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Reading hacks to prevent academic dislexia

Gustavo Borges Moreno e Mello

March 4, 2014
1 Introduction 5
1.1 About me and why I wrote this manual . . . . . . . . . . . . . 5
1.1.1 fa . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 5
1.2 Introduction . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 5
2 The reading habit 7
2.1 Picking a time to read . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 9
2.2 Picking a place to read . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 9
2.3 Before you start and after you nish your reading session . . . 10
2.4 The motivation . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 10
3 Taking notes 11
4 Recruiting the paper 15
5 Reading Strategy 17
5.1 Survey . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 17
5.2 Question . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 18
5.3 Read . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 19
5.4 Write . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 20
5.5 Recite . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 20
5.6 Review . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 20
6 Organizing your reading material 23
7 25
Chapter 1
1.1 About me and why I wrote this manual
At the moment I wrote this book I am a clinical psychologist, a master in
psychobiology and a frustrated ( therefore normal ) PhD student in the eld
of neuroscience. I am a brazilian and, as most of us, I come from a family
of limited resources. Since early I learned that if I meant to survive in this
world, I should come up with my own solutions. This attitude drove me to
work early as basic computer skills teacher, join college and even adventure
in the realms of entrepreneurship.
But you know what? When life is good you get cocky, and want new
challenges. Since kid I had the dream of being a scientists and contribute
to the world with a meaningful step towards the understanding of the yet
unknown. So I thought that it would be the perfect time to fulll this dream!
So I quit business and joined the army of science. But I had no Idea about
what was expecting me.
In the beginning everything was great! I had access to cutting edge
technology and information, I had the opportunity to explore one of the
most fascinating subjects in the world, the brain (sorry if you come from
other science, Ill still keep my point). But then it happens, experiments fail,
progress is slow, results are not as clean as you imagined they would be, and
worst of all everybody seems smarter than you.
Dont get me wrong! I love to be surrounded about smart people and
learn from them. The problem is not being surrounded by smart people,
the problem is feeling dumb. As any other human being self condence
emerge from experience of achievement and strengthening of your ideal self
image. For me and most of scientists I know it comes from being able to solve
problems (that includes understanding something) and nurture the secret self
reassuring voice that says You see? you are smart, you can understand it,
you can do it. And when acheivement is scarce, well you can say farewell
But you know what is even worst? Is when you feel that you cant even do
the basic properly. Like most of the people in my current condition, I face a
paradox. I am supposed to be experts in certain eld of human knowledge and
master a set of transferable skills like reading, writing, presenting, teaching
and even selling your research project, but guess what? Very rarely these
skills are actively taught; you are supposed to learn them as you go, no
structure, no guidance, only exposure.
The result is obvious, in order to survive you come up with a bunch of
idiosyncratic heuristics to get the job done, with a very wide range of levels
of performance. Worse than that, who survives dont really know how to
teach these skills, they just know that by doing it a lot you have a chance of
getting there, and those who dont get there are because they lack in talent,
intelligence or perseverance to get there.
This handbook is my attempt of ght against this culture of talent.
Here I collected as much of these idiosyncratic heuristics I could in my free
time, broke them down to no brainer steps to follow, and relate them to the
most common issues that I and my colleagues faced in academic life. So you
not only has a solution, a plan to learn it, but also can know the context to
where to apply them.
Robert Stephenson Smyth Baden-Powell founder of the scout boys said
once Leave the world a better place than you found it. I hope this book
can do this for your academy life. And if that happens, all my frustrations
will not be erased, but they at least will have a meaning.
1.2 Introduction
is the most important activity in the academic life. To publish you
need to read, to write you need to read, to do experiments you need to read,
to propose a grant you need to read. Regardless, it is the most neglected
skill in science.
If you ask people about their reading habits you will nd all sorts of
problems. Here are the most common:
I cant focus, so I drift away and end up reading the same paragraph
many times. I read slowly I get lost in the text, end up reading many papers
at the same time, but none in the end. I have a hard time picking the relevant
information. I cant keep track of the literature I get sacred of equations, so
I jump them I cant nd time to read I only read when I am forced to. I
procrastinate a lot.
Once I read a paper I cannot remember the author, the paper, the refer-
ence, just the overall information. No wonder it is very common to nd phd
students that put reading as their most unpleasant activities. Well, maybe
just after presenting, for a dierent reason. But you can imagine how people
feel about presenting in Journal Clubs. In academic life good reading skill
is considered something that you will acquire with practice. Well, I believe
that practice will improve your skill, but I also believe that good practice will
improve it better and faster. Thats why I wrote this manuscript, to improve
my own reading practice. But before we get to the nuts and bolds of reading
skill I have a disclaimer. Assume that what I am going to tell IS true. Use it
for some weeks. Check the results. Keep it if you had improvements, through
away if you didnt. BUT DONT JUST THINK ABOUT IT, DO IT! Ok,
having that said, lets start.
The most common features I found in a good reader are: A reading habit
and a reading ritual A reading motivation. A clear goal (question) with
a immediate consequence (preferentially). A method for keeping updated
about relevant readings. A reading strategy. A method for inspecting the
text, search for information and judge its value. A highlighting and note-
taking system. Some way to record the information. Review the information
oftenlly, relating it to new informations. But without mixing the sources. I
can identify people that described themselves as good readers usually have
many of these habits or some of them very sophisticated.
In this book youll nd all the tools to develop these habits in the most
economical and eortless way I can imagine. But, you must be aware that
acquiring a new skill require some time until it generates more prot than
cost. So stick to each exercise for at least 7 working days, until you stop to
evaluate if you are having any benet.
Chapter 2
The reading habit
Having a regular reading time is critical to develop your reading skill. A
regular reading routine will ght the inertia felt when you spend a lot of
time without reading and will give you opportunity to practice the techniques
described here in this manual. In order to develop a reading habit you need
to: 1. Free some time to read 2. Prioritize reading 3. Develop a reading
ritual Freeing time to read seems to be the hardest due to the big amount of
emergent tasks we have to do in daily life. But actually it is the easiest one to
solve. You can nd time to read by doing the second requirement, prioritizing
reading. When you prioritize reading over other tasks you obviously have the
time reserved to other activities to your reading. But to do so you have to
convince yourself that reading is more important than the other tasks. Other
approach is to learn how to organize yourself better, so you can nish what is
more important than reading rst and schedule a time for your reading. Time
management in a nutshell is the ability to: 1- bottleneck all the demands of
your life in a single cue, 2- to order them by importance, 3- to keep track
of the deadlines, 4- to do them one at a time, and 5- to accept that it is ok
to not do everything as long you are doing what is most important. Here is
how you do it: The rst step is to narrow down all the possible sources of
demands to just one big cue. Lets say one task inbox. The simplest one is
a list of things to do. It is important that you have it available everywhere,
so if you have a notebook, pick a small one to carry around. If you have
a smartphone, than you can have a text le in a DropBox folder this has
the advantage that you can have it available everywhere you have a internet
connection. The second step is to list everything you have to do, one task at
a time. The third step is to ask what in your list you can do in 5 minutes or
less. (Examples are, phone calls, send a e-mail to, get the price of something,
etc). Mark those items and do them one at time, it is important to resist
the temptation of multi-tasking or excessive stimulation. While performing
a task, just perform the task, turn of musics, videos, internet if not necessary
for your task. With the instantaneous tasks out of the way, now it is time
to correct your task list. Most of us have the tendency of putting our tasks
as goals. This is counter productive because goal is something that you
achieve after doing a series of tasks that may vary and the result of each
task is not fully predictable sometimes. So it is much better to dene your
goals as a series of actions, things that you know What to do, When to do
and Where to do them. This is preferable because you have full control of
What, When and Where you do things. And if you reach your goal, good,
if not, you are working to get there and you can add extra tasks to reach it.
The fth step is to prioritise you list. Prioritising has two components: 1-
importance, 2- Urgency. We rate importance from A to E in agreement with
its consequences if it is not done. A- are tasks that have severe consequences
if not done, B- are tasks that have manageable consequences if not done.
C- are tasks that have no negative consequences if not done, D- Are things
that you can delegate to others to do, and E- are things that you can simply
eliminate from your list because they do not bring real benet if done and no
consequence if not done, most of your distractions will fall here. Urgency is
established by deadlines. When you prioritise a task, you should also to put
a deadline to do it. This will help you to keep track of all your commitments
and not allow any of them to slip through your ngers. When you are dealing
with a goal that is far in the future, you cannot establish the deadline of the
goal as the deadline of the actions that lead to its completion. Breakdown
what you need to do to reach that goal in a series of actions, prioritise these
actions with the same priority of the goal and schedule a time for each one of
them. This will improve your planning ability and think in long time scales.
Now that you have a list with priorities and scheduled deadlines for each
action, it is time for the sixth step: to pick some of these tasks to do them.
It is very tempting to get all of them and try to juggle between them in a
crazy multi-tasking dance. Resist this temptation! There is no real multi-
tasking. Multi-tasking is just task switching, and every time you switch from
one task to the other you lose time, eort, energy and precision. It is much
better to get a list of 1-4 tasks to do in a day and do one at a time, from start
to nish. If the task is dicult or take a very long time to nish. The best
policy is to divide to conquer! Break the task in small subtasks with clear
stopping points and do one at a time. If that is not possible, divide your
working time in rounds of 20 to 50 minutes (depending of your physical and
mental endurance) and get a notebook to log the point where you stopped.
During this round you should do one task and one task only and when the
round nishes you should stop doing it. Log your progress and take a 5-10
minutes break. You can even use the numbers of rounds that you take to
nish a task as a productivity measure. It is also a good manner to know
when you nished your tasks, to give you a boost of motivation. If you get
distracted, snap yourself out of the distraction and restart your round, it is
important to teach yourself that no distraction is allowed. Keep those to do
items available at all time and just abandon a important task for a scheduled
2.1 Picking a time to read
Dierent people have dierent cycles of activities. Some are better in the
morning, others doting the night and nobody is good after lunch. You should
preferentially use this peak of mental productivity to dedicate yourself to
intellectual work and reading. I particularly have the preference of reading
early in the morning. The reason is that during the day I can get stuck in
problems, meetings, or simply get too tired to focus after work. Besides,
early in the morning, reading is my only concern. But the option is up to
you, just avoid reading during and after meals. Schedule a time to make
your reading an habit. Most of the good readers read scientic articles in
one to two hours depending on the familiarity with the subject and depth
of interest in the content. So I would recommend scheduling your rst 1 to
2 hours of the day to read. Remember that you dont have to nish your
reading in one sit. You are going to learn how to take notes while you read
and this will help to pick your reading from where you stopped faster. If all
you can free for your reading is something short as 20 minutes, so be it! The
habit of reading everyday at same the same time will allow you to develop
an habit, a mindset that will allow you to focus faster.
2.2 Picking a place to read
If possible, read in the same place in the same manner. Organize it in the
same way so it helps to develop the habit. For your reading, pick a quiet
place, preferentially close to a wall so you dont have visual stimulation in
your peripheric vision. Turn o the cellphone, instant messengers, internet
and other sources of distractions. Even if you are not checking them, the
temptation is enough to aect the performance. Avoid music if you can. Do
not full yourself, music divides your attention in intellectual activities. Pick a
place that allow you to sit comfortably. Reading laid down can prone you to
sleep. For the same token dont read into your bed. If you need internet to
understand something, take note rst, make a clear question about what you
want to understand. Finish your reading round, and then, and only then, go
research in the internet.
2.3 Before you start and after you nish your
reading session
Relax in isolation for a few minutes. You need time to free your mind from
the previous activities and concerns that can interfere with your reading.
You also need time to consolidate the information without the interference
of new information. One good way of doing it is with a breathing exercise
for 5-10 minutes: Breath in in four counts Hold your breath for seven counts
And exhale for eight counts If you are especially tense, or stressed. While you
inhale you can tense all your muscles as hard as you can, hold the tension
and relax them as you exhale. This exercise is proven to work for panic
syndrome and anxiety disorder patients. And it is rightly recommended to
control anxiety or help to block interference in your thoughts.
2.4 The motivation
One of the main distinctions between a good reader and a poor reader is
that the good reader has a clear and specic purpose while reading. Instead
of reading from the beginning to the end of a book or article, a good reader
moves through the text like a search machine, looking for the answer to his
question. That being said, every good reader expressed this set of ideas:
Getting the essential information is better than getting all the information.
Get little information is better than no information. Getting questions is
better than getting no information. Getting no information is better than
getting the wrong information. Poor readers usually have the commitment to
understand it all, as if it was possible to absorve the book like a sponge. The
problem with that is all the information have a similar level of investment
requiring much more time to read and understand. Also, reduces its capacity
to remember the information, because of the noise created by the details .
Economy of eort should be king. Before reading, decide what to take from
the text and read with that specic question in mind. If other questions
come as you read, it is ne! Reading is an iterative process. Take note of the
new question, and move on reading to answer your rst question. When you
get the answer for your rst question, than you move on to the second one.
Chapter 3
Taking notes
Note taking is usually seen as a skill independent from reading and therefore
many readers neglect it. Note taking should never be overlooked, because
reading is note taking in essence! When you read, what you do is to highlight
some information that is relevant to your life and translate it into your own
words or you create your own examples to understand it better. Note taking
is essentially this process but with explicit actions. The notes you produce
have direct correlation with the quality and amount of information that you
take and your ability to remember it. If they are organised, chances are that
you understand well or created a good structure to organize the knowledge
you took. If you highlight few but essential points, chances are that you got
the core of the content. If you can put down in your own words, I would bet
that you can teach it to somebody. The benets of explicitly taking notes are
huge and they teach you what is essential in reading. Thats why I chose to
show some good note taking strategies before you learn reading techniques.
Hierachy and translation The rst thing to know about note taking is that
in its essence, to take a note is to put the information in a hierarchical
structure, from general to specic, from important to unimportant, from
rule to exception, and put them in words that you can understand and with
examples that are directly relevant to you. Note taking methods try to help
you to orient your attention to one of these two goals of note taking. And
record in some permanent fashion that do not consume your brain power.
So here are some techniques: Bullet points Bullet point are essentially lists
where you write things in a hierarchical fashion. Where you can have topics
and subtopics and inside of each more and more items. To take notes in
bullet points forces you to have to think on how the knowledge is divided
and organised, and forces you to re-write the information in your own words
in a short way (since it is hard to make a list with items that have long lines).
Other advantage of the bullet point is that if the information has no evident
structure, you can still use it without any hierarchy, and than later come
back to it and re-write it in a more organised but concise fashion. Ideally a
bullet point should not have more than two lines and should have either an
indentation or numeric code for the hierarchy (maybe both). Draw at will
Sometimes a image tells a thousand words. If and when they do, draw it! I
doest need to be a beautiful drawing just one that is clear enough to convey
the information. One caveat is the tendency to day dreaming and dispersion
that drawing can cause you. Especially if you have the tendency of micro
focusing (obsessing about a detail) or are bored because of a particularly
uninteresting lecture or subject. You should ght the temptation to keep
drawing! While you are drawing the only thing to as yourself is: Does this
convey the content I want to remember? if it does, stop drawing and move
on. If you are taking notes in a class, chances are that you are going to need
that time to make other drawings. Cornell note system Cornell note system
is one of the best systems I faced. I was developed in Cornell university as a
of dividing your page in three parts as shown in FIG. XX. Each part has a
specic purpose. On the top you have the main subject of the note, place
and time. Place and time are recorded because they help in memorisation
by giving context. On the right big area, is your 1st note. Here is the place
where you are going to essentially use the bullet point, drawing and mind
maps. The space on the left you are going to use after you nish your note.
Once you nish taking the notes, you are going to look at them and write
on the left side, questions that could only be answered by your note, or
questions about information that you are missing to understand the subject.
These questions are useful in reviews so you can cover the answers just read
the question and try to answer yourself. Also, they provide opportunity for
deeper understanding since forces you to explore how much your knowledge
about the subject is solid. On the bottom part you are going to write short
statements in your own words that allow you to synthetise the information
of the notes in the page. By looking at the questions and the answers you
more easily can provide a compilation of the information that will be very
useful in reviews or when you are trying to teach it to somebody. Mind
maps Mind maps are a mix of bullet points and drawing. They require that
the information you are received is highly structured. They are ideal for
making plans or reading reviews, since those are usually very organised end
products. The way it works is very simple. The main concept, theme or
category is put in the middle of the page, and you draw branches from it
and in each branch you associate with 2 to 4 keywords. From each branch
you can draw other branches in the same fashion. The end result will be
similar to the FIG. XX and generate a visually interesting representation of
the whole subject. Some people claim that it improves memorisation because
of its visual component. In my understanding the main benet is that it is
fast, easy and fun to do. And when you use colours makes a fast way to
parse information. Cognitive maps Cognitive maps are ow charts that try
to enphatize the relationship between concepts. It usually works better as a
review or a study note, when you try to understand instead of just collect
the information. It requires much more time to make, since it demands much
more thought about the subject, but it provides a good framework to think
about subjects. The way you make a cognitive map is by drawing a circle
or square with a concept, or noun written inside. Than you draw an other
concept box, and an arrow connecting both of them. Finally, on the arrow
you write a verb that connects the rst concept to the second. If you keep
doing it with all the concepts you have in your note, you will end up with
something similar to the one in FIG XX and will notice that some arrows
are not necessary, others are necessary but you dont have an answer to
them, and other times you may even have arrows that you want to draw,
but you feel that there is a concept missing! And this is how this technique
is valuable, to nd aws in your knowledge and connect everything. Some
note taking tips to remember authors and institutions For many people to
remember authors and institutions names is a challenging task. Usually that
happens because we dont know them in person, they are just names in a
paper. A good way to overcome this problem is using internet to give you
some graphic support to your memory. Most of authors have their picture
somewhere in the internet, you just have to nd it, and try to imagine having
discussions, conversations or making questions to that person. It is not fail
proof, but certainly makes a name more concrete. Regarding institutions,
try to see it in google street view, look for images in the web or nd its coat
of arms (many universities have them). And again, imagine yourself there,
make a virtual tour, talk with the author in that environment and it will
sink in to your memory faster. Flash cards This is a review note system, and
there are lots of people that love them, especially to remember procedural
informations like techniques, vocabulary, or parts of a speech. You just need
a bunch of cards, usually business size where you can write down bullet points
about a specic content. One content or concept per card, never more! The
whole idea is to be able to get the information fast in a blink of an eye. If
you fail to get the information in your card for more than two seconds, than
it is a bad ash card. Some people suggest even to write down statements
in one side and some set of questions for that statement in the other side, so
the value as a review and study tool is increased. Other very powerful way
to use ash cards is in by using it as an organisational tool. You do that by
using a presentation (prezi, keynote, powerpoint, etc) le. Each presentation
slide should contain: The full reference of the article The main gure. Put
arrows to highlight its important parts. The main claim of the paper Your
opinion or question about it Each le should be a theme that connect all the
slides. This way you not only create an excellent tool to improve memory,
but also to improve your organisation.
Chapter 4
Recruiting the paper
Collecting a good set of articles and books for your research or study is also a
very complicated art. I am going to assume that you are a complete newbie
so we can explore the dierent sources of reading materials. When you have
the benet of a teacher or a caring advisor this part of the job is simple.
All you need is to ask him/her Where can I nd good materials about this
subject? What keywords, or authors should I look for? Is there any essential
reading (article or textbook) that I should read? And o course if you can
also get what kind of information you should be looking for it would be
even better. And him or her will point you to the websites that hosts the
main relevant journals of your eld. Even thought it is true that there are
very good articles in very low impact journals and vice-versa. In average,
high impact journals have better quality research, more avant-garde results
and better known researches (which means that if you dont know them,
you are missing out). Try the most broad journals rst Nature, Science,
Plos One, Frontiers, and gradually move to more eld-specic or obscure
journals. Visit their websites frequently. I recommend a weekly visit, just to
check if is there any interesting news. Alternatively you can subscribe to the
newsletters. By doing so, you are going to receive updates about the subjects
you select through your e-mail, helping you to save some time. Besides the
journal websites you can use search and bot engines, like pubmed, google
scholar and pubcrawler. There are websites that allow you to search for a
subject in many dierent repositories at once. In some of them, like the pub
crawler, you can even program periodic searches that will forward you the list
of the results by e-mail. Usually these search engine are very powerful, but
to get the most of it, what you write as a search argument should have some
keywords and syntax that is proper of the search engine. Try to get familiar
with the language of each search engine as soon as possible, since it can
improve a lot the quality of your search. Also, pay attention to the suggested
readings. Normally when you make a search in a journal or a search engine,
the website gives you some suggestions of related papers. Some of them are
really relevant and should be read. The last source of reading material is the
most obvious of them. The bibliography or reference of a book or article.
When you look for that article, try to remember why you are reading it, how
was it referenced in the previous reading so you have a clear starting point.
Try to pick one day of the week to collect articles actively and store them in
one reading inbox folder in your computer or by your desk. Ocourse, you
can collect passively the articles that get to you during the other days. Try
to read the articles with some kind of logic or organisation. Similar topics,
chronology of the study or in the worst case scenario rst in - rst out. The
essential benet is to not get lost in under a mountain of reading material
that can get intimidating and demotivate the reading habit. Having a plan
of attack to face large volumes of reading material provides the courage to
open the folder everyday and get something to read.
Chapter 5
Reading Strategy
Now that you know how to take notes it is time to introduce you to the SQ4R
system. SQ4R stands for Survey, Question, Read, Write, Recite, Review,
yeah I know that one of the Rs is in fact a W, but I didnt invent the system
or named it. The approach is very simple. You should read the article, paper
or book following sequential steps. Starting with the survey till the review.
Here are the steps.
5.1 Survey
Survey is a quick examination of the material to allow you to get familiarised
with it. In this step you are trying to nd reasons to not read the paper. The
main goal of the survey is to clarify your motivation in reading the article, and
identifying how the information is organised. To clarify your motivation you
should ask yourself the following questions: Why am I reading this paper?
To learn a specic information from it? Technique Fact Analysis To get a
perspective? To teach about it ? I dont know (You shouldnt! Find a
reason) What do I know about it? And then scan abstract, introduction and
discussion looking for keywords that will full your expectations. Attempt
to understand the general organisation of the text: How is the text divided?
Where the information that you want most likely is? Look at the gures if
any and read their legends if you dont get them just by looking at them.
Try to make a story in your head and as yourself : Do you understand it?
Is there a missing information? This step should be fast and take no more
than 5-10 minutes depending on your familiarity with the topic. After you
do this, decide if it is worth the eort to read it or not.
5.2 Question
Reading without a clear goal in mind is a very wasteful practice because
increases the eort in reading (because makes you believe that you should
read everything) while reduces your attention and memory. So now it is
time to consolidate your reading motivation and establish a goal for your
reading. A good way to set a reading goal is to nd answers to questions.
During the survey you had the opportunity to attempt to make a story
in your head and get a supercial message of the text. You also had the
opportunity wonder about what you know and what you do not know about
the subject and se if is there any missing part in the puzzle. With that,
you should be able to make specic questions about what you want. If
possible, write the questions down as sentences. The purpose of doing it
explicitly is to guarantee that you actually do it. It is very easy to convince
yourself that you make something mentally and never actually do it. For
each section of the text (I like paragraphs) you should be wondering about
the MAPS (Main Beliefs, Authors Attitude, Purpose or goal, Structure).
Translating it into questions would be: What is the authors main beliefs?
What is de authors attitude, tone and biases? What is the purpose of the
authors writing this and what information he wants me to walk away with?
What is the order and structure in place to help me to make connections?
Also the author usually highlight himself parts of the text. You should
also turn these headings and subheading (italic and bold words too) into
questions. To help to produce these questions you can use the journalist
method. The Journalistic method consist in starting the phrases with: What
Who (with whom, from who, to whom, etc) When (since when, for how long,
until when) Where (from where, to where) How (how much, how many)
To gather information and attempt to emphasise similarities and dierences
among concepts. Here are a set of common questions that people make
while reading a scientic paper: What is the goal of the research/ study?
What is the problem? What is known? What is not know? Describe step
by step what the researchers did. If experiments describe it If model list
the variables, nd out the specic parameters and understand why of the
equations If analysis cite them, write the equations down if possible Is it a
descriptive or hypothesis driven research? Why they chose these steps? How
the help to reach the goal? Is there a better method for reaching the same
goal? Do the results conrm their claims? Is the sample size appropriated?
Are the analysis apropriated for the data they have? If you designed the
experiment, what analysis would you use? Are the axis labeled and in the
same scale? Do the numbers match their graphic representation? Who made
it and where? Is there a bias in the interpretation? Do the discussion ignores
5.3. READ 21
a famous study that contradicts it? Is the reference biased, mainly from a
related group of scientists? Do the authors take in consideration alternative
or opposing points of view? The questions determine how you are going to
read, how deep and what parts of the text you are going to read.
5.3 Read
You are probably saying WOW! FINALLY!. Yes, you are going to nally
attack your text with full force! But now it is not just using a bunch of
good reading practices. All the steps you made so far to prepare yourself
to read empowers you to have a much stronger sense of purpose, focus and
understanding. Also, you have a framework that allow you to keep your
information saved for later appreciation. So, now, the reading practices can
be put in good use. To start reading, use a place marker (nger or pen)
to set the pace of reading. Move it in a constant pace to force yourself
into a rhythm. This puts pressure in keep reading forward and prevents
day dreaming. As we said before you should read to nd the answers to
your questions. Moving faster when it is obvious that the information is
not there and slower when the information is dense or dicult. When the
information is dicult to extract, speak out loud the sentence to improve
concentration and understanding. Sometimes is necessary to rephrase the
statement in a more adequate sentence. This last one is usually necessary
when you have passive voice and phrases with many adjectives and adverbs.
Changing to active voice and removing some adverbs may help to understand
it. React to confusing passages, confusing terms, and questionable statements
by generating new questions. This will nurture curiosity and pleasure in
reading instead of anxiety and boredom. Try to read one paragraph at time.
Read until the end of the paragraph before going back and read again some
sentence you do not understand. Many authors repeat themselves in the
paragraph by clarifying the initial statement with better statements and
examples. When facing graphs, try to remember that they can lie. Pay
attention tho the scale of the axis, check if they are the same, if they are
linear or logarithm. Try to spot in the plots parts of the gure that are most
relevant to understand the results. These plots are usually generated by some
function, which one is it? Do you understand it? If the article is about a
model or a simulation, reading will take more time. First of all, dont panic!
Second, browse over all equations, and then nd the equation that computes
the result of the plot. Third try to access the functional shape (what kind of
function it is) since it by itself can provide some information to explain the
result. Fourth identify its variables and how are they dened in the paper
(usually other equations). Fifth, if necessary, simplify the equation with
simple values to understand what it does. Try to read completely through
the relevant parts of the text before going back or getting stuck. Sometimes
the information that you want is further in the text.
5.4 Write
This is the time to use your annotation skills. The writing step is subdivided
in Highlighting and Summarising. This step should be performed after read-
ing each paragraph, since only after reading it you can tell what is relevant.
Highlight as you nd information in a systematic fashion: Underline for im-
portant phrases Double underline for examples Numbers for items in a list
Circle concepts and acronyms Square around unknown words (that you need
to look for) Use symbols to denote meaning: Question mark for clarication
Star for personalities Exclamation point to important parts for exams Once
you highlighted the paragraph, try to condense the information of each para-
graph in one sentence or few keywords. Write it beside the paragraph so it
is immediately available to visual inspection. Repeat it for every paragraph
independently. If you have questions, write them down while they are fresh
in your mind and revisit them once you nish the main objective of your
reading. Once the reading session is done, pass the notes to a cleaner form in
Cornell note system, using mind maps, bullet points and drawings as needed.
5.5 Recite
Reciting are two things. One that you do while reading and other that you
do after reading. For the rst, as you read, you can recite the sentence out
loud to check if you understood it. For the second you rst have to generate
questions that would be answered by your notes, and write them down on
the left side of the Cornell Page. Cover the note, read the question and try
to answer it. Check the answer and if not, reformulate your answer and try
again until you can deliver a full answer without looking at your notes
5.6 Review
The last step is to review. Make a summary of the content you read and
write it down. Get every concept and try to explain it to yourself as you were
explaining it to someone that dont understand it at all. Like to a 5 year old
kid or to your grandmother. If some information is missing, go to research
5.6. REVIEW 23
it. Ask your teacher, advisor, specialist or classmate. If an information is
not necessary to understand the concept, remove it. If the explanation is too
complicated, or long you can either try to simplify the language or try to
create an analogy that make it easy to understand it. Other simple way to
review is to try to apply the acquired knowledge right away. If you feel the
need to review any subject. Enforce the habit of looking at your notes rst
and than, if your notes dont full your goal, go to the original text again.
Update your notes, by reorganising, cleaning or adding information.
Chapter 6
Organize your reading materia
and notesl
Once you recruited the text, read it and properly annotated, the next step
is to archive it in a way that you can go after it later and nd it if needed.
There are many softwares that allow you to do so TALK ABOUT PAPERS
ZATION HABIT Papers Mendeley Endnote Crude way to organize in folders
and titles One interesting way to organise your Saras method
Chapter 7