|This article, written in 1999, discusses the effective ways of reading articles coming from electronic sources of information. Today, some techniques described here have largely been supplanted by the new concept of incremental reading. Unless you are reading for a historical context of incremental reading, you would better start with a newer text: Devouring knowledge|
Wealth of information
If I was to name one thing that would have the greatest impact on the future of this planet, I would point to the World Wide Web. The possibility of searching 800 million pages of information [Nature, June 1999] in seconds or minutes, provides those with access to the Internet with experience that was not known to humans in the whole 40,000 years of human communication prior to WWW! With intelligent queries, you can get answers to questions ranging from cold remedies, GDP figures, impact of coffee on health to specialist articles, news, train schedules, stock picks, auctions, etc. It seems that soon the access to information is to stop being a limiting factor in your quest for more and better knowledge. Just the opposite, you are likely to be served with more valuable information than you will ever be able to process. To make a true use of the blessing of the web you need tools to prioritize, and process knowledge. Secondly, you will need tools to make sure that whatever you process does not volatilize as a result of your failing memory. It is quite likely that soon, for a significant proportion of Internet users, reading on paper will no longer be a viable option as compared with reading the net.
Just five years ago, in my Ph.D. dissertation, I wrote about difficulties in adjusting my reading habits when moving from paper to the electronic form. Now I spend nearly all of my reading time on reading the net! If you sense that you are about to join this ever growing group of electronic readers, or at least, you want to make a good use of knowledge available on the Internet, this article is for you.
|Leaders are readers!
Yellow inserts will show that you can greatly improve your reading and learning the Internet if you use SuperMemo for Windows. SuperMemo is an application that pioneered repetition spacing in learning (repetition spacing solves the problem of forgetting by computing optimum inter-repetition intervals in the review process). SuperMemo 99 extended the application of SuperMemo into the area of knowledge access. It provides you with simple tools to: import, prioritize, read, process, dismember and memorize material published on the net. Yellow inserts will show you how to accomplish those steps with SuperMemo. You can skip those inserts if SuperMemo goes beyond your interest
Select your sources
The first relatively easy step to soaking net knowledge is to find the sources of information. Probably you have already located your favorite sites with information that is currently in the focus of your attention. If not, you might start from www.cnn.com or www.google.com or www.wikipedia.org and soon your Favorites section will be populated with lots of valuable links to information rich sites
Collect the articles
You can use Open in New Window in your browser to open many articles in a short surfing session. Before you save your articles for detailed reading, it is very important that you quickly go through what you have collected. Articles that are not worth reading are handled quickly by closing their copy of the browser. Articles of less importance can be reviewed quickly without saving. More important articles should be carefully annotated and prioritized. Very often it makes sense to save only a single paragraph of a larger article or several paragraphs of which each would be assigned a different priority
Prioritize your reading
If you have already started reading the Internet, perhaps you have run into a problem of saving lots of pages on your hard disk and never actually having time to read them. Open in New Window makes it very tempting to check what hides behind interestingly titled hyperlinks. You might find yourself opening dozens of pages and then ... with time running out, adding those pages to your hard disk collections that seems to never stop growing. Clearly you need to prioritize those articles to make sure that you at least read those that seem to be most valuable. You cannot ever hope to read everything that seems interesting. Perhaps you have already created priority folders just to find out that even your top priority folder is overpopulated and still requires further prioritizing. Efficient prioritizing is the key to successful reading. You do not ever have to delete what you do not read. It is only important that you start from reading those articles that are likely to generate most value
|Importing articles to your reading list
SuperMemo 99 introduced a concept of a reading list. A reading list is a collection of articles imported from the net and prioritized for importance.
If you have found an interesting article on the net, you can add it to your reading list in SuperMemo using the following steps:
|Importing articles to your reading list
Review your reading list
Be sure that you always read your articles starting with top priority articles. Naturally you can always reevaluate the priority and change the reading order
|Sorting the reading list
You can review your reading list by pressing Ctrl+F4 (or F4 in SuperMemo 99). The picture below presents an exemplary reading list. The combo-box top-left makes it possible to select the appropriate reading list if you keep more than one list. To change the value, time or priority, click on the relevant field, input the new value and press Enter. You can sort the list by pressing Ctrl+S or by clicking the button Sort tasks on the toolbar
To select your top priority article for reading choose either of the following methods:
Read and highlight
Once you choose your top priority article, you can proceed with reading. It is highly recommended that you extract the fragments that you believe are most important and schedule them for later review. The great benefit of reading the web, as opposed to reading the books, is that the hypertext nature of the web enforces a very compact and usually self-explaining nature of individual articles. A jump to a randomly selected page in an average book will leave you confused due to the context-dependence of the material. On the other hand, it is less likely the same confusion will trouble you in a random jump to a selected page of an equivalent material placed on the web. Web authors usually put more effort to add contexts to the page (at least in the form of hyperlinks). In other words, it is easier to build quality knowledge by reading single pages of the web than by reading single pages of paper books. We are getting closer to the ideals of incremental life-long learning as opposed to thorough-review learning which for many ends with the end of school years. In the busy days of modern society, few can afford a thorough review of their rusty knowledge in individual fields. It is much easier to fix the gaps incrementally: today an article on the structure of the atom, tomorrow an article on a healthy diet, etc. And all that strictly adjusted to individual's interest and professional priorities.
Let us have a look at an example of a very short, self-containing article, posted in April 1999 on the CNN website. This short article can be read in minutes and can serve as a positive incentive towards adjustments in your diet. Gray inserts will, as of now, be used to follow the processing of this particular article. Please read the article before we proceed with the analysis
|Antioxidants may slow
aging process, study says April 5, 1999 Web
posted at: 9:39 p.m. EDT (0139 GMT) From Correspondent Linda
Ciampa BOSTON (CNN) -- Research at Tufts
University indicates that a healthy diet fortified with certain fruits and vegetables may
slow down and even reverse the aging process. Foods rich in antioxidants -- such as
blueberries, strawberries, spinach and broccoli -- have what doctors call high ORAC
(Oxygen Radical Absorption Capacity) levels. Middle-aged rats who were fed a high ORAC
diet in the USDA- sponsored study experienced less memory loss than those given a normal
diet. Some of the older, slower rats became as lively as their younger peers after taking
antioxidants. "We prevented both some brain and some behavioral changes that one
normally sees in these rats when they hit 15 months of age," said USDA researcher Jim Joseph. Antioxidants are effective in destroying free radicals
-- cell-damaging compounds that can help cause cancer and heart disease and speed the
aging process. "It's pretty well accepted that aging is due to the production of free
radicals. So anything we can do nutritionally to provide additional antioxidants is likely
to protect us in the process of aging," Joseph said. That fact already has prompted
many to eat a diet rich in antioxidants. "I look at it as sort of a savings account.
I'm benefiting today from eating right, but I'm also going to have it in the future,"
said 30-year-old Cori Alcock. "As I age and grow older, I'll have good health as
(source: CNN.com, April 1999)
In the course of reading, you should select the most important sections of the article. The article introduces some facts related to healthy diet and adds a lot of redundant explanations. For your review, you are only likely to need the core message which usually makes up a fraction of the entire text. Please have a look again at the same text with four most critical sections emphasized (numbering is not needed and is used only for your convenience for further reference)
|Antioxidants may slow aging process
Research indicates that a healthy (1) diet fortified with certain fruits and vegetables may slow down and even reverse the aging process. (2) Foods rich in antioxidants -- such as blueberries, strawberries, spinach and broccoli -- have high ORAC (Oxygen Radical Absorption Capacity) levels. Middle-aged rats who were fed a high ORAC diet in the USDA- sponsored study experienced less memory loss than those given a normal diet. Some of the older, slower rats became as lively as their younger peers after taking antioxidants. "We prevented both some brain and some behavioral changes that one normally sees in these rats when they hit 15 months of age," said USDA researcher Jim Joseph. (3) Antioxidants are effective in destroying free radicals -- cell-damaging compounds that can help cause cancer and heart disease and speed the aging process. (4) "It's well accepted that aging is due to the production of free radicals. So anything we can do nutritionally to provide additional antioxidants is likely to protect us in the process of aging," Joseph said. That fact already has prompted many to eat a diet rich in antioxidants. "I look at it as sort of a savings account. I'm benefiting today from eating right, but I'm also going to have it in the future," said 30-year-old Cori Alcock
|While reading texts imported to SuperMemo, you will start from selecting the important
fragment with the mouse (reading list positions are formed by rich text component and you
should make sure that you set Tools : Options : Mouse : Edit
texts : On click so that you could enter the editing mode with a click of the
mouse; this is the default behavior).
Once you select the important text with the mouse, you can proceed with one of the three methods of processing the fragment:
After reading an article, dismiss it with Ctrl+D. This will remove it from the reading list and place it in the archive
In SuperMemo 2000/2004, you can additionally use reading toolbar for operations listed above:
Improve the wording of highlights
Once you extract important fragments from an article (as discussed in the previous paragraph), you will have to reformulate individual fragments to make sure they are fully context independent, free of redundant information, easy to read and formulated in such a way that the beginning of the fragment serves as the introduction to the latter phrases and not vice versa. Please have a look at the example which is the continuation of our work on the healthy diet article. We selected four important fragments and these fragments (presented on the left) were reformulated to become fully-independent pieces of information (on the right). Please note that two fragments have generated more than one reworded fragment and that one fragment was deleted as it appeared to be redundant upon closer analysis.
|The original fragment pasted without change from the CNN article||Modified fragment: shorter and easier to read (sometimes split into more than one part)|
|(1) diet fortified with certain fruits and vegetables may slow down and even reverse the aging process||(a) Diet of fruits and vegetables may reverse aging|
|(2) Foods rich in antioxidants -- such as blueberries, strawberries, spinach and broccoli -- have high ORAC (Oxygen Radical Absorption Capacity) levels||(b) Examples of foods rich in antioxidants: blueberries, strawberries, spinach and broccoli|
|(c) Foods rich in antioxidants have high levels of Oxygen Radical Absorption Capacity (ORAC)|
|(3) Antioxidants are effective in destroying free radicals -- cell-damaging compounds that can help cause cancer and heart disease and speed the aging process||(d) Antioxidants destroy free radicals|
|(e) Free radicals are cell-damaging compounds that cause cancer, heart disease and aging|
|(4) It's well accepted that aging is due to the production of free radicals||After a closer scrutiny, the fragment on the left seems to be redundant when compared with the one listed above. We can delete it from the set|
|All highlights are scheduled for review
In SuperMemo, you do not have to reformulate fragments immediately after reading them and generating the extracts. Note that all fragments will be scheduled for later review using the following three mechanisms:
Note that all extracts generate elements that are children of the original article. If you have problems with recalling the original context of a fragment, you can always call it back by pressing the parent button in the element window (up-arrow).
Review the material
Repetitio mater studiorum est. Repetition is the mother of all learning.
If you would like to leave a permanent trace of your reading in your memory, you will have to regularly review the material you have generated as a result of your reading. Your review should take place in days after reading and be repeated regularly in gradually increasing intervals. However, you cannot just passively read the extracted material. This will not have a sufficient impact on your ability to recall relevant facts and rules. You will need to put extra effort in reformulating the material. For example, Diet of fruits and vegetables may reverse aging should be converted into active recall material: What is the impact of fruits on aging? What is the impact of vegetables on aging? What exemplary diet can reverse aging? etc.
It is easy to notice that we will experience further proliferation of the material for review at this stage. However, research and experience show that this proliferation will actually reduce the time needed to effectively remember the material in question!
Effective formulation of active recall material may require some experience and the first attempts are often clumsy and inefficient (even if your IQ is far above average). Beginners might start with a simple technique called cloze deletion (yes, the spelling with z is correct). In cloze deletion, you simply replace fragments of your items with three dots. Those empty spaces filled with dots should be replaced at recall with relevant words or phrases. For example: Diet of fruits and vegetables may reverse aging might produce: Diet of ... may reverse aging
Please have a look at the example below where we convert items generated earlier into active recall items based on cloze deletion:
|Original item||Cloze deletions generated from the item|
|(a) Diet of fruits and vegetables may reverse aging||(1) Diet of ... and
vegetables may reverse aging
(2) Diet of fruits and ... may reverse aging
(3) Diet of fruits and vegetables may reverse ...
|(b) Examples of foods rich in antioxidants: blueberries, strawberries, spinach and broccoli||(4) Examples of ... rich
in antioxidants: blueberries, strawberries, spinach and broccoli
(5) Examples of foods rich in ...: blueberries, strawberries, spinach and broccoli
(6) Examples of foods rich in antioxidants: ...
|(c) Foods rich in antioxidants have high levels of Oxygen Radical Absorption Capacity (ORAC)||(7) ... rich in
antioxidants have high levels of Oxygen Radical Absorption Capacity (ORAC)
(8) Foods (rich/poor) in antioxidants have high levels of Oxygen Radical Absorption Capacity (ORAC)
(9) Foods rich in ... have high levels of Oxygen Radical Absorption Capacity (ORAC)
(10) Foods rich in antioxidants have (high/low) levels of Oxygen Radical Absorption Capacity (ORAC)
(11) Foods rich in antioxidants have high ... of Oxygen Radical Absorption Capacity (ORAC)
(12) Foods rich in antioxidants have high levels of ... (ORAC)
(13) Foods rich in antioxidants have high levels of Oxygen Radical Absorption Capacity (...[abbreviation])
|(d) Antioxidants destroy free radicals||(14) ...[food component]
destroy free radicals
(15) Antioxidants (destroy/create) free radicals
(16) Antioxidants destroy ...[harmful compounds]
|(e) Free radicals are cell-damaging compounds that cause cancer, heart disease and aging||(17) ... are
cell-damaging compounds that cause cancer, heart disease and aging
(18) Free radicals are ...-damaging compounds that cause cancer, heart disease and aging
(19) Free radicals are cell-(building/damaging) compounds that cause cancer, heart disease and aging
(20) Free radicals are cell-damaging compounds that cause ...[health problems]
Although we have generated 20 cloze deletions from the original 5 extracts, it is important to stress that reviewing this much of the learning material will ultimately cost you less time and the memory effect will be better! Note that cloze deletions meticulously test your knowledge of all important semantic aspects of the learned article
|Producing cloze deletions
SuperMemo will add most strength to your learning at the review stage. SuperMemo can save you hours each month by optimizing the timing of the review of the material (indeed this has been its greatest strength and focus from SuperMemo's very inception in 1987)
At the review stage, SuperMemo will also assists you with generating cloze deletions. Once you have your extracts formulated (as discussed in the section on improved wording), you can select a fragment that is to be replaced with three dots and choose one of cloze deletion options. This will generate a new item with your partly-deleted fragment used as a question (the tested phrase is replaced with three dots) and with the deleted phrase in the answer field
There are two cloze deletion options in SuperMemo:
Do not neglect knowledge management
After you extract fragments and formulate active recall questions, you should continue to constantly reevaluate the importance of individual pieces of information, their wording, delete less important pieces and move them for later review, etc. Examples of reformulated cloze deletions can be found below. Note that Clozes (4)-(6) and Cloze (20) have been split further to eliminate set enumeration (it is easier to independently associate cancer or aging with free radicals than to list all health problems caused by free radicals)
|(4) Examples of ... rich
in antioxidants: blueberries, strawberries, spinach and broccoli
(5) Examples of foods rich in ...: blueberries, strawberries, spinach and broccoli(6) Examples of foods rich in antioxidants: ...
|Are blueberries rich in
Are strawberries rich in antioxidants?
Is spinach rich in antioxidants?
Is broccoli rich in antioxidants?
|(12) Foods rich in antioxidants have high levels of ... (ORAC)||What does ORAC stand for?|
|(17) ... are cell-damaging compounds that cause cancer, heart disease and aging||What is the name
of cell-damaging compounds that cause cancer? (cleaned off with
What are free radicals?
|(20) Free radicals are cell-damaging compounds that cause ...[health problems]||Do free radicals cause cancer?
Do free radicals contribute to heart disease?
Do free radicals cause aging?
|Editing extracts and cloze deletions in SuperMemo is
easy. You only have to Alt+click a given text and use standard editing operations
(as available in standard text editors).
Once your extracts and cloze deletions enter the learning process, you can take further actions depending on your assessment of the priority. These will mostly be:
This is how you can effectively read the Internet using SuperMemo. The presented algorithm proposes rough estimations of time expenditure related to individual slots in a 2-hour daily reading and review assignment:
Please carefully note how much time you need for individual stages and try to keep a rational proportion. Adjust the time limits depending on your own needs and observations. Please note that in extreme cases you might follow one of these two dangerous patterns:
Once you master the techniques described above, it is recommended you go a step further and learn about: Incremental reading
For more about efficient reading and knowledge management read: