6 months ago
Effective Technical Book Reading Techniques
Technical books aren't like novels. We need a new approach to technical texts. I've spent years looking for a decent reading method. I tried numerous ways before finding one that worked. This post explains how I read technical books efficiently.
What Do I Mean When I Say Effective?
Effectiveness depends on the book. Effective implies I know where to find answers after reading a reference book. Effective implies I learned the book's knowledge after reading it.
I use reference books as tools in my toolkit. I won't carry all my tools; I'll merely need them. Non-reference books teach me techniques. I never have to make an effort to use them since I always have them.
Reference books I like:
Design Patterns: Elements of Reusable Object-Oriented Software
Refactoring: Improving the Design of Existing Code
You can also check My Top Takeaways from Refactoring here.
Non-reference books I like:
Technical books might be overwhelming to read in one sitting. Especially when you have no idea what is coming next as you read. When you don't know how deep the rabbit hole goes, you feel lost as you read. This is my years-long method for overcoming this difficulty.
Whether you follow the step-by-step guide or not, remember these:
Understand the terminology. Make sure you get the meaning of any terms you come across more than once. The likelihood that a term will be significant increases as you encounter it more frequently.
Know when to stop. I've always believed that in order to truly comprehend something, I must delve as deeply as possible into it. That, however, is not usually very effective. There are moments when you have to draw the line and start putting theory into practice (if applicable).
Look over your notes. When reading technical books or documents, taking notes is a crucial habit to develop. Additionally, you must regularly examine your notes if you want to get the most out of them. This will assist you in internalizing the lessons you acquired from the book. And you'll see that the urge to review reduces with time.
Let's talk about how I read a technical book step by step.
0. Read the Foreword/Preface
These sections are crucial in technical books. They answer Who should read it, What each chapter discusses, and sometimes How to Read? This is helpful before reading the book. Who could know the ideal way to read the book better than the author, right?
I scan the chapter. Fast scanning is needed.
I review the headings.
I scan the pictures quickly.
I assess the chapter's length to determine whether I might divide it into more manageable sections.
Skimming is faster than reading but slower than scanning.
I focus more on the captions and subtitles for the photographs.
I read each paragraph's opening and closing sentences.
I examined the code samples.
I attempt to grasp each section's basic points without getting bogged down in the specifics.
Throughout the entire reading period, I make an effort to make mental notes of what may require additional attention and what may not. Because I don't want to spend time taking physical notes, kindly notice that I am using the term "mental" here. It is much simpler to recall. You may think that this is more significant than typing or writing “Pay attention to X.”
I move on quickly. This is something I considered crucial because, when trying to skim, it is simple to start reading the entire thing.
3. Complete reading
Previous steps pay off.
I finished reading the chapter.
I concentrate on the passages that I mentally underlined when skimming.
I put the book away and make my own notes. It is typically more difficult than it seems for me. But it's important to speak in your own words. You must choose the right words to adequately summarize what you have read. How do those words make you feel? Additionally, you must be able to summarize your notes while you are taking them. Sometimes as I'm writing my notes, I realize I have no words to convey what I'm thinking or, even worse, I start to doubt what I'm writing down. This is a good indication that I haven't internalized that idea thoroughly enough.
I jot my inquiries down. Normally, I read on while compiling my questions in the hopes that I will learn the answers as I read. I'll explore those issues more if I wasn't able to find the answers to my inquiries while reading the book.
Best part: If you take lovely notes like I do, you can publish them as a blog post with a few tweaks.
This is my learning journey. I wanted to show you. This post may help someone with a similar learning style. You can alter the principles above for any technical material.