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What Are the Best Tips for Reading Nonfiction?

Article Details
  • Written By: Ray Hawk
  • Edited By: E. E. Hubbard
  • Last Modified Date: 09 December 2017
  • Copyright Protected:
    2003-2017
    Conjecture Corporation
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Reading nonfiction doesn't have to start on page one and end on the last page of the book days later. There are many approaches to getting the most out of any nonfiction book or shorter work in a minimum amount of time. Some include reading only certain sections, browsing, close reading, and other gleaning techniques.

When reading nonfiction, the first approach should be to look at the table of contents, if available. The listed chapter titles can provide a glimpse into what the book has to offer. If only a few of the chapter titles look interesting, then it may be more time efficient to either read just those chapters or move on to another book.

Some nonfiction books are not meant to be read cover to cover at all. This includes books of facts, trivia, and lists, such as popular games, movies, sports teams, and others. With these types of nonfiction, browsing for the small regions of the most interest can often best be done by flipping to the back of the book and using the index.

Books that are written in a narrative fashion, as if the author is directly talking to the reader, have a narrower focus, and this is where reading nonfiction should most closely resemble the reading of fiction. With narratives and true-account formats, reading the introduction or beginning of the first paragraph and the concluding paragraphs at the end of the book will give a good sense for the journey on which the author is trying to take readers. Unlike a novel, reading nonfiction in this way doesn't spoil the suspense, especially if the reader intends to finish the rest of the book. Reading nonfiction is meant to be an informative process more than it is emotionally engaging.

Other preparatory tips include first checking the dust jacket or any available information to see if the book is reliable. The author biography, usually included on the back cover, can also be a good indicator as to the content. If the author is someone with questionable credentials or who hasn't written much else, its possible that much of the content of the book might be conjecture more than established fact.

If the book is already purchased or owned but not yet read, a fast approach to getting the most out of it would be to merely flip through it until key subjects or passages catch the reader's attention. This is a variation on speed reading that may not convey the full meaning of the book, but will allow for gaining the essence of the content. As it is browsed in this manner, pages can be highlighted or the corners bent in, and notes taken in the margins, so that the key passages can be returned to at a later date as quick references.

The joy in reading nonfiction is that it can give quick access to potentially years of hard work and detailed research by the writer with minimal effort on the part of the reader. It is an informal method of education that has been a part of human culture since the invention of writing. Prose writing is a very cost-effective and efficient method of storing and transmitting human knowledge. There is so much of it available, however, that nonfiction reading should be approached with the initial thought in mind that the reader doesn't have to finish the book, and can simply glean the information from it that catches his or her attention.

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