Scan Reading – Summary Reading

I have a confession to make, I rarely read all of a document.

Jimmy and Granddad visit Alnwick GardensThere, I’ve said it, it’s out in the open.

Why should I? It’s rare that the whole of a document, or to that matter, an email or a blog, has been written wholly with me in mind.

It’s been written to communicate something, so I need to be able to read enough of the document to understand what is being communicated, to the level that I need to understand it.

It’s not a productive use of my time to read all of a document when I’ve understood what needs to be understood by only reading part of it.

I’m sorry if that sounds a bit harsh, but it is the reality of the world in which I live.

It’s a skill that has been born out of necessity. In the technical industry people don’t generally rank too highly on the spectrum of brevity. It’s much more likely that people will say too much than not enough.

Dilbert.com

One of the first lesson I learnt in summary reading was that you can’t get a summary of a document from the section title Introduction and certainly not from the section titled Executive Summary. I always thought it was a rather cruel trick to expect people who have not been executives to know what an executive might want to know about in a summary – assuming, of course, that a Technical Executive wants to read the same summary as a Project Executive or Finance Executive.

The need to understand a document at the summary level is one reason why I still print out quite a lot of documents. There have been all sorts of advances in screen technology and displays, but I still haven’t found one that allows me to flick through a document, forwards and backwards,

I wrote a bit more about this in an earlier post on scan reading.

Knowing that most of you haven’t even got this far I’ll finish there.

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