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How do people read big technical books?

It's a known fact that, Science and Tech readings requires most attention, to at least make sense of what one reads. In the age of rapid change of platforms, particularly in the Information Technology Industry, we need to read vast and varied amount of text.

How feasible is it to Speed-Read Technology books? I understand, there isn't any objective answer to the question, but interested to know the approaches that can be used to effectively perform Speed-Reading on Software Development/Programming related books.

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I read 400 words a minute, I can't read wihtout speed reading; it's the only reading method I know. Granted it is slower with highly technical material but this more because the concepts make you think, "whoa what did that mean?" more than the average fiction book. However the reading technique is the same nonetheless. –  HLGEM Oct 26 '11 at 15:01
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marked as duplicate by ChrisF Oct 26 '11 at 13:02

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5 Answers

You cant and shouldn't. If you can effectively speed read the book then it doesn't need much thought to process the concepts. You wont be able to learn much from something you don't need to think in depth about.

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I agree that learning speed reading specifically for tech-books is a waste of time.

However, if you already happen to be able to speed read, it is applicable to tech books as well as long as you keep in mind that all it serves is to get an overview of the content.

With speed-reading you get a more detailled overview than someone who only looks at the table of contents.

Hence, I suggest to use speed-reading only as a means to find content which you then want to digest in more detail. So after speed-reading you know, if reading and learning the whole chapter is worth your time or not.

As for actually learning something from a tech book I do not see any point in speed reading. Even without speed-reading, if the book is any good you will spend much more time thinking than reading.

So in summary: Speed reading is good for getting an overview of technical content, but pointless for learning that content.

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Yes.

Personally, when I get a tech book (which is rare, because it's a waste of money most of the time considering how quickly they become irrelevant - so it must be really good) I whip through it as fast as I can to get the 'big picture'. Before doing this I used to get lost in the details and miss the whole point that the author was trying to make (usually architectural or design pattern types of things) entirely.

On that first read through, I generally ignore most of the code samples and trust the author's summaries of what they are supposed to do.

I don't stop after I've finished reading it though. Afterward, I generally go through another read-through, looking at the details, reading the code, doing the practice problems and all of the detail things. They make much more sense on this read-through.

One other benefit is that if the book is shit, I don't do the second read-through (unless I really need to know it for work or something) and toss the book out.

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Good points. Also, you may need to refer a second time if you can only recall that it was on that particular page, but can't accurately recall the material. –  Shamim Hafiz Oct 26 '11 at 13:03
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Yes, but not all the time. Any part you can scan or determine you can skip over/don't need that/already know that. Like Tom Squires answered, you're going to have to absorb and think about the information at some point assuming you're reading books that are challenging enough.

Reading is good, but eventually you need to practice and apply new concepts. This will take much more of your time, so I don't see the reading speed as the sticking point.

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When you already know the subject and are just searching a specific point, speed reading through easy chapters is OK.

When you want to master the subject, don't speed read.

In particular, I wouldn't recommend it on man pages, where nothing is written twice.

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