The Lost Art of Book Previewing

71 books, 234 Instapaper saved articles, 123 podcasts in my to listen queue and 88 Youtube videos in my watch it later playlist. And that is only my information consumption planned for the rest of the year.

Does this seems like you? You may be another victim of the information tsunami in which every knowledge worker is drowning.

Information overload is getting worse by the minute and the creator’s economy is going to make things worse, much worse.

Is this problem even solvable? Read on.

Do you know why you are reading, watching or listening to something?

Have a goal. Stopping to create a goal before consuming any type of information is like go hunting with a laser telescopic sight.

Having a goal while you read will help you be more conscious on the quality of the material and to better absorb more of what you are reading.

Having a reading goal It’s like telling your brain in which folder or directory to store the information.

First step: before doing anything write down the goal you want to achieve with the information you are about to consume. That’s it. What’s next?

You can only read what you already know

You can only read what you already know. Did you know that? Actually think about it in your own experience. The more you know of a topic the easier it is to read.

To better know what you are about to read, there’s a simple process you can do every time: previewing.

Previewing helps you to familiarize yourself with the information so you can have a solid foundation to better process it.

Previewing will help you in two ways:

will answer the most fundamental question: does the piece of information helps you accomplishing your goal or not?

if it does, previewing will help your brain to better accommodate this new knowledge.

How to preview? Let’s see how the process would look like for a book.

How to preview a book

To understand if a book is going to serve your goals, first you have to preview it. Do the following:

1) Get a general idea of the structure of the book

Before committing to reading, read the table of contents, chapter titles, back cover, foreword, topic index at the end, general images, charts and summaries.

Understand the structure of the book you are about to read.

No more than 10 minutes.

2) Hunt for topical keywords

In every book or article there is going to be a certain number of words that are repeated over and over in the text. This words carry important meaning in the context of the topic, they are topical keywords.

If you are reading a book, it’s easy to identify them. Just look at the index in the end; keywords that have the most number of pages next to them (these are keywords that are mentioned more often in the lecture) are good candidates for topical keywords.

Then you can go through the text quickly identifying words that seems to be important and that carry most of the meaning in the text.

The words that you identify will prime your brain in order to find them later when you are consciously reading the book.

3) Asses what you got so far

The last step of the previewing process involves assessing what you have obtained so far.

With all this new information in place, ask yourself the following questions:

Do I have a more understanding of the topic?

Is this new information all that you needed?

If not, does this new information changes your goal in some way?

Reassess your goal in light of this new information and be more specific if necessary.

Be a hunter, look for meaning and ideas and, when you have enough, move on to other books.

Always remember, the goal of previewing is deciding if you really want to read the book in front of you or not.

Previewing other types of media

Even if the process is a little different, the goal of previewing other type of media is the same: have a neat understanding of what the material is going to deliver before we actually allocate a lot of time to the task.

Previewing Youtube videos: for this type of media I would read the description, some comments and skip forward to the quartiles of the video to see what they are talking about.

Previewing a podcast: I would do the same, skipping forward in the audio file using the accelerated reproduction mode.

Previewing blog post: skim through the text, read titles and subtitles.

Final words

There’s no point in reading something if you are not getting any information out of it and if you are not enjoying it. Previewing will help you be more conscious of the materials you read and a more efficient information consumer.

If you want to dig deeper in how to get he most out of books, I would recommend How to Read a Book: The Classic Guide to Intelligent Reading, from Mortimer J. Adler and Photoreading by Paul R. Scheele the previewing step.