Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Buried Under Piles of Publications?

Today, I am welcoming Chassie Lee to share her perspective on speed reading on PhD Talk. Chassie is the Content Expert for eReflect – creator of 7 Speed Reading, which is currently being used by tens of thousands of happy customers in over 110 countries.

One of the most daunting aspects of studying for a PhD is the sheer amount of reading you've got to do. Even if you thought you had your reading load under control when you were working on your Masters, you might be overwhelmed now by the seemingly endless streams of information you need to navigate in order to fully research your topic, and keep up with any new developments in your field. So how can you speed through those mountains of manuscripts, both online and in print? Speed reading, that's how.

You might think that speed reading is just hype - that no one can flip through pages and get the relevant information they need without reading word by word and line by line. While it's true that some speed reading claims are exaggerated, many of the techniques that speed readers use not only let you read faster, they help you categorize and remember the facts and figures in the text you're reading. Below are just some of the ways that speed reading improves the way you handle your reading workload.

Speed reading saves you time by cutting out clutter.

To save time in the end, start by taking the time to categorize your reading material. When you learn the speed reading techniques of scanning and skimming you'll be able to quickly sort through documents and classify them into three categories:
• things you need to read now for pertinent and/or timely information
• things you need to read later for general research and fact-finding
• things that might have useful information but aren't immediately relevant

Once you've grouped the most important papers together, you'll have a much smaller pile in front of you. This simple visual will provide a subliminal reassurance that you don't have to be as stressed out about the quantity of documents, which will help you focus on the material you're reading. You'll find that when you have this relaxed focus, your concentration will improve, and you'll be able to get through the papers more quickly.

You can also de-clutter your online documents by learning how to use automatic news feeds. Setting up keywords that target your specific topic will bump those publications to the top of your online lists, and you won't have to waste time scrolling through articles that don't apply to your field of research.

Speed reading teaches you how to identify key information.

Another speed reading technique that helps you locate and remember the information you need is related to fixation expansion. Your eyes will be trained to take in larger groups of words at once, rather than reading one word at a time. These word groups are centered on key vocabulary words, rather than on "filler" words that your brain automatically processes. Once your eyes have stopped on the word cluster containing the targeted term(s), you can quickly make a note of the relevant information before continuing to read. By taking notes, you'll stimulate other areas of your brain linked to motor movements and memory processing, which will help ensure that you remember this information more easily in the future.

After taking the notes, be sure to make an archive of what you've read, and save that along with the written or online notes you've been taking. Use the same key vocabulary words you were focused on, and add tags or bookmarks to help you locate specific graphs, charts, statistics, or quotes when you need to reference that document in the future.

Speed reading helps you enjoy the process.

You're in a doctoral program because you're passionate about what you're doing, but the more your stress levels rise, the more there's a danger that your passion will turn from love to hate. When you've learned to use speed reading techniques to help you classify, comprehend, and catalog your documents, you'll have more time to focus on writing your dissertation, or on preparing for your oral and written exams. And you'll have more time to yourself - time you can use to relax, to take a quick weekend break with friends, or just to spend time at home with a glass of wine or a cup of tea and a good fiction book (that best-seller all your non-doctoral friends are talking about, for example).

Finally, for those of you who are reading this because you're thinking about going for a PhD, remember that speed reading can help you prepare for and score well on your entrance exams - and you'll use the same techniques to sail through your years of study and writing afterwards.

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