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This may seen like a weird question, but since we're challenged--as engineers--to constantly adapt to changing technologies, we always find ourselves buried in documentation. That said, we also need to consider that time is of the essence because people want their stuff fixed and improved with little hesitation if any.

How do you get through lengthy manuals, books/manuals within a short period of time?

Take for example: "The Linux Programming Interface," by Michael Kerrisk, which is roughly 1500 pages in length. How would you get through a monster of a book like this if you're pressed for time while still learning most of the material?

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closed as off topic by Oded, Caleb, Jarrod Roberson, Walter, Jim G. Jul 7 '12 at 22:38

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By not wasting time on P.SE and reading the bugger! ;) – haylem Jul 7 '12 at 18:21
haha, That's actually a valid statement. – Mr_Spock Jul 7 '12 at 18:22
I have the same problem, but ultimately I think it just comes down to developing the discipline to just go through it with the amount of focus it deserves. – Jon Jul 7 '12 at 18:25
I really don't see this as a problem specific to programmers - lawyers and accountants have similar issues when laws change. – Oded Jul 7 '12 at 18:38
up vote 7 down vote accepted

My father taught me this trick when I was a child.

Just read the book from any place without any order (or in any order, english is not my native language). Any way you like it. Skip hard parts, skip boring parts. Just read.

First it will look quite a waste of time. Suddenly you'll realize that you understand something. And that parts that you've considered to be hard are not that hard. With boring parts, well, it is not always the rule, but at least you'll get the ability to distinct boring parts that could be skipped of that one that are nevertheless worth to read.

Surprisingly, reading this way is less time consuming and more efficient compared to "disciplined" approach.

Its like painting something wooden. One layer of paint is never enough.

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Gigantic reference manuals aren't for casual reading. I have many on my bookshelf, and I reach for them only when I have a question and turn to the index first.

Most of the how-to or introductory books in the software engineering world are only a few hundred pages at most. I get most of my reading done in bed (each night I read until I pass out with a book on my chest, 'tis the price that must be paid to stay employed in this business).

Also, a long flight is good for catching up on your reading. If you fly often, get an e-reader, and not one of the new sissy models with a color lcd screen. Get a proper e-ink kindle or similar. Perfect for reading up on some new technology on your way to a job interview, for example.

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Those 'sissy models' are really like some unsuccessful hybrid of a normal e-reader and a tablet. – superM Jul 7 '12 at 21:30

There are two types of books: tutorials and reference books/manuals.

It's useful and necessary to read tutorials from cover to cover, and preferably do all the exercises. Otherwise, you'll never be sure not to have missed something important.

What comes to reference books, one can't remember everything in such a book in a short period of time (i.e. less than a month, or even more). It's more useful to learn the key concepts and to see exactly what features are described in the book. So you'll be able to find those features easily when needed, and you wouldn't reinvent a bicycle because you know there already is one.

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As already mentioned, You cannot possibly comprehend everything in long technical text in just a short amount of time. Therefore, my take on this would be to identify the key points by first skimming through the text. Next focus your reading on what seems most relevant to whatever field you're working in.

Using spaced repetition would be a good idea in order to enhance future retention of topics or details that you think would be worthwhile to remember for longer than the next few days.

Now it isn't always simple to assess the relative importance of various topics in a text; this is especially true when doing initial research in an unfamiliar field. In such situations I personally often find myself tempted to approach texts in a very meticulous manner, with the result being that I end up not seeing the forest for the trees and I might even miss out on the ideas or concepts that would have been most important for me to understand. Obviously setting out to study a topic in detail, but in too short time-span, is just setting out to fail in the first place.

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I like the 'spaced repetition' bit you touched on here. Thanks for that. – Mr_Spock Jul 7 '12 at 21:30

Use books as reference documentation

I normally just "index" the books I'm interested in, that is, I read the actual index, make sense of it, then just randomly read the book for 5 to 10 minutes to try to know it.

Whenever I recall about something interesting in X book it is generally because I need it. Then I go back to the book and use it as reference.

There is always (unscheduled) time to read

The other way I get through books: I carry them in my smartphone. Whenever I'm bored, need a break or at lunch-time, I start reading from my phone (I use Kindle for Android)... at the end of the week I'm generally amazed on how much I advanced my reading without having to schedule it.

Note: I have a Galaxy Note, so reading is very pleasant in my phone.

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this looked like an advertisement at first :p – nischayn22 Jul 8 '12 at 6:45

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