Reading Strategically

Reading strategically will help you read more effectively.

You already read strategically

You already read strategically, so all we are doing here is adding to your present tool kit. For example,

  • Telephone Books. Nowadays, you look up a telephone number by searching a database: you type in a name and click “search,” but in the old days one opened a telephone book in the middle, find you are at “M” when you are looking for “S”, and so your next move is to discard the pages on your left, open up the pages on the right. Then you find yourself at “T”, so you discard the pages on the right, look in the middle of those on the left, and so on: narrowing down until you find what you are looking for.
  • Mystery Stories. Reading a mystery story like this would be absurd, because mysteries are based on a completely different principle: you start off with a dead body and a bunch of clues, you read every page like a detective carefully to following the clues, and the game is to not be too surprised at the end when you are shown the murderer. What fun!

That is, one reads to find something, with a theory of how a text is organised and a method to navigate that organisation. Each different way we in literature call a “genre,” and there are literally dozens of them.

Reading and writing for business

Academic and business writing includes many such genres, and if you visit my Writing Enriched Curriculum page you will find that they aim for very specific outcomes.

At the Carlson School of Management (Minnesota), instructors studied this in some detail, wrote it up, and in their section on “Can identify, define, and solve problems,” you can see that the first thing that they think students should be able to do is: “Articulate a clear position in a central thesis” — precisely as on 20.4.21 we heard Tessa and Lara P do when explaining design thinking, it was just great. Keep reading and you will see that they expect students “to recognise and address counterarguments or alternatives” — precisely as I recommended they address in a revised version.

That is, I am not making any of this up! As you will read if you were to follow the links on my Writing Enriched Curriculum page, about 300 universities in the USA and about 60 in Europe have gone to such trouble to specify, in detailed disciplinary terms, the kinds of thinking they expect their students to do. There is nothing like a little research to learn how better to do your job!

Similarly, if you look at their section on “Have mastered a body of knowledge

and a mode of inquiry,” you will see that Tessa and Lara P did indeed begin their presentation of design thinking by introducing “key disciplinary theories, concepts,” which was just great! But then they write that students should also be able to offer “evidence in justifying analysis, conclusions, and recommendations,” so here, too, when I referred to others discussing design thinking, I was supporting their considerable achievement and helping them see what, if they were to revise this, they might look for next. Those other sources I have presently listed in the “Notes on the Reflective Practitioner” section of my Thinking page, so you can see what homework I did to figure this out, too.

And finally, before we get to today’s task, consider how the aims and rhetoric for Step 1, in the “Task Prompts” from Steps for Better Thinking invite you to “explain why people disagree about …, why … can’t be known with certainty, create a list of issues that might be useful in thinking about …,” and “consult experts and expert literatures to …” This curricular guide is from the field of Accounting, but I think you may begin to see that it is very similar to the guide to management education at Minnesota: in many fields nowadays, lessons have been worked out as parts of a larger curriculum and where the colleagues have figured out not only what they are after, but how to get there and write about it.

I think now you might better see how it is that, instead of lecturing in the manner of a data dump and putting a test at the end, which I don’t think very much fun for anybody, I would train you to learn how to learn how the researchers do it, hands-on, in a workshop format, so you will be able to have as much fun in your field as anyone.

Our present assignment is …

  • Read two articles wonderfully, including “Pipelines, Platforms” and whatever you found interesting when you looked up “current trends crm xxx”
  • Read them first by scanning to develop an overview and then reading intensively to dig in and get to know one thing (please note that in my first draft of the assignment I mistakenly wrote “reading extensively” in the place of “scanning”
  • For scanning, in your portfolio outline each text’s structure and then choose one topic or question that interests you (and explain that choice)
  • For reading intensively, first report on what your text says about your topic or question, then go on the web to find other resources and report on what you learn
  • Be sure to include links for every source and to use report structures when you talk about them (don’t tell me “what is,” do tell me “what your sources claim or show”

More on reading

I wrote this section years ago, so some of it will be redundant, but reading a different version might help you understand, so here goes:

  • Skimming, for an impression, overview
  • Scanning, for specific information: what is the author doing?
  • Reading Intensively, for our present purposes
  • Reading Extensively, stitching a long text together and putting it into context


Before we jump into the text and start reading it like a mystery story, as some of us often do, it might be helpful to develop the skills of an eagle surveying the landscape before diving down for a kill.

In this exercise, we’ll survey the landscape, set up our first markers in the Outline View of MS Word, and ask a couple of very basic questions: Why are we here? And what do we hope to find out?

  • Initial survey To get a good idea of how long, short, fat, thin, and where we might find what, skim to article, reading just enough to be able to identify and draw lines between major sections, circle the interesting keywords, and so get a general idea of what is there and where
  • Setting up our notes Open up and save a Word file, shift to the Outline View, set the article title in Heading 2, name the major sections in Heading 3, and place keywords in whatever section seems appropriate in Heading 4; if you are working with the text in the same file, set that original text in Heading 5
  • What do we hope to find out? At the top of the page and in Heading 3, type “What I am looking for and why?” and offer a brief, thoughtful answer

What are we doing here? We are studying how variously writers work with the fundamentals of research so we might recognise them when we see them and apply these lessons to our own work; the elements include:

  • Research Questions. What is the issue, where do you find it, how has the author put it, and how might you summarize it in your own words?
    • Acknowledgements. Analyze the academic and professional conversation you find here, who are the major players, what do you know about their professional relationships, and how are they relating to each other professionally?
    • Arguments. How do the participants negotiate the central issue, what are their positions and how does the author suggest we see things differently? What is his major argument and how does he make it?
    • Evidence. What kinds of evidence does he refer to and what evidence does he introduce to support his arguments?
    • Warrants. What is the glue that hold the arguments and evidence together: what logics, feelings, beliefs, and value systems are at work?


To find any of these elements we do well to map systematically what the author is doing, where, and how, and a good way to do that is to identify each paragraph (or groups of paragraphs) in a very special way: not as ideas, but as actions and best identified when you ask: “what is the author doing (to us) when he says …”

  • To help us identify is actions, we will using a listing of action verbs as prompts and when we determine an action we will type our name for it in a line above the text for systematic analysis
  • If the original text is set in Heading 5, which I reserve for quotations, then set your action verbs in Heading 4
  • Then, when you click “Show Level 4”, you will see just your analysis and so have a handy guide for the next steps

Reading Intensively

As our present goal is to learn about research arguments, your next task is to read for your special purposes; here, we are looking for signs of the basic elements:

  • Research Questions you want to learn how to put in your own terms, which you do by explaining them to others first, so in your notes include both the quote and your translation of it: in this way, you will train yourself to look for the larger issues wherever you go
  • Acknowledgements are for us the gold mine of any writer, because they indicate where he got his ideas and who he is talking to and so what community of professionals we might explore next
  • Arguments can be as simple as descriptions and as complex as comparisons, and you want to know the difference, so here, too, follow this list of action verbs so you might evaluate how sophisticated, or not, and how differently he might argue.
  • Evidence you note as well as you might want to check it out, consider its strengths and weaknesses, and explore alternatives
  • Warrants we set aside for the moment

Reading Extensively

Reading extensively is a matter of purposes, and for term papers and the BA and MA thesis, this depends very much on your purposes and what your discipline recommends — something typically arrived at through consultation with experts and what you learn from the materials and colleagues — so I will offer here a brief, introductory survey

  • Getting our terms straight For those of us new to the topic or language, often a good place to start is to explore the important Definitions, from dictionaries out into current usage
  • Digging the Work For larger involving interpretation, we often map the development of issues as the text twists and turns them and seek to develop an understanding of complexity
  • Stepping Back For current topics in business, we seek to put things into perspective by generalizing on a particular example; here, we might step back to research analytics, robotics, merchandising, etc.
  • Seeing it Differently One of my favorite strategies is to aim for leapfrogging, whereby I read more on the author, issue, and others participating in the debate to find those thinking “outside the box”