How can you read and understand

The magazine for medical professionals

© Cristina Fumi -
Reading is not always reading - the content is what counts. And do you also know that: While you devour Harry Potter volumes in record time and can still remember the details months later, reading specialist texts is a torture. And in the end you ask yourself: What was that good for again? But unfortunately there is no way around reading boring books, magazine articles or websites from time to time if you want to stay up to date with the latest developments. Anyone who is toying with continuing education or training has to be fit in reading medical and business texts.

In contrast to novels, specialist texts are not read on vacation or before going to sleep. Your full concentration is required here, which is why it is important that you take your time and create the right working environment for yourself. The most important tool when reading specialist literature is a pen, which you can use to mark the crucial points in the text.

Mark correctly

If you underline, you distinguish the more important from the less important and make the text clearer. This helps twice: on the one hand, it forces you to read carefully and precisely and to really concentrate on the content of the text. On the other hand, you bring a personal structure into the text that will help you if you pick up the same article again later. Therefore, do not underline too much. Pencil and highlighter are the best tools for text work. Underlining with a pencil is unobtrusive and can also be corrected if necessary, highlighters are clearly visible without disturbing the typeface. If the author has mastered his craft, even a demanding specialist text is well structured. As a rule, a new paragraph begins when a new thought arises, numbering or enumerations bring graphic structure to the desert of lead, and text boxes often take up side aspects of a topic or deepen a detail. Here you can see at a glance: Am I interested in the subject of this box? Or do I prefer to concentrate on the main text?

The most important tool for efficient text work is the marker.
© Benedikt Knüttel -

When reading specialist literature, you will inevitably come across unfamiliar terms. Sometimes the meaning of such a term arises from the context, but often you will resort to a dictionary or lexicon. The internet has made it much easier to look up something. Then check in the context of the text whether the meaning found actually fits the overall meaning. Scientific texts contain a summary at the beginning or at the end, in which the author emphasizes important points again.

with own words

Many unknown words make reading difficult at first, but the additional information when looking up often makes the text easier to understand. Other texts, on the other hand, are easy to read and you may not even notice that you have not or only half understood a lot. It is therefore worth taking a short break at not too long intervals. Try to describe the matter in your own words - only if you succeed will you have understood the text for sure. When preparing for an exam, it is very helpful to write this brief summary of its contents on an index card or in a small notebook. In this way you not only save the reading results in black and white, but your own formulations have a better memorization and learning effect and are usually also shorter.

Read purposefully

To want to read every text with the same intensity is unrealistic. Successful and economical reading should be adapted to the respective goal, one speaks of adaptive reading. To do this, you need a specific goal. Because it naturally makes a difference whether you want to get an initial overview of a topic that is only of marginal interest to you, or whether you read a textbook chapter on a subject that you will be examined in two weeks. You should therefore formulate your reading intent as precisely as possible. Textbooks are written for learners and often make facts easier to understand than specialist articles aimed at experts. Also think about your own prior knowledge. Reminding yourself of what you know about the subject before reading it will make it easier for you to understand and remember what you have read.

Which text should I use?

There are so many publications on practice-relevant topics - usually medical or business management - that it is important to first select the appropriate text. That is why you should learn to read texts in order to judge whether it is worth reading for you. In the case of books, a look at the index will help. Find a specific term and look it up in the text. That gives you a good feeling for the quality. Make sure that it is up to date - in the case of medical questions, assessments can change quickly due to new findings, in the case of billing or legal questions there may be new regulations.

If you are only looking for very specific information in a long text, you have to read across paper. In doing so, you try to identify the relevant passages by taking a superficial look into each chapter, but at interesting passages you slow down and intensify before you move on again. It's much easier on the Internet. Both the web browser and the Acrobat Reader program, which is commonly used for reading PDF files, have a search function with which you can quickly find the term you are looking for in the document.


Six tips for better reading

  • Take the time to read. The greatest enemy of reading is haste. Make room in your schedule for reading.
  • Ask yourself: what is the goal of reading? What do I already know about the subject? What can I expect from this text for myself?
  • Get an overview of the text: Where can you skim? Where do you have to read intensively?
  • Read with a marker or pen to make the text clear with markers and notes in the margin.
  • Look up unfamiliar terms in the dictionary or Wikipedia. This also gives you additional information on the topic.
  • Write down the facts that are important to you in your own words.