Saturday, April 18, 2015

Skimming Is Better

A nephew who is many years into grad school sent this article about skimming instead of reading closely. He worried that he would feel he was cheating a bit if he only skimmed material, though he is feeling the pressure at the moment of very little time for pleasure reading.

The article's strongest point is to question whether there was ever a time that we read closely. It may be a false impression because of media. When we used to hold a book in our lap or on a table, it looked, in contrast to our click-click of today, that we were engaging in a much more sustained activity.

I'm pretty sure I wasn't.  I have skimmed most of what I have read all my life.  What I felt needed further explanation I looped back on, automatically, endlessly.  I did the same with things I read for pleasure. It has always been leap, review, leap, review, leap, leap, leap, review, leap, leap, review, review, all across page after page. Sometimes it will be leap, leap, leap for chapters at a time, with little doubling back.

I imagine there is a place for close reading.  I'm sure I've done it somewhere, sometime in my life.  Memorising lines for a play, or preparing a teaching for a Bible lesson...

Recipes.  You can get into trouble skimming recipes, and part of why I find them difficult to hold in the mind is that I apply my automatic reading style to them.


Donna B. said...

Recipes. I skim them all the time because that is the best way to eliminate the ones that I know from experience will not work, or that are more trouble than they are worth.

But that's because I am an experienced cook and and both rationally and empirically know what's required to produce certain results. The addition of an egg adds more than additional nutrition as much as leaving out an egg subtracts more than fat and sodium. Either one can ruin a dish.

Because of a relative's health condition, I've been experimenting with just how much sodium can be reduced before the result is inedible v. somewhat less palatable.

Take dumplings, for example. I've found internet recipes for dumplings (all starting with 2 cups of flour) that call for anywhere from 1/2 teaspoon of baking soda to 4 teaspoons. Some call for an egg, some don't. My results so far are that a minimum of 1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda are required (for 2 cups flour) and that the addition of an egg adds chewiness that is not pleasing to my relative's palate, but might be to others.

I've found it's much easier to make a palatable reduced sodium cornbread than it is to make reduced sodium biscuits. I suspect it's a texture issue.

So, does that apply when an aged, jaded person such as myself (certainly not YOU or any other readers here!) reads something? Do you skim over what you already know? Is that bad?

I've certainly been guilty of skimming texts other than recipes and with less success. The one book I both skim and leap is "From Dawn to Decadence" by Jacques Barzun. I'm not through with it yet, though I've "read" it more than once.

james said...

It depends. Even in a technical paper--boilerplate you skim w/o worry, other stuff you read word by word: maybe a couple of times, maybe draw a picture, maybe look something up...

Sam L. said...

I'm not a skimmer.

Assistant Village Idiot said...

@Donna - My bad. I meant a recipe once chosen must be followed pretty carefully. Pages of recipes I also skim.

@ James - when I read professional articles, it is more of circling. I know where to look for the main point, and from there decide where to go next. That reading is usually about whether treatments worked, or what factors go into causing something, so it may be different.

RichardJohnson said...

Which reminds me of a rather successful mass skimming exercise from decades ago. An academic with a rather successful career, judging by the number of his books still available in new condition on Amazon, once revealed a secret of his success as a grad student at Harvard.

The reading list for the Ph.D. preliminary exam for his department was very long. He and his fellow graduate students decided on a time-saving strategy. Each student read a select number of books, and delivered a summary of the books' main points to the other grad students. Result: he and most of his fellow grad students passed their prelims having read cover to cover only a few of the books on the department reading list.

I don't know how long grad students employed this skimming tactic in this particular department- if it was a one time affair, or if it lasted for years.