By March 10, 2014 Read More →

The Secret of Great Reading Comprehension

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“You’re the same today as you’ll be in five years except for the people you meet and the books you read.” — Charlie “Tremendous” Jones

What if you could glean more insights and actions from everything you read?

You can, but you need to know the secret of reading comprehension.

The secret of great reading comprehension is thinking.

Is that a no-brainer?

So far.

Paying Attention?

But the real key is how well you follow along and what you think about while reading that makes the difference.

It’s the difference between whether you waste your time or get the value, or at least, understand what you read.

If you have a challenge with paying attention or absorbing what you read, then the technique right here can help you change your game.

And given how much information we process on a daily basis, your results can add up fast.

In How To Study in College, by Walter Pauk shares some specific ways we can be better readers and improve our comprehension by using some simple practices.

See the Words, Give Thought to Ideas

We need a way to “think” about what we read.  The challenge is our thoughts tend to wander.

Via How To Study in College:

“The secret of good reading comprehension is thinking.  You must think the words you see and give thought to the ideas they generate.  This sounds simple, but it isn’t.  The problem is that they your thoughts tend to wander as you read.  When you are thinking about something else, you cannot think about what you are reading.”

Think with the Author as You Read

One way to follow along is to “think with the author.”

Via How To Study in College:

“One way to keep your mind on your reading is to recognize and keep yourself aware of the organizational pattern that the author is using.  Then you will think with the author as you read.  For example, supposed you recognize that a paragraph is organized according to a chronological pattern.  Then you would say to yourself, ‘Yes, I see what she’s doing.  She’s describing their major events of the Great Depression as they happened, year by year.’ As you focused on the pattern your mind would stay on your reading and you would be thinking about it.”

7 Common Organizing Patterns

Lucky for us, Pauk shares a sample of some common patterns that authors use to organize their information.

Via How To Study in College:

  1. Time / Chronological PatternEvents are presented in the chronological order in which they happened.
  2. Process PatternSteps or events are presented in an orderly sequence that leads to a desired situation or product.
  3. Place / Spatial PatternItems are presented or discussed on the basis of their locations or their arrangement relative to each other.
  4. Increasing-Importance PatternThe most important or most dramatic item in a series is placed at the end.
  5. Decreasing-Importance Pattern.   The most important or most dramatic item in a series is placed at the very beginning.
  6. Cause-Effect PatternThis exceedingly important general pattern has such variations as the problem-cause-solution pattern and the problem-effect-solution pattern.
  7. Compare or Contrast Pattern.   Writers compare things, events, or people when they emphasize similarities, and contrast them when they emphasize differences.

How can you turn this into action?

When you read, see if you can identify the organizing pattern that the author uses, and use that to follow along.

I think I learned early on to read books backwards because so many books use the “Increasing-Importance Pattern.”  I would jump to the end, see if there was anything worth it, and then read more from there.

Interestingly, on the job, the pattern is reversed.  people learn to lead with the most important point or conclusion first (at least the more effective people do.)    One name for this approach is the Minto Pyramid Principle, where you lead with your recommendation or conclusion, and then follow with supporting detail, as necessary.

One of my favorite approaches to improving my reading comprehension is to ask, “How can I use this?” or “What’s the point?” or “So what?”  By asking how can I use this, I challenge myself to really internalize what I read so that I can turn more insight into action.

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Image by Liz Poage.

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2 Comments on "The Secret of Great Reading Comprehension"

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  1. l.p.sharma says:

    Hi,JD,
    Thanks for such useful articals.I have also same experience such as thoughts tend to wander&jump to the end.Why this happen?
    Generally we can’t organise ourselves with authors.Why so.

    • JD says:

      Hey I.P., I think in general authors attempt to take us on a journey, while we readers, want to get to answers, and wander off the beaten path.

      Additionally, we can think about and process way more information than our typical reading speed, so this gives our minds plenty of time to wander and wonder around.