Chapter 2 – The Levels of Reading


There are four levels of reading

The first level of reading we will call Elementary Reading

At this level of reading, the question asked of the reader is “What does the sentence say?”

The attainment of the skills of elementary reading occurred some time ago for almost all who read this book.  Nevertheless, we continue to experience the problems of this level of reading, … for example, whenever we come upon something we want to read that is written in a foreign language

The second level of reading we will call Inspectional Reading. It is characterized by its special emphasis on time.

Inspectional reading is the art of skimming systematically

Whereas the question that is asked at the first level is “What does the sentence say?” the question typically asked at this level is “What is the book about?” … “What is the structure of the book?” or “What are its parts?”

We do want to stress, however, that most people, even many quite good readers, are unaware of the value of inspectional reading. They start a good book on page one and plow steadily through it.  They are thus faced with the task of achieving superficial knowledge of the book at the same time that they are trying to understand it. That compounds the difficulty.

The third level of reading we will call Analytical Reading.

If inspectional reading is the best and most complete reading that is possible given a limited time, then analytical reading is the best and most complete reading that is possible given unlimited time.

Francis Bacon once remarked that “some books are to be tasted, others to be swallowed, and some few to be chewed and digested.” Reading a book analytically is chewing and digesting it.

Analytical reading is hardly ever necessary if your goal in reading is simply information or entertainment. Analytical reading is preeminently for the sake of understanding.

The fourth and highest level of reading we will call Syntopical Reading.

When reading syntopically, the reader reads many books, not just one, and places them in relation to one another and to a subject about which they all revolve. … the syntopical reader is able to construct an analysis of the subject that may not be in any of the books.

Let it suffice for the moment to say that syntopical reading is not an easy art, … The benefits are so great that it is well worth the trouble of learning how to do it.