Critical reading is often overlooked, even by people considered smart and scholarly. Cyril Burt was known as a leading British scientist until his death in 1971. Scientists accepted his research and writing as fact without thinking critically about his work. Years after his death, a closer examination exposed fabricated test results.
Failing to apply critical reading skills at work might have less serious implications, but it’s an important skill for individual performance and team effectiveness. These quick and simple methods will help your critical reading skills.
The most concrete approach for critical reading comes from a 1946 book written by Francis P. Robinson called “Effective Study.” It’s written with regards to textbooks, but the concepts work for reading emails, reports, and documents at work. The SQ3R can be applied when reading news articles, social media and more.
Survey - Treat your time like the valuable commodity it is. Don’t dive into something without knowing what you’re reading. If something is longer than you think, you’ll lose focus while reading. If something is shorter than you think, you can read too fast and weaken your feedback.
Question - Ask preliminary questions that come to mind during the survey process. Don’t let these ideas stick with you and interrupt focus. You won’t always be able to ask the author questions beforehand. Ask yourself some preliminary prep questions in this case.
- What do I already know about this? (project, problem, feature idea, change, etc) - Get your brain thinking about the related information for better comprehension.
- How long is this going to take? - For instance, don’t get sucked into email for an hour because you’re not thinking about reading time.
- Should someone else be reading this? - Forward and share information before you start reading so you don’t forget.
Read - When it comes time to read, read critically. Copyblogger created a guide on how to read based on a book originally written in 1940 - “How to Read a Book.” It talks about the four progressional levels of reading. The final stage being syntopical. There are five components to syntopical reading: inspection, assimilation, questions, issues, and conversation. To summarize, this form or reading is all about being furiously inquisitive and analytical. Instead of taking everything at face value, you’re considering the author’s reasoning behind what they wrote and generating conversations based on what you read. This can help you be a better manager or coworker in a work setting. Instead of saying, “this is wrong” or “this doesn’t make sense,” think about how the author arrived at that conclusion and provide actionable, constructive feedback.
Recall - The recall stage is essentially the art of not losing focus while reading. This has become more difficult in the social media and smartphone age. Distraction-prone readers should break writing into sections. Your environment also plays a role in recall ability.
Review - The review stage is a final analysis of your recall ability. At work, consider if you have actionable takeaways after reading. Re-read critical sections or whatever the author deemed critical with bolding, underlining, etc. A proper mental review of what you read can be the difference between creating an unnecessary task or progressing forward.
Beyond a reading process, critical reading can also be about strategy. This includes work habits and lifestyle. The idea of a low-information diet has been tossed around by self-help gurus as a miracle cure for productivity. But at its core, it’s common sense advice backed by science.
According to The Distracted Mind: Ancient Brains in a High-Tech World by Dr. Adam Gazzaley, a neuroscientist, and Dr. Larry Rosen, a psychologist, our ability to focus has two factors. Enhancement refers to the ability to focus on things that matter and suppression is the ability to block out unimportant things. Their research found that as we get older, our ability to do the latter (suppression) fades.
This is why it’s so important to focus on eliminating unnecessary information. Basic steps such as cutting down on social media, negative news and too much small talk around the office will improve critical reading ability.
The concept of critical reading is essential to DocOps, and the process aims to make it easier.
Reading together - Few experiences match the act of reading together when it comes to togetherness. Everything slows down and the team is focused on the exact same thing. Combine this with the proper environment and it’s an optimized platform for critical reading.
Reducing meetings and distributions - The goal of writing, reviewing and managing with documents is teams are better informed and more prepared. This means fewer meetings, impromptu sidebars and prolonged periods of deep focus.
Enabling trust - Lastly, this way of operating increases trust within a team. Complimenting each other on their writing while helping each other improve is a form of team building. The increased transparency also improves team chemistry.