The Golden Rules
Reading comprehension strategies are tools that everyone can use to help understand the meaning of what they read.
Comprehension depends on the complexity of the text, or the sophistication of vocabulary. Some texts, like Dr. Seuss ‘Cat in the Hat’ are very simple to understand. Other texts, such as ‘The American Constitution’ are very difficult to comprehend as they contain complex words and long sentences. In the last twenty years there has been a focus in the business world to simplify the use of language in all forms of documentation. Legal contracts have become much easier to read. Business letters are less prosaic and more direct. Gone are the days where a single sentence contained four hundred words and six compound clauses! These are the days of plain English. Despite this trend, we are faced with the onerous task of having to comprehend piles of notes, books, emails, letters and reports. Although the format may be simpler, the amount of information we have to digest in these modern times is unprecedented.
Golden Rule 1. Analyze the Non Verbals
Before commencing reading you should take a few moments to look at the non-verbal forms of communication in the document you wish to comprehend. The non-verbals are the messages that are not contained in the words, but rather in the design of the document. You should flick through the document and first look at the photographs, pictures, charts and graphs. Scrutinize these items and build a mental picture of what the document is saying. Pictures allow a very rapid way of comprehending material and the human brain is typically much better at remembering pictures than words and verbal concepts. Look at the quality of the document. Does it have a professional layout? Is it well structured? Viewing the non verbals is an important prelude to the next phase as it prepares our mind to receive and analyze information.
Golden Rule 2. Gain an overview
A golden rule of great comprehension is to gain an overview of the document you wish to read. This means reading selective parts of the document until you gain a perspective. Read the headings. Look through the table of contents. Peruse the index. Read highlighted points. Read the first and last paragraph. Read emphasized words in the document. Examine the captions on pictures, graphs and tables. Once you have gained a mental picture of the document you can then decide what to do with it!
Golden Rule 3. Understand Purpose
When reading it is important to consider two things. First, what knowledge do you want to extract from the text?
- Do you want to read the text for enjoyment?
- Do you wish to memorize the information?
- Do you wish to gain an overview of the information?
- Do you need to perform a detailed analysis?
- Do you need to quickly sift through the text to see if it contains any references to a particular subject?
- Do you want an objective review?
Second, what did the author set out to achieve in writing the text?
- Were they trying to describe something?
- Were they writing an informative text?
- Were they explaining something?
- Are they writing instructions?
- Are they trying to persuade you to a point of view?
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Once you recognize what you need from the information and also what the author's purpose was for writing the text you see if there is a match. If you are seeking an objective review of a subject and it is clear that the author is trying to persuade you to one point of view, the document is at cross purposes with your needs. You could reject the document and seek a better source. If you are happy with the match, then you can proceed with more detailed reading.
Golden Rule 4. Decide on your response
Being an effective reader is not about reading and understanding everything that comes your way. It is about matching your response to information with its relevance and importance. The time-tested 80 / 20 rule applies to reading too. Only 20% of the information pushed your way needs to be read with high comprehension. The other 80% can be thrown away, delegated to others to read, or put on file. Becoming a great reader means identifying the information that requires detailed, high comprehension reading. From this information, you might want to take notes, apply a colored highlighter, and prepare action items after you read it. You may want to immediately make calendar entries, prepare emails or add topics to your to-do list.
Golden Rule 5. High comprehension Reading
At this stage you have gained an overview of the document by viewing the non verbals, and by building a mental summary of the document by reading the key parts. You have decided that this document is important and is worth reading to gain a first-rate understanding. Now you are motivated. Motivation is critical for great comprehension as motivation leads to focus and concentration, both of which are essential ingredients necessary to engage your memory into learning mode. You need to read it. You are ready. Start reading! As you are reading involve as many senses as you can in the reading process; this will greatly contribute to your understanding and recall:
- make notes
- draw pictures of the information, eg mind maps
- highlight key words
- scribble notes in the margin
- say out the key phrases to yourself
Additionally, as you read you should build a sequence of pictures to represent the information you are reading. We remember pictures much better than words!
Once you have finished reading attend to your action items; send emails, update your schedule, add calendar items.
Golden Rule 6. Highest comprehension Reading
This last step is a little known secret in the business world. Some information is so important that it requires the very highest level of comprehension and retention. It may be information that you need to use and apply every day as a core part of your studies or career. The secret to the highest comprehension reading is reinforcement. If you wait two or three days and re-read the original information, your long term comprehension and memory of the information will be improved significantly. Each time involve your senses by making notes and voicing out the information and ideas to yourself. If you apply this kind of reinforcement three or four times, you will enjoy the highest comprehension.
Dr. Simon Ronald