Reading A Paper or Chapter
PSQ5R is a formula that stands for the basic steps in learning
from reading in an efficient manner. The P stands for
Purpose, the S for Survey, the
Q for Question, the 5 Rs for Read
Selectively, Recite, Reduce-record, Reflect, and
Why are you reading this article or chapter, and what do you want
to get out of it? When you have acoomplished your purpose, stop
reading. For instance, your purpose in seeking a number in the
telephone book is specific and clear, and once you find the
number, you stop "reading." Such "reading" is very rapid indeed,
perhaps 100,000 words a minute! Perhaps it should be called by
its proper name, "scanning", but when it suits your purpose, it
is fast and efficient. This principle, of first establishing your
purpose, whether to get the Focus or Theme, or main ideas, or
main facts or figures, or evidence, arguments and examples, or
relations, or methods, can prompt you to use a reading method
that gets what you want in the minimum time.
Glance over the main features of the piece, that is, the title,
the headings, the lead and summary paragraphs, to get an overview
of the piece, to find out what ideas, problems and questions are
being discussed. In doing this you should find the Focus
of the piece, that is, the central theme or subject, what it is
all about; and perhaps the Perspective, that is, the
approach or manner in which the author treats the theme. This
survey should be carried out in no more than a minute or two.
Compose questions that you aim to answer:
- What do I already know about this topic? - in other words,
activate prior knowledge.
- Turn the first heading into a question, to which you will be
seeking the answer when you read. For example: "What
were 'the effects of the Hundred Years' War'?" - and you
might add "on democracy, or on the economy"? Or "What is
'the impact of unions on wages'?"
4. Read Selectively
Read to find the answers to your question. By reading the first
sentenoe of each paragraph you may well get the answers.
Sometimes the text will "list" the answers by saying "The first
point.... Secondly...." and so on. And in some cases you may have
to read each paragraph carefully just to understand the next one,
and to find the Focus or main idea buried in it. In general, look
for the ideas, information, evidence, etc., that will meet your
Without looking at the book, recite the answers to the question,
using your own words as much as possible. If you cannot do it
reasonably well, look over that section again.
Make a brief outline of the question and your answers. The
answers should be in key words or phrases, not long sentenoes.
For example, "Effects of 100 Yrs' War? - consolidate Fr. King's
power, Engl. off continent". Or, "Unions on Wages? - Uncertain,
Recent work in cognitive psychology indicates that comprehension
and retention are increased when you "elaborate" new information.
This is to reflect on it, to turn it this way and that, to
compare and make categories, to relate one part with another, to
connect it with your other knowledge and personal experience, and
in general to organize and reorganize it. This may be done in
your mind's eye, and sometimes on paper. Sometimes you will at
this point elaborate the outline of step 6, and perhaps
reorganize it into a standard outline, a hierarchy, a table, a
flow diagram, a map, or even a "doodle." Then you go through the
same process, steps 3 to 7, with the next section, and so on.
Survey your "reduced" notes of the paper or chapter to see them
as a whole. This may suggest some kind of overall organization
that pulls it all together. Then recite, using the questions or
other cues as starters or stimuli for recall. This latter kind of
recitation can be carried out in a few minutes, and should be
done every week or two with important material.
In reading books, there are several stages to go through, and one
must make a judgment at the end of each stage. The question to
answer is "Have I gone far enough to achieve my purpose?" If you
have, STOP. If not, go on. STEPS:
- Note who the author is, and the date of publication. Read
preface and table of contents. Look at the diagrams and pictures.
- Skim read the first and last chapters. Frequently these are
introductory and summary chapters, and may give you all the
information you need.
- Read the first and last chapters and skim the intervening
chapters.This takes you into the book in greater depth, and
allows you to decide which, if any, of the intervening chapters
you should read.
- Read intervening chapters as demanded by your purpose.
- Go into the glossary, index, and appendicies as needed.
Skimming and selective reading are speedy and efficient
techniques for getting what you need out of books and
articles. Many students think it is cheating not to read every
word in a book. Not so. You are cheating yourself when you waste
time reading material not essential to your purpose.