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When I need to read something, I have a really bad habit of just glazing over it and not really comprehending the words.

As a result I have no clue what I've read.

How can I stop glazing at a book and instead, really focus and understand what I am reading?

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Do you take breaks during your reading sessions? You may be feeling tired which causes more distractions. – Renan Jun 12 '12 at 5:39
up vote 7 down vote accepted

As others have said, highlighting and/or taking notes can be a very useful tool. If you find that these don't work for you, however (as they often don't for me), you can try another tactic: read out loud.

You don't have to speak loudly or do a dramatic reading, or anything, but reading the words out loud forces you to focus on them in sequence (as opposed to just staring at the page as a giant pile of words). Hearing your own voice and feeling your mouth move engages additional senses to the task, bringing more of your attention to the task.

The ideal workflow for reading aloud is to use it to regain lost focus but to resume reading silently once you're concentrating again. Unless you are a slow reader or a very fast talker, odds are good that you can process information faster than you can pronounce the words. Use reading aloud as a technique to distract yourself from the distractions, and then get back to work.

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Stop yourself from re-reading paragraphs. Didn't catch the meaning the first time? Well sorry, try harder next time. It will force you to focus after a few hours/days. – M.K. Jun 15 '12 at 21:02
Reading aloud also improves your oral reading abilities. Which can never hurt :D – Gaʀʀʏ Jun 18 '12 at 15:25

It helps if you are interested in what you are reading. If you find you aren't interested, my suggestion would be to try and make it relevant enough to you that you do become interested.

If you really can't do that, it will be a slog, so plan for regular breaks.

To force you to read/comprehend the text, you could try taking notes - a summary of each page or section may help.

Highlighting, whether physically or mentally, can also help focus your brain on the task at hand.

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I find highlighting parts of the text helps a lot. Of course, making notes would be even better, but I'm not always motivated enough for that... Just reading with a highlighter or colored pen for underlining/marks in hand is easy enough, though, and seems to help a lot with keeping me focussed on the text.

I do most of my reading on the computer, but there are tools for organizing and highlighting pdfs, as well.

Of course, if you're dealing with printed books that you don't want to mess up, that's a different issue altogether...

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I find it very helpful to stop at the end of every page and summarize what I just read as if speaking to another person. That helps direct what to highlight or make notes on for the page, and gives a little break in concentration. I don't always actually speak the summary out loud, although it works better if I do. Writing the summary down is helpful too, and ends up being the notes for the book / article / paper / whatever.

The trick is to externalize what I've just read and explain it to someone else. Programmers should be familiar with "rubber duck debugging" which is similar in concept.

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It has maybe become a habit. Try to immediatly stop when you start glazing and start from where you "quit" again. Maybe, you'll soon stop glazing.

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I've talked to quite a few people who have this issue, and I used to do the same thing as well. To combat it, I simply don't move on unless I understand the sentence I just read.

It can be annoying to stop after every sentence however, so a paragraph might work better. It's not necessary to quiz yourself on it or anything like that, just make sure that your mind is filled with what you just read and you comprehended it instead of your mind being someplace else.

Hope it helps!

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In addition to the other suggested answers, I'd suggest using a ruler, bookmark, blank piece of paper, or even your hand to visibly "underline" and help you follow along with the text - this will help you keep your eyes focused where they need to be.

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4 simple hints:

  1. think about the motivation behind reading this particular book, article. You can even write it down
  2. have a goal - like "I want to finish this chapter today"

  3. make notes - your notes may be very simple and general

  4. take breaks - for instance 50 minutes of reading and 10 minutes of break
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