How To Read a Book: Skimming

How To Read a Book: Skimming


Now, I’m not trying to judge you or
insult you, but in all likelihood you have not been taught how to read a book. I know you have been taught how to read, sure but there’s a real big difference
between reading a sentence and reading a book. So, I’m gonna hazard a guess here. I’m gonna guess — this guess probably doesn’t
apply to all — but I bet it applies to most, if not all. So, I’m going to guess that when you read, especially class books – coursework, you get bored, you lose your place. When you finish
reading a page, you don’t know what you’ve read, you
can’t remember what you’ve read, you can’t remember why you read it, you don’t
know what the point is. You get frustrated, sleepy, tired when you read.
If you do like to read likely it’s fiction or the entertainment
section of the newspaper, a blog, and even – only if the entries
are short enough and you know Facebook.
When you study, you likely only pay attention only really to the bolded words if it’s a box off to the side of the text with the word and the definition in there you write that down. When you take notes, you probably do one of two things. One, you take bullet point notes – just try to list some important sounding sentences in your notes. but you don’t know how they’re related
to each other, and you don’t know what the overall point is. And later on when you get a test, you look at your at your bullet points and think, what am I supposed to do with these? If you
don’t do bullet points, likely you do summaries. You try to summarize each paragraph
and each section but kinda the same thing happens. You go back to the summaries you can’t remember the details because you didn’t write them down, and you don’t know how the summaries are
supposed to be related to each other or what the overall point is. Likely when you read and you look at
your notes, you don’t see how they’re supposed to form a cohesive whole. You don’t know how each part is related
to each other. You may not even ask the question of how this is a cohesive whole. The only thing that you do know is that
you try to write enough down where you hope that is going to be on the test and as soon as the test is over, you forget about it and you no longer care. This is how a lot of students go about reading today. You don’t believe people when they say that these things, these big heavy objects
that are very intimidating when you open them up, are filled with ideas — they are filled with ideas that can free your mind, expand your
consciousness, make you more aware of what we call the real world. You don’t believe people when they say that these can help you become a better person. Well, I hazard these guesses because these were my
own experience for a long time. These were the experiences of some of my classmates. certainly the experiences of a
lot of my students in the past, and that could be kinda depressing. Well, I’m gonna hazard another guess. I’m gonna guess that you’ve been taught to read in
kinda like the following few steps. You start at the first sentence and you read to the last. At about, uh, I don’t know every paragraph or so, you stop to summarize that paragraph
– you try to write something down. If you don’t do that then
maybe you try to highlight the text, and when you try to study, you do your best to memorize
everything that you’ve written down in the hopes of finding something familiar on the test. Well, I don’t write my
test in a way that you can rely upon familiarity so that was not going
to work when you study. You’re gonna have to comprehend.
And when you have been reading this way, you get bored, you get sleepy, and worst of all you don’t comprehend. You probably also think something
like this, you think Why should I bother reading? After all, the professor is just going to
lecture straight from the book anyway. Well this may come as good news this
may come as bad news to you I don’t know, but I don’t lecture from the book. No, I
do things differently and try to present the same material, but from a different approach. So, when you are reading the way you
have been taught how to read. It is not gonna work. Now, probably the most ineffective way to
read is to start at the first sentence and read straight to the last. This is ineffective because you don’t
know what questions you need to ask in order to comprehend the material.
Now, yeah, you do need to ask questions. If you are not asking questions, if you are
just hoping the book will have an impact on you, that’s what’s called passive reading.
Now, passive reading might work for some fiction, but it
doesn’t do a real good job with non-fiction hardly at all.
Non-fiction like philosophy, history, math, the sciences – you have to ask the right questions
in order to comprehend the material You have to direct your attention to
what’s going on within the text. That’s called active reading.
Now what I want to teach you is active reading. So, do you even know
what the six basic questions are? You probably were taught the six basic
questions in, say, something like elementary school,
but I doubt you’ve thought much of them since then. I’m gonna give you a chance to think
about this. Go ahead pause the video and think about what
are the six basic questions and write those down. You’re gonna groan internally when I tell you,
you’re gonna throw something at your computer screen. Don’t do that,
you’ll wreck your computer, but you’re gonna think
they’re so obvious that you don’t you don’t need to write them down. What do you think? What did you come up with? The six basic questions are who, what, where, when, why, and how, that’s it. Six basic questions. Now, yes you
groan internally and say, ‘wow Dr. Haugen, just wasted 20 seconds of
my life.’ Okay, do you write down those
questions in your notes when you read material? Do you write down,
‘who, what, why, where, when, and how’? I bet that if you start doing something like that,
your notes are gonna improve a lot. You’re gonna get a lot more out of the material, and
probably going to be a lot less bored. Now, in this course I’m gonna
give you some specific questions to ask, they’re applications of the six basic
questions when we are dealing with philosophy, and even these applications are real
applicable to all your other disciplines. So in other words, what you learn – how
to read in philosophy, is gonna be really useful in history, math, even science – especially science. So, I’m gonna give those questions to you through
the course these videos and through the course of this semester.
We’re gonna keep building on them as we go. Now, like I said, the absolute, probably
the most ineffective and worse way to read is to
start at the first sentence and read to the last and you ask, ‘what am I supposed to do?’ Well, you skim. Skimming is your friend. Skim well,
skim often, skim repeatedly. When you skim you are searching for the answers to these questions.
Now, I want to be clear, Skimming is not reading fast. Skimming is selective reading. Skimming is selective reading. I’m gonna take you through some
steps of where to skim first. Now, I don’t wanna say that you’re never
gonna read from the first sentence to last, no of course you are, but you skim first. and you might think to yourself, ‘wow that’s a lot of extra work.’ Well, its work, but it’s less work than
simply reading from the first sentence to the last. You get a lot less exasperated,
get a lot less frustrated, you get a lot less.. — you’re not filled with the
despair anymore when you are given a huge reading assignment. skimming is work and then
reading from the first sentence to the last but it’s also highly effective. Very effective. So, let’s take a look at some of the parts of
the book that you are going to skim in order to find these questions. Well, you’ve heard it said that you can’t
judge a book by its cover. Well, this is true to an extent.
You can judge a book by its cover just not only by its cover. A cover is a
really great place to start judging a book. So, let’s think about the title, the title is a fantastic way of telling you what kind of book it is. And by what kind of book, you might think that
this is, in which class would this book be assigned? So you have books in history, math, science, philosophy, art, literature – you can even have like history
in specific topics – the history of philosophy, and the history science. History of ideas courses are intensely interesting. You’d do ourself a favor by taking one
So the title of the book is gonna at the very least, or hopefully is gonna tell you what kind of book is, in which field does it belong? Sometimes the title of the book
will even give you hint as to the specific question that’s
being asked within that field. So, you can have for instance, a book that’s a survey of the history of the Americas. You can have a very specific
question with that, so for instance, What is the impact that the, uh, Spanish immigrants had on, uh, American civilization today? that would be a question within history. The title is a great place to start. Another really great place to start on the cover is the blurb, the publisher’s blurb. This is usually a short paragraph
that is found at the back of a book it’s a hard cover, excuse me, if it’s a softcover. If it is a hard cover sometimes it’s on the back, sometimes it’s on that little flap you open up the book you have
that little flap right there sometimes it is right there. A publisher’s blurb, what they are trying to do, well they are trying to sell you a book, right? But, the way they try to sell the book to you is
by giving you at least a description of what this book is, what questions they are trying to answer, what is the purpose for instance, what is the purpose of this
book. Another good places… Also, sometimes the publisher’s blurb will give you some detailed information as to how the author is trying to do that which is a really great clue to have before you start trying to read
the book. In addition to the publisher’s blurb You know, we are still dealing with
the cover – you also have reviews. Quite often publishers will
have a review for a book that, um, you know usually just by, you know, some kind of peer in the field, and usually it’s appreciative I have yet to see a review of a book by the
publisher that says, ‘This book stinks.’ [Laughs] No, the review that’s on the cover the book will usually be by a peer, and will try to you tell you that this
book is good, try to lend credibility to the book. And, sometimes
your gonna find customer reviews Especially if you go to Amazon.com,
you find customer reviews Now, with those review, you kind of
have to take it with a grain of salt, right? Um, whether the reviewers liked to book or
not is really not what I’m interested in when I’m reading reviews. What I’m interested in when reading reviews is, I’m trying
to find out more about the book You know, whether reviewers like it or
not if it is a good review, it will contain some kind of description of the book. So usually the description, again, its gonna be kind of like publisher’s blurb but there’s usually some kind of detailed description of what the book is like with the question the author is trying to do, or what the purpose what is the purpose of the author and
how the author tries about doing that and sometimes if it is a good review there is gonna be some kind of critique as to whether or not that attempt succeeded or failed and why. Beware any reviews that just say, ‘This book is good.’ or, ‘This book as bad.’ Those just aren’t helpful at all. So, you know, this is how you judge a
book by its cover. but like I said, we can’t stop with just
the cover, we have to open up the book. And we’ll take a look at
that in the next section. So we’ve opened up the book and we want to find out more about this book. At this point we are still skimming. We are not starting from the first sentence and reading to the last. There more than a few things you find when you first open the book, let’s turn to the table of contents. A table of contents has lots of really good information when you are trying to understand or trying to skim book
for the first time. Most notably, a table contents will give
you a better idea of what the purpose is. Now, a table of contents will have a structure to it and it will give you the plan, the how or at least what the author thinks the author is doing when they’re trying to achieve this
purpose with the book. So if they are giving some kind of argument in philosophy for instance, you’re gonna see chapter titles which
will give you clues to what terms are you know, what terms or concepts that they
are using at that point and how this ultimately leads to the conclusion. In
fact, you can sometimes read the argument of the whole book just by looking
at the table of contents. So, the table of contents is going
to tell you how the book is organized which will be really helpful later on
when you try to quickly find information. The table contents will also give you
important terms which I will talk about in the next video. The
terms are the important concepts. And a really great place to find those terms are in the titles for the chapters, okay. The table of contents also provide something like a map of
the whole book. Remember when I had the analogy
about getting lost in the forest? Well, the table of contents is your map. If
you’re reading a chapter and you don’t know why, go back to the table of contents and try to figure it out. One
place to look at is the table of contents and try to figure out from there. If nothing
else its gonna tell you whether you’re near the beginning, near the end,
or right smack in the middle of the book. so, the table of contents is a really helpful
source of information. Something that – it’s not very popular
these days to do so, but there are such things as section titles. Section titles used to be included
in the table of contents. They dont do so much anymore, I think
they’re trying to fit the table of contents all in one page, which has its advantages, it also has its
disadvantages. The advantage of having the section titles in the table of contents is that you get to
see the whole thing, the disadvantage is It makes for a long table of
contents. The last thing about the section headings – Section headings have a lot of the same advantages
as the chapter titles. The section headings Will tell you what that section is about, or it should give me some idea of what that section is about. And you’ll find many good terms in the
section headings. A section heading is also useful for not only knowing where to read, but where not to read. So for instance, if you’re in
a chapter on ancient Greek philosophers and you wanna find the section – you
wanna find information about Heraclitus, uh, you may not look in the section titled Diogenes. Um chances are that if you are trying to find
information on Heraclitus, look for the section titled Heraclitus. So that’s the table contents and the section titles. We still haven’t even gotten to the
actual text of the book. We went through the cover, we went through the table of
contents and the section headings. Now, let’s take a look at what it means
actually skim the text of the book. So, we’re looking at skimming chapters now. Now, hapters – skimming chapters is not all that different actually than what we’ve been doing before with skimming the cover and skimming the table of contents. One of the things you do with skimming chapters – if you just look at any generic chapter – a really great way to
skim just a chapter is to read the introductory paragraph, and sometimes it is two or three and the closing paragraph, and sometimes it is two to three. And this will tell you – it should be something like a summary
of what that whole chapter looks like. I should – you know really good chapters written this way will give you
kind of an outline of what this chapter is like. it’s almost like a table of contents just for that chapter. Now, there are certain chapters that are gonna be helpful, so most often I think people just ignore
the preface for a book. Now, a preface is really helpful. A preface can… sometimes the practice will give you
even more detailed information on the purpose and how the entire book is organized. Quite often prefaces, You know, if it’s like a second or third
edition, prefaces would tell you how they’re supposed to be an improvement
from this most recent edition over the past editions and tell you where those improvements are. Sometimes it gives the motivations
of the author which are not always explicit in the book itself. And motivations, while not necessarily important to how the author was successful, can give you an idea of what the authors thinking while the author is writing this book.
And also a lot of the times in prefaces You’re gonna find a list of aknowledgements, and you know, it might be some time before you
really fully appreciate that, but you know with a list of aknowledgements will give you sometimes give you an idea how thorough the
author was, you know, for instance – an author is arguing for a particular
position. Uh, say the author is arguing that all numbers universal’s – and you go to the preface, and you find amongst – in the preface you see, ‘Helpful comments were given by such in such’ and amongst those names you have somebody who thinks the
complete opposite well that’s probably a good thing. That means that the author is trying to do
his or her homework on arguing for the conclusion. After the preface is, hopefully there is going to be an introductory chapter. an introductory chapter, I mean, I suggest
reading the entire introductory chapter as a way to read the whole book. So the introductory chapter quite
often will I’ll provide an outline to the book. Again, it should mirror the table of contents, and the introductory chapter will probably tell you what the author thinks is the the correct
answer to the question that the author is dealing with. Sometimes authors are – can be a little coy about this, they
don’t wanna reveal all their cards at the beginning of the
book, and that’s okay, I get it. But just keep in mind that the
author is gonna – usually the author will tell you not only
what question – explicitly – and maybe in like a really direct form
that you can copy down directly in your notes what the author is trying to do. And if you’re dealing
with philosophy, what’s the question the philosopher is trying to ask, and quite
often, will contain the answer that the philosopher thinks is the correct answer to that question. You know you might have heard it said
that you shouldn’t run a mystery novel by reading the last chapter first, well
go ahead and do that with non-fiction, it’s completely okay. With non-fiction go
and read concluding chapter. Where as the author might be a little
coy in an introductory chapter, the author is usually really explicit in the
concluding chapter. The author quite often tells you
exactly what the author thinks he or she is doing through the course of the whole
book. And again, this provides another outline. So, you know what I mean by
coy is, sometimes in the introductory chapter the author will give kind of a teaser
question and suggest a um, how should we say, perhaps a controversial answer, and in a concluding chapter the the author is really explicit and gives something of a short explanation as to why
that answer may be controversial, but is nonetheless true. So quite often you will find that in the concluding chapter. So, this has been about skimming the book. Skimming the contents of the book. So, we talked about the preface, the introductory..
what about the other chapters? Well go ahead and skim those too. Yeah, and even before you sit down to read the first sentence to the
last sentence in the chapter itself, skim the chapter. And again, skimming is
not fast reading, skimming means selective reading. So you skim by reading the first one or
two or three paragraphs and the final one or two or three paragraphs. quite often that will give you an idea of
what that whole chapter is about. Even within, you know, even outside of those paragraphs, skim the first two sentences of a
paragraph in the chapter. It’ll tell you what.. hopefully it will tell you
what that paragraph is about ind this, again, this is really useful when you’re trying
to quickly find information. While you skim, you should take notes, and those notes will be based upon the six questions, or you know, about the
questions that I talked about earlier. Now, when you skim and you’re taking
notes this is what’s called active reading. Active reading is when
you make an effort to try to learn what is contained in the book. And what
this means exactly something like this You’re trying to understand the definition. A lot of
understanding the definition is knowing how it’s going to be applied in different circumstances. A lot of
understanding a definition is knowing how that definition is different from other definitions. And you know, difference may not mean contrary or contradictory. It might mean
how one implies the other, or how one uh… So you know if, for instance, if you say that a ros is red, well that follows that a rose is colored. So you know, a large part to reading and to comprehension is for an active, uh.. to be an active reader. You have to understand, you have to make an effort and try to use those concepts and judgments in different
circumstances. Now if you don’t – if you’re not trying to be an active reader, if you
just expect the book to make an impression upon you, it’s not
gonna happen. This is why you get bored. You are reading and you get lost in the words and you don’t know what’s going on.
It’s because you’re not trying to keep anything in your head and see
how its all related to everything else. If you, um,
just passively read, you’re gonna fall asleep. So while you’re skimming, you should take notes – and I’m gonna have
several suggestions on what questions you try to answer and how
to take those notes and I’ll explain those questions in later videos and
during the course of the semester. This is going to be something that
you’re going to have to learn and practice during the entire semester, you’re not going
to get it overnight and that’s okay, alright, this is – this is a process. Speaking of notes, did you take
notes during this video? Do you know what the main point of this video is? I mention a really
important skill early on, do you know – can you remember
what that skill is? Did you write it down? Um, did you write down the main points of this video? I listed several different parts of a
book earlier. Do you know those parts of the book off
the top your head and why they are important? Did you write them down? Well, if you
didn’t do any of these things, you didn’t learn. And if you didn’t learn, you’re not going to do well in in this
course, or frankly any course.

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