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13 questions whilst you read

"The only important thing in a book is the meaning that it has for you." – W. Somerset Maugham

I was probably the anti-example (if that is even a word) for reading. I was reading books because they seemed to be the “right” ones to read and was getting through them rather than really engaging with them. I would leave long gaps between picking up the books and by the end of it I would not be able to really put together a good explanation of what I had read. I now see that time as poorly spent.


I have since approached books differently, even if for enjoyment and escapism. If you need to explain what you have learnt, you will read it in an entirely different way. A big difference is trying to imagine having to answer questions after you read the book. For fiction, it might be a synopsis of the storyline, the significance of the setting or how the characters interact with each other.

This blog is how you might read non-fiction which is having questions in mind. Whilst you do not need to write the answers to these questions down it will be an excellent way for you to cement that knowledge and remember those ideas.

How deeply do you read?

Here are 4 different depths of reading:

Questions whilst you are reading

To read a book deeply we need to be armed with good questions that help us carve the arguments away from all the scene setting. Sometimes books of hundreds of pages make very few points. Knowing which points they have made is an important discipline.

Basic questions:

  1. What subject is the book about as a whole?

  2. What is the main idea that the author is trying to convey?

  3. Which arguments does the author offer up? Are they data driven arguments, logical arguments or rhetorical devices?

  4. What are the key repeated words? What might be the context of those words? Intermediate questions:

  5. Do you think the author has informed you? Persuaded you?

  6. Is this book culturally significant? How has it impacted people?

  7. Are you convinced by the book? Do you believe most assertions are true and arguments are well made? How might you approach the subject differently?

  8. What are the gaps in the arguments made? Are they logically consistent?

  9. Is this a defence of an existing position or suggesting something new? Advanced questions:

  10. Who is the author and are they credible in this subject? What other books have they written and on which topics were they?

  11. Why did the author write the book and who is the intended audience?

  12. What other authors look at this subject and how have their conclusions differed?

  13. Where is the author misinformed or guilty of trying to make an anecdote into evidence of similar trick?


Making notes in a book

LIBRARIANS LOOK AWAY. Writing in books is a great way to really engage with the text and make it yours. It might feel wasteful to you, but in reality unless it is a library book, how many other people are really going to read it?

Here are the 7 ways I tend to mark up books:

  1. Underline: important content or great use of language.

  2. Bracket: Put a bracket sign in the margins for a key paragraph which will save you from underling too much

  3. BR: "Book recommendation". Often books refer to other books that you might like.

  4. GQ: "Great Quote". Some absolute all time best quotes will be lost if you don't bring them out.

  5. Arg 1: "Argument 1" (or 2 or 3) should be used against each argument that the author makes. It will help you keep track of the thread of their argument.

  6. KC: "Key conclusion". This is also important as you try and highlight the key arguments and conclusions.

  7. SW: "So what", this is when the author tries to relate the arguments to real life. This is often where many writers fall down, they win the abstract argument but lose on the implementation.

There you have it, an approach for you to get more out of reading non-fiction.

So what?

  1. There are different levels of reading from elementary all the way to syntopical reading, each requiring a higher level of engagement.

  2. Good questions help you retain and make the most of the book. It also helps you uncover the lazy reasoning or lack of data to support the claims.

  3. Marking up a book is a great way of highlighting the best bits and making it easy for you to pick the book up and get to the key arguments. This will be so helpful for you.  


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