How to Read a Book: Inspectional Reading

In my last post on how to read a book, I shared ideas on marking in a book and some possibilities to consider from Adler and Van Doren’s How to Read a Book: The Classic Guide to Intelligent Reading. (Simon and Schuster, 1972).  

According to Adler and Van Doren reading occurs on four different levels: Elementary Reading, Inspectional Reading, Analytical Reading, and Syntopical Reading. These levels reflect multiple readings of one book.  Each level reflects increasing levels of reading ability and is increasingly demanding in terms of how involved one is in the reading of a book.  Each level is also dependent upon the level preceding it.  

Elementary reading is basically learning to read – going from non literacy to literacy – from not being able to read at all – to being able to do basic reading.  

This post will share basic points on Inspectional Reading – There are two levels of Inspectional Reading.  One involves the systematic skimming of a book or what is called pre-reading (Inspectional reading I).  The second involves a superficial reading of a book (Inspectional reading II).  I am not going to go into too much detail but instead give the basic rules and perhaps one sentence expounding the rule.  If you want to know more, then you’ll have to consider purchasing the book.  

Inspectional Reading is most useful for two things: deciding if you want to purchase a book for further reading and/or to learn of its contents and basic thesis in a relatively short period of time, perhaps anywhere from a minute or two to not more than fifteen minutes of skimming, to aid in your decision to purchase or not.  This is also incredibly helpful for deciding if a book is helpful for research projects of various sorts and also for papers.  In the matter of maybe 15 minutes to a half hour one could have the majority of books one will want to use for a paper or other research project.  Using this method will help eliminate useful books from books that will not be useful for your purposes.  In other words, it saves a lot of time.  

Rules for Inspectional Reading I

  1. Look at the Title Page and, if the book has one, at it’s Preface.  Read each quickly to note the subtitles and other indications of the basic scope or aim of the book.  This would answer the question: what is the book about?
  2. Study the Table of Contents to obtain a general sense of the book’s structure.  The table of contents are designed specifically for this purpose.  
  3. Check the Index.  Make a quick estimate of the range of topics covered and the kinds of books and authors referred to.  [Books on Biblical Studies and or Theology typically have an Authors Index, a Subject Index, and a Scripture Index for consideration].
  4. If the book is a new one with a dust jacket, read the Publisher’s blurb.  The blurb is not just fluff for marketing but often an author’s attempt at a concise summary of the books contents.  At this point you may already have enough information and have made a decision as to if the book will be useful to you or not.  If you decide to keep looking the actual skimming of the book now begins
  5. Look now at the chapters that seem pivotal to [the Book's] argument.  Read the summary statements at the beginning and end to further your knowledge of what the book is about.  
  6. Finally, turn the pages, dipping in here and there, reading a paragraph or two, sometimes several pages in sequence, never more than that.  Thumb through the book in this way, always looking for sings of the main contention, listening for the basic pulsebeat of the matter.  Also, do not fail to read the last two or three pages of the book to know its conclusions.  

Rules for Inspectional Reading II:

Superficial reading is basically reading a book through once without stopping much to ponder its contents but instead reading through to understand its basic structure and flow.  Pay attention to what you can understand and don’t worry about what you might not understand just yet – you’ll get back to that later. Just press on! 

That’s it folks!  That’s the basics of Inspectional Reading.  Now you can run off to Barnes and Noble, Borders Books or your favorite local Christian Bookstore and grab a few used books (they are rarely new since others have already touched them and flipped through them, maybe even marked in them) and find a chair some where and do some inspectional reading!  

Happy reading!  

How to Read a Book: Index

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14 responses to “How to Read a Book: Inspectional Reading

  1. Love the bolding of key phrases and sentences! : )
    It helped me to see the important parts so that I knew I would want to read more later (I’m cleaning out 109 new posts in my Google Reader).

    Bryan

  2. Pingback: How to Read a Book: Analytical Reading. pt 1. « συνεσταυρωμαι: living the crucified life

  3. Pingback: How to Read a Book: Marking your Book. « συνεσταυρωμαι: living the crucified life

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  5. Pingback: Index: How to Read a Book « συνεσταυρωμαι: living the crucified life

  6. This is great.Im doing a paper on Inspectional reading but its proving difficult because i cant purchase Adlers book.Thanks to this summary i have a foundation for my paper

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