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  • Writer's picturesunny tran

How to be a better non-fiction reader

Updated: Jan 25

As an avid reader, I read a lot of books per year. But, it doesn't mean I am able to retain all details and apply the valuable knowledge, especially non-fiction books. After experiencing success and failure, I have a lesson for myself related to reading these kinds of books.

I used to wonder why people could improve themself after devouring books across different fields. All skills such as critical thinking, problem solving, managing financial, and managing both mental and physical they have are developed. I started to delve into non-fiction books, and research the way a successful person applies lessons from books. I realize the development of their life doesn't come from selecting a book and reading it. Instead, these skills take time to develop because readers have to understand what they would do, why they should do.

Non-fiction books are not easy to read and absorb, but they contain valuable lessons that help us change our life if we use it and apply it in the correct ways. Don't worry if you forget what you read, but you should put yourself in the key of points and try your best to focus on what you understand and remember.

It is noted that quality trumps quantity. You should read many books, but at specific times, you need to complete a book and practice what you consume, instead of reading multiple ones.

In this post, I share six steps with you that I use for my reading nonfiction book journey. You can refer and choose the key points that are useful to you.

1/Select a book

Selecting a nonfiction book worth your time and effort admit the vast selection available requires a thoughtful approach.

  • Define your interest and goals: Consider your specific interests, career aspirations, areas of personal growth, or subject you wish to explore further. Narrowing down your focus helps in choosing books aligned with your objectives.

  • Research the Author's Expertise: Investigate the author's background, expertise, and credibility in the subject matter. Authors with experience, relevant qualifications, or recognition in their field often produce insightful and well-reached books.

  • Read reviews and recommendations: Explore reviews from trusted sources, experts, or fellow readers. Websites like Goodgread specialized book review platforms, or credible book blogs provide valuable insights into a book's quality, content, and relevance.

  • Explore Bestseller and Award-winning books: Bestseller lists and award-winning nonfiction books often indicate popularity, quality, and impact. These books tend to offer valuable insights or unique perspectives.

  • Utilize libraries and Bookstores: Visit libraries or bookstores where you can browse various books physically, read experts, and get a feel for content before making a decision.

2/ Clarifying Your Purpose

Setting your intention before diving into a book is crucial as it dictates how you engage with the material and what you aim to achieve from the reading experience.

  • Clarity of purpose: Knowing why you're reading a particular book provides clarity and direction. Whether it's for entertainment, personal growth, skill development, problem-solving, or knowledge expansion, having a clear purpose guides your focus while reading.

  • Application of knowledge: Your “why" influences how you apply the knowledge gained. Whether you aim to implement new skills, solve a specific problem, gain insights for personal or professional growth or simply enjoy the content, your intention guides how you utilize the information.

  • Personalized learning: Tailoring your reading intention to your goals or areas of interest results in a more personalized learning experience. It allows you to focus on aspects that are most relevant and beneficial to you.

3/ Preparation

Effective preparation is key to maximizing the benefits gleaned from non-fiction books. Spending an hour in preparatory work can double the value extracted from any book.

  • Before diving into a book, I am curious about certain aspects: Who is the author? What prompted them to write this book? What feedback or reviews have others offered about it?

  • Multiple avenues exist to gather this information, but I particularly favor podcast interviews. Typically, authors engage in a series of interviews around the book's launch to promote it. In these interviews, they often share their backstory, discuss the book's motive, and elaborate on key lessons and insights. Accessing this information beforehand primes your mind to comprehend and absorb what you're about to read.

  • For books published years ago, interviews with the author on platforms like YouTube might be available. When such resources are absent, considering the historical context of the book's creation can aid in appreciating its relevance within its time frame, rather than imposing modern perspectives onto the work.

4/ Focusing

Reading a nonfiction book requires active engagement and mental presence because the material typically presents facts, information, or concepts that require comprehension and retention.

  • Focus is crucial: Reading nonfiction isn't passive; it demands attention and concentration. Unlike casual reading where the goal might be relaxation or entertainment, engaging with nonfiction necessitates mental efforts to understand and retain information.

  • Memory retention: Lack of focus can hinder memory retention. If you read without being fully attentive, you might not absorb the content well enough to remember it later. This means you might forget much of what you've read, undermining the purpose of learning from the material.

  • Purpose reading: The implication is that reading for mere distraction or to pass time might not require intense focus, as the goal is not necessarily to retain information. But if the objective is to learn or gain knowledge from nonfiction books, active engagement and focus become essential.

5/ Taking notes

Taking notes while reading is an excellent way to enhance comprehension, retain information, and have a reference for key points.

  • Retention of information: When you jot down important concepts, ideas, or facts while reading, you reinforce your memory of that information. The act of summarizing or paraphrasing in your notes helps in better comprehension and retention.

  • Active Engagement: Note-taking keeps you actively engaged with the material. It encourages you to think critically about what you're reading and aids in understanding complex concepts by breaking them down into smaller, digestible parts.

  • Reference for future use: Notes serve as a valuable resource for review. They act as a condensed version of the text, allowing you to visit key points without having to reread the entire book, making your study or reference process more efficient.

  • Personalize learning: Your notes reflect your understanding and interpretation of the material. By summarizing in your own words, you create a personalized reference that resondaté better with your way of thinking, making it easier to grasp and remember.

  • Organizing thoughts: Note-taking helps in structuring and organizing your thoughts about material. It assists in identifying connections between ideas, aiding a deeper understanding of the subject matter.

6/ Review

By reviewing processes with a focus on reflection and actionable steps, you actively translate the theoretical knowledge gained from the book into practical changes in your life. This approach ensures that the insights gleaned contribute tangibly to personal growth, development, and positive change.

  • Recollection of key ideas: Begin by revisiting the key points, concepts, and insights captured in your notes from the book. Highlight the ideas that resonated most strongly with you or those you believe could significantly impact your life.

  • Evaluation of personal relevance: Reflect on how these ideas align with your current circumstances, goals, values, and aspirations. Consider how they can address specific challenges or enhance areas of improvement in your life.

  • Development of an action plan: Outline a detailed plan of action. Break down the goals into smaller, manageable tasks or steps. Determine the resources, supports, or skills required to execute these actions effectively.

  • Implementation and Tracking: Initiate the execution of your action plan. Regularly track your progress towards achieving the set goals. Keep yourself accountable by monitoring milestones and adjusting strategies if necessary.

I discuss my experience with reading non-fiction books and how to effectively engage with them. I emphasize the importance of selecting books aligned with one's interests and goals, researching the author's expertise, and reading reviews and recommendations. I also suggest clarifying one's purpose for reading and preparing before diving into a book by gathering information about the author and their motivations. I emphasize the need for focus and active engagement while reading non-fiction to comprehend and retain information effectively. The text discusses the importance of focus and note-taking in memory retention and learning from reading. It emphasizes that active engagement and focus are necessary for retaining information from nonfiction books. Taking notes while reading enhances comprehension, aids in memory retention, and provides a reference for key points. Reviewing the material involves reflecting on key ideas, evaluating personal relevance, developing an action plan, and implementing and tracking progress towards goals. This approach ensures that theoretical knowledge translates into practical changes and contributes to personal growth and positive change.

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