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Getting through computer books quickly?

Does anyone have any tips/tricks/whatever for getting through technical books (especially one which require a significant amount of concentration -- i.e. difficult ones) quickly?

I want to get through books quicker.

Warren Henning
Monday, February 10, 2003

Get the basic concepts right!

What kind of "technical books" ? "CS-related" e.g. AI, NN, DSP, etc ? or just EJB/ASP/etc ???

Monday, February 10, 2003

The more you read them the faster you read. Because you end up skimming over all the stuff you start to pretend you already know. And only look at these "other sections" when you learned that you really don't know.

Li-fan Chen
Monday, February 10, 2003

Start reading from the beginning. Write down sentences that summarize key concepts, around 1 or 2 sentences per page read. When you've finsished a chapter write down a few lines on what the chapter actually said.
Go through all the chapters like this, and do it quickly. Dont try to understand anything yet, just read and summarize, and move on.

When you're done, read your notes. Try to mentally create an image of how the material is structured and how the concepts relate to eachother. Draw a map on paper with boxes and arrows, use colour. (And, accidentally leave the map where your boss can see it and you might get a promotion)

By now you have created a metal readiness for the information. You have made little boxes in your brain where info can be stored.
So, start reading again. Not quite as fast this time. With every new understanding you come across, try to mentally place it on your map and consider its relations with the key concepts you wrote down on the first reading.

Thats how I do it.

HOWEVER, if you were refering to programming books that aim to teach a skill rather than provide understanding, the only way is to actually write code and lots of it.

Sometimes using both methods is best.

Eric DeBois
Monday, February 10, 2003

"I want to get through books quicker"

Why? Do you thnk your code will load faster if you do. Or are you renting them per hour?

Stephen Jones
Monday, February 10, 2003

You could try some of Buzan's speed study techniques:

Make The Most Of Your Mind
Use Your Head
(Tony Buzan)

His method usually applies to studying more conceptual books (e.g. school study books), but some of his techniques may be of use to you.

Sherlock who only ever replies to non programming questions betraying his low IQ and misfit with this site's population...

Monday, February 10, 2003

Perhaps you should buy less books?

Tony E
Monday, February 10, 2003

Software products have so many details that I usually just "deep skim" computer books. I try understand the high-level concepts. I can always return to the book when I need more details in the future.

Monday, February 10, 2003

Like training classes and seminars, I don't think just reading books is much help.  In particular, I think sitting down to carefully read a book through is usually a big waste of time.

Learning programming and/or programming tools is a lot like learning mathematics.  You can't learn calculus by reading a book, you're got to "do it" to learn.  Same with programming.

As someone else has suggested, I believe the best route is to skim a book well enough to become familiar with the main issues of whatever topic it covers.  Then go to work (or play) and actually start trying to use the technology. 

When you run into problems -- as you certainly will -- look up the section of the book pertaining to that problem and give it more serious study.  Then go back to actually doing things until you run into a problem again.  Then go back to the book.  Lather, rinse, and repeat ad infinitum, or until you find that you no longer have any need for the book.

Herbert Sitz
Monday, February 10, 2003

The only way to learn programming is by writing fifty bazillion lines of code.

Having said that, I also read lots of technical books. But I think skimming them is the best way to go. I try to look at every page, and (for the most part) every paragraph, but I don't read every word. Important phrases will tend to jump out at me.

After skimming the book, I've got a good idea of the subject matter, and I'm ready to plop down and write a bunch of code. In the process of writing code, I'll probably need to refer back to that book dozens of times to get specific information. Having _used_ the information that I actually _need_, I'm much more likely to remember it. On the other hand, if I just read blindly through a book without knowing, through experience, what I'll need, I end up getting too much information that doesn't matter to me (or, worse, a bunch of stuff that I already know).

Also, I only buy excellent technical books. I only buy reference-type books, never tutorial-type books. I've found that if you read tutorial-type books, they become utterly useless after your first project. Reference books are good for beginners and experts, alike.

Benji Smith
Monday, February 10, 2003

You may look for reviews on before you buy.

Monday, February 10, 2003

Another thing you need to understand is that to fully read technical books just takes a hell of a lot longer than non-technical books.

Further, focus on your goals - why are you even reading the book? Is it really just to get done with it, or do you want to learn something specific, or more general in nature?

If you want to learn something specific, skim the book till you hit something you think is directly related to that specific thing, and then read it completely and intently, and multiple times. Almost anything complicated has to be read multiple times to 'get it' to any reasonable degree.

If you just want more general knowledge, just read the book lightly. If you're getting bogged down in a certain section either mark it and move on, or just stop reading and come back to it later. With complicated subjects your ability to understand what you are reading falls exponentially past the 20-40 minute mark - the brain did not evolve to think about this kind of stuff, and to the extent that it can do it it cannot do it without effort, and the brain can be exhausted just like any muscle can.

Other than that, be more specific with what you want. "Technical" isn't very specific, and be specific as to exactly what you want to get out of them and why you are reading them.

Brian Hall
Monday, February 10, 2003

Here's my approach to reading books of philosophy -- which, IMHO, have to be "worked through" with the same care one would being to a technical book.

Read it once to get a general feel for the argument, the "lay of the land," if you will.

Read it again to take notes of key passages and outline the general argument.

Then you should understand the gist of the book.

Read it again if you really want to master it.  And again.  And again.

Monday, February 10, 2003

FWIW, in my programming classes I try to get two or three other books in addition to the class text.  I check these out from the public library if I can find them there; easier on the wallet, and I can always buy them later if they're that good.  Then at the puzzling topics I have two or three alternate viewpoints that can fill in the gaps.  I'm not sure what you mean by "read books faster" but if you mean "gain knowledge faster" (presumably you're after more than just "x books read" under your belt), in my opinion the best way is to read several books in conjunction like this.

Also, as others have mentioned, you need more interactivity than just reading.  Of course you should do the exercises at the end of the chapter (if you have that kind of book), but also, type in the examples in the chapter instead of just downloading them!  It makes you look at the code more closely, and if you have it there in front of you, you're more apt to tinker with it to try out other ideas.

Tuesday, February 11, 2003

Heres how I do it.
I stare at each page until the image becomes readable, like one of those 3d picture puzzles.

Works for me.

Tuesday, February 11, 2003


Thanks for that.  I'm studying right now and I cannot get the hang of note taking.  It takes me hours to do a few pages.  It never occured to me that you do it as a mechanical exercise.  I was trying to be all deep and insightful with my scribbling.

I'm going to give your approach a go.

Ged Byrne
Tuesday, February 11, 2003

Just as computer books are rarely useful, so are most of the comments in this particular thread of any use to the poster.

He asked about how to read computer books faster. Not your opinion if he was buying too many books, not because he thought it would make his code run faster,etc.. What is it with technical people that just have to extend their extraordinary egos and arrogance to everything? If you didn't have a solution to helping his reading comprehension on technical books, why did you post? Just to annoy someone?

Go Linux Go!
Wednesday, February 12, 2003

Others seem to post messages that don't contribute to the conversation at all, but simply reprimand other users and annoy everyone.

Benji Smith
Wednesday, February 12, 2003

Dear Go Linux Go,
                            How do you answer somebody who is asking the wrong question?

                            Until he expalins what his situation is nobody can help him.

                            I suspect the problem is he needs to read faster, not slower.

Stephen Jones
Thursday, February 13, 2003

Go Linux Go,

You're quite right.


Here are two articles (a search engine can help you find more) to help you learn how to do exactly what you have asked to do, and I will refrain from any editorial comment on whether this is a worthy goal.  Enjoy!

Thursday, February 13, 2003

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