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How to Read A Non-Fiction Book

Picture of Karl Palachuk

Karl W. Palachuk
April 19, 2008

For this exercise you will need the following:

– A Book
– Large Post-It Notes
– Pen or Pencil
– Highlighter
– Small pad of paper (optional)

Step One: Smell the Book.

Okay. Not really. But you do want to familiarize yourself with the book. Flip through it. Read the table of contents. What’s the plan? Where are you going?

Are there cartoons, tables, charts, etc.?

Step Two: Take a small stack of Post It notes and put them in the front of the book. I like the ones that 3″x5″ or 4″x6″ with lines. But the small 3×3 work just fine.

You need these so you can jot notes to yourself while reading. Remember, ideas are easily lost if you don’t write them down and take action. So the first part of that habit of success is to write it down.

This does not affect your ability to write comments in the margins.

Step Three: Read.
Obviously, at some point you’re going to actually read the book. Just remember that all of your formal education has taught you the wrong way to read.

Reading is not a one-way process. It is not an activity in which you passively ingest knowledge and try to understand and accept everything you find in the book.

You’re reading the book for a purpose. Let’s assume that purpose is to improve your self, your skills, your business, your personal life, etc.

If you’ve been around long enough, you might remember the “capture” mode on computers. It basically worked like this: You prepare your local machine to capture everything that scrolls across the screen. Then you execute a command on the remote computer to send the information you want. When the “download” is complete, you close the capture mode and save the file.

That’s not how you read a book!

You don’t ingest a book: You interpret it.

Good books are not written to give you the absolute truth so you can turn off your brain and just “be” successful.


As a non-fiction writer, I’m not trying to give you the one true nugget that will magically transform your business or life.

I’m arrogant, but not that arrogant. The best I can hope for is to spark a fire under your imagination.

Your brain will naturally interpret the world as it is presented to you. Use that process. Be open to it. Welcome it.

Ask yourself . . .

– How does this apply to me, my life, my business?

– Is this true and accurate?

– Does that apply to me?

– Am I doing this already (in another form)?

– Is that the only way?

– How would this work for me?

– etc.

Step Four: Write.
Here’s another thing you need to un-learn from school. It’s okay to write in your book. In fact, it’s more than okay. It’s encouraged!

Write notes to yourself. Write feedback to the author. Circle things. Underline them. Re-write key ideas in your own words.

When you stumble across real gems that you don’t want to lose, do one or more of the following:

a) Dog-ear the page. Fold down the corner so you can find it again.

b) Write a note on the inside of the back cover.

c) Write a note on one of those sticky post-its.

Step Five: Summarize.
When you’re done with the book, make sure your effort is not for naught.

Review your notes, marking, hyroglyphs, and feedback. Create a list of action items.

Reading a book is good. Creating an interactive experience is better. But stranslating that effort into action steps is the key to getting value from any book.

Warning: Don’t overdo it.

Every college freshman has to learn the lesson of over-highlighting. This is when you find yourself highlighting so much of the book that it looks like it was printed on yellow paper.

Even in the best books, you need to be picky.

Take a maxim from your personal to-do list: If everything is highest priority, then nothign is highest priority. If everything is highlighted, then nothing is highlighted.

One of the keys to getting the most out of a book is to use it interactively.


I hope you took notes on this advice so you can interpret it for your own style and adjust as needed.

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