techniques for reading efficiently

by Sarah Luna

In my last post, I described my first day in what will probably be my favorite class. Dr. Wansink runs the Food and Brand Lab at Cornell and has designed this workshop to teach about theories on consumer behavior.

Yesterday, he taught us two techniques for efficient reading: one for scientific papers and one for books. Since a significant chunk of my career will be spent reading, it’s crucial for me to be able to glean the importance of a paper quickly.

When approaching a scientific paper, take a few minutes to look at the abstract. Have a sheet of paper nearby and jot down a graph of what the paper’s about. What’s the population? What are the main variables (for lack of a better word)? What correlations does it find? What are the conclusions? For the paper we read yesterday, we came up with a simple graph showing a negative correlation between healthy foods consumed and TV watching at the dinner table. Boom. That’s the entire point of the paper represented visually for our learning pleasure. Only once that was done were we at leisure to read the entire article for details.

Now on to books. He passed around seven different books for us to choose from. Each book was between 200-300 pages and discussed a current behavioral theory (Note: these were not text books rather books for everyday people). He had us write the following 5 questions on a 5×7 card with space below each to answer:

  1. What is the main argument of the book?
  2. What is the supporting evidence?
  3. What is an interesting fact/anecdote?
  4. What is a question this book raises for me?
  5. What is an application of this book to my personal life?

He gave us 20 minutes (literally) to read the book and answer those questions.

Well my reading got really efficient with a deadline like that. I sped through chapters. I skimmed past extraneous pages. I hunted for the main points…and I found them. At the end of those 20 minutes, I gave a 5 minute presentation on my book. It was organized and intelligible and quite thoughtful.

I’m excited to see what the rest of the class has in store.