enough to establish without routinely demonstrating that you fail to grasp a topic you’ve chosen to write about, whether in an article or a comment.
Plus, if you’re doing nothing but scanning hundreds of RSS feeds
and reading purely to be entertained, you’re at a disadvantage.
Someone in your niche or industry is likely reading books and reading deeper
to become the higher authority.
Or they will after they read this article.
Information vs. Understanding
People often think of learning as an information-gathering and retention process.
But being able to recall and regurgitate information is low-level learning
compared with insightful understanding.
Bloggers are big on regurgitation. These cut-and-paste creatives add value to the world
through a mash-up of sources, right? Maybe, but without the ability to understand
and communicate what it all means for the reader, you’re simply passing on your reading obligations to others, and that’s not giving people what they look for in a publication.
On the other hand, if you understand everything you read upon a casual once over,
are you truly learning anything new? The material that gives you an edge in the insight department is the stuff that’s . In other words, the writer is your superior when it comes to that particular subject matter, and it’s your job to close the expertise gap by reading well.
You do that by moving beyond learning by instruction,
and increasing your true understanding by .
For example, you read a challenging book full of great information,
and you understand enough of it to know that you understand all of it.
At that point, you can dive into the book again and read more carefully.
You can go to supplemental resources. You can read other books. All that matters is you do the work rather than asking someone, and I guarantee you’re really learning in the process.
For example, next time you read a challenging blog post and you’re not clear on a point,
your first inclination might be to ask a question in the comments. Instead, read the post again.
If it’s still not clear, go do some research on your own to see if you can figure it out.
Then when you finally do ask a question, you’re on an entirely different level of understanding
and can likely engage in a meaningful dialogue with the author.
Instruction is important and beneficial.
But true understanding comes from your own exploration and discovery along the path.
The Four Levels of Reading
Back in 1940, a guy named Mortimer J. Adler jolted the “widely read” into realizing
they might not be with a book called .
Updated in 1973 and still going strong today, identifies four levels of reading:
Each of these reading levels is cumulative.
You can’t progress to a higher level without mastering the levels that come before.
1. – Aptly named, elementary reading consists of remedial literacy,
and it’s usually achieved during the elementary schooling years. Sadly, many high schools and colleges must offer remedial reading courses to ensure that elementary reading levels are maintained, but very little instruction in advanced reading is offered.
2. – Scanning and superficial reading are not evil,
as long as approached as an active process that serves an appropriate purpose.
Inspectional reading means giving a piece of writing a quick yet meaningful advance review in order to evaluate the merits of a deeper reading experience.
There are two types:
You’re checking the title, the subheads, and you’re selectively dipping in and out of content
to gauge interest. The same can be done with a book—go beyond the dust jacket
and peruse the table of contents and each chapter, but give yourself a set amount of time to do it.
You don’t ponder, and you don’t stop to look things up.
If you don’t get something, you don’t worry about it.
You’re basically priming yourself to read again at a higher level if the subject matter is worthy.
Stopping at inspectional reading is only appropriate if you find no use for the material. Unfortunately, this is all the reading some people do in preparation for their own writing.
3. – At this level of reading, you’ve moved beyond superficial reading
and mere information absorption. You’re now engaging your critical mind
to dig down into the meaning and motivation beyond the text.
To get a true understanding of a book, you would:
Identify and classify the subject matter as a whole
Divide it into main parts and outline those parts
Define the problem(s) the author is trying to solve
Understand the author’s terms and key words
Grasp the author’s important propositions
Know the author’s arguments
Determine whether the author solves the intended problems
Show where the author is uninformed, misinformed, illogical or incomplete
You’ll note that the inspectional reading you did perfectly sets the stage for an analytical reading. But so far, we’re talking about reading one book. The highest level of reading allows you to synthesize knowledge from a comparative reading of several books about the same subject.
4. – It’s been said that anyone can read five books on a topic
and be an expert. That may be true, but how you read those five books will make all the difference.
If you read those five books analytically, you will become an expert on what five authors have said.
If you read five books syntopically, you will develop your own unique perspective
and expertise in the field.
In other words, syntopical reading is not about the existing experts.
It’s about you and the problems you’re trying to solve, in this case for your own readers.
In this sense, the books you read are simply tools that allow you to form an understanding
that’s never quite existed before. You’ve melded the information in those books with your own life experience and other knowledge to make novel connections and new insights.
You, my friend, are now an expert in your own right.
Here are the five steps to syntopical reading:
You must quickly indentify which five (or 15) books you need to read from a sea of unworthy titles. Then you must also quickly identify the relevant parts and passages that satisfy your unique focus.
the author’s terms of art and key words. This time, you assimilate the language of each author
into the terms of art and key words that you choose, whether by agreeing with the language
of one author or devising your own terminology.
as opposed to the problems each author wants to solve. This may require that you draw inferences
if any particular author does not directly address one of your questions.
If any one author fails to address any of your questions, you messed up at the inspection stage.
When experts have differing or contradictory responses to the same question,
you’re able to flesh out all sides of an issue, based on the existing literature.
When you understand multiple perspectives within an individual issue,
you can intelligently discuss the issue, and come to your own conclusion (which may differ
from everyone else, thereby expanding the issue and hopefully adding unique value).
since disagreements about truth abound with just about any topic. The value is found
within the discussion among competing view points concerning the same root information,
and you’re now conversant enough to hold your own in a discussion of experts.
This is what the “online conversation” was supposed to look like according to early bloggers,
and sometimes, it does. But mostly, the online conversation looks like the unqualified, unsubstantiated opinions of the ill-informed, and you’re not looking to be part of that scene.
Be a Demanding Reader for the Win
Reading, at its fundamental essence, is not about absorbing information.
It’s about asking questions, looking for answers, understanding the various answers,
and deciding for yourself. Think of reading this way, and you quickly realize how this allows you
to deliver unique value to your readers as a publisher.
If you think all of this sounds like a lot of work, well… you’re right. And most people won’t do it,
just like most people will never blog or publish online in the first place.
That’s why your readers need you. They need you to do the work for them,
because they don’t want to become an expert. So, it’s your job to understand the complex
and grasp the essentials, then make it simple, easy to read, and entertaining.
You’re on it, right?
Introduction to Turbo Charged Reading YouTube
A practical overview of Turbo Charged Reading YouTube
How to choose a book. A Turbo Charged Reading YouTube
Emotions when Turbo Charged Reading YouTube
Advanced Reading Skills Perhaps you’d like to join my FaceBook group ?
Perhaps you’d like to check out my sister blogs:
www.innermindworking.blogspot.com gives many ways for you to work with the stresses of life
www.ourinnerminds.blogspot.com which takes advantage of the experience and expertise of others.
www.happyartaccidents.blogspot.com just for fun.
To quote the Dr Seuss himself, “The more that you read, the more things you will know.
The more that you learn; the more places you'll go.”
As people won’t learn to read online properly any time soon,
we’ve got to stick to a several researches that point to the fact that the most important information should be placed at the upper middle part of the screen.
Nice post b.t.w.
I’d not heard of “How to read a book” – thanks a lot for bringing it to my/our attention
Skim reading without duly taking in the context or argument is something
that I’ve been consciously guilty of for some time.
I’ve largely failed in my attempts to remedy it so far, but this offers some great tips.
When I prune my reading list to be able to concentrate more on my core areas of interest, I’ll be sure to retain Copyblogger
This may be the best, most valuable thing you have published to date. And that’s saying something.
I will try to get my college-bound daughter to read this. It can only help. Thank you. James
Just reading other blog posts can make you a better writer.
I try to explain that to my readers all the time.
Brian, Thanks for the link.
Some great points and perhaps controversial (but true) statements.
I love this one:
“Plus, if you’re doing nothing but scanning hundreds of RSS feeds and reading purely
to be entertained, you’re at a disadvantage. Someone in your niche or industry
is likely reading books and reading deeper to become the higher authority.”
It’s what I’ve been trying to get across myself–that bloggers who regularly read books
written by accomplished authorities and experts will become better writers
(both in style and substance) than bloggers who only read blogs.
“But being able to recall and regurgitate information is low-level learning compared with insightful understanding. Bloggers are big on regurgitation.”
All of us bloggers know this, whether we’ll admit it or not.
Nice explanation of The Four Levels of Reading.
I used Level 2: Inspectional Reading to read it. It looks like it “merits…a deeper reading experience” so I’m going to reread it on Level 3.
Really good, substantive, thought-provoking post.
Looks like somebody’s been reading Mortimer J. Adler syntopically.
I don’t usually leave comments all that often on blog posts but I had to say – Well put.
I know that I get overwhelmed with the bulk of information online.
I think that we oftentimes swap great books and “deeper” reading material for quick blog posts
and even twitter feeds.
Those that are succeeding in online publishing master the fundamentals you’ve laid out.
Joel Mark Witt
Very true…to be a better writer, even a direct response copywriter,
you must become an avid reader.
Reading fiction novels develop story telling skills and stories draw people into reading sales letters.
“How To Read A Book” is a must. I first picked up a copy when the self-help guru Jim Rohn mentioned it at one of his seminars.
This article expertly highlights the differences between being well read and being well, read.
The amount of cutting and pasting in the world of blogs, and even in real life is maddening.
I recently wrote an article on Fight Club on my blog. In addition to my readers,
I showed it to a bunch of friends and family members. Not one of them understood
what the movie was about. Hint: It’s not about crazy people blowing stuff up.
Basically, with any media, I feel that most people have become sophomoric, in that they consume the information, regurgitate quotes and viewpoints, but never truly understand anything.