Do you want to know how to manage information more efficiently?

When I had to find relevant books for my university studies I went to the local library and looked at the card index. Back then such a result easily brought me 10-15 books or article headlines that I had to consider, and that was sometimes overwhelming enough.

Today when we search for headlines or book titles online, we easily receive thousands of results. That is so many links, texts, and possibilities that it is easy to lose one’s breath as well as lose sight of the bigger picture.

Recently I helped a student with an assignment about Martin Luther King, and even though we thought we had narrowed down the search, the resulting list of titles was overwhelming. If we had been using the method I once used during my own time as a student to check each source in turn, we might, if we were lucky, be done some 20 years later. But this is where an effective skimming technique came to our aid. Using this skimming technique we were able to quickly and efficiently grasp the relevancy of the suggested topics. The texts we subsequently picked out were then read, so we had a 60-80% understanding of the content. That is enough when reading something for the first time. Later we were then able to concentrate on what needed to be read more thoroughly and what needed to be analysed and brought into the assignment.

Shop – skim – study

There’s a world of difference from the time I studied and the modern digital era. Today we need to tone down our expectations of the results of a websearch and use a ton of different tools to reach the information we actually need. We need skimming techniques and the ability to “shop” online. Look at a headline, is there an abstract, a summary, are there any illustrations and graphs?

Quick and rational reading is about knowing your goal and working towards it. How much do you need to know about the topic? Are you reading to get an overall understanding or are you reading with the goal of being able to explain the material to someone else? When you figure this out, then you are able to continue with the process of determining where to place your focus when reading the text.

Effective reading starts with an overview of the materials length, difficulty, and relevance. Does the current text hold anything of relevance to the topic? Is there something you think you will be able to use? By shopping – for example, by following different links provided by a Google search – you can select what texts or sites interest you enough for you to continue with, and find relevant and important for you in the given situation.

From this point on you can start skimming your chosen texts. By running your eyes down the page you will quickly discover if the link or the text is really relevant for you in the given situation. By doing this you will get a fundamental understanding of the text of about 60-80%. That means you will later be able to recognize the text and even repeat parts of it to others. You are now able to consider what you have read: Is it information relevant to you? If the answer is yes, you can then pursue that line of inquiry further in the hunt for a 100% textual understanding.