I read an article by David Kadavy recently, which described a way to effectively read non-fiction books, without the talent of speed-reading. Most non-fiction books have varying levels of detail and interest throughout, and if you try to read that book linearly, trying to power through all that information cover-to-cover, you’re setting yourself up to miss out on the information that is important to you.
Rather it suggested to read with “Layered Reading“. The approach has merit:
Layer 1: “what is this book about?” – get a feeling for the premise of the book. Read the Table of Contents; read each title deliberately and ask if you understand or know about that topic. Don’t overthink it though.
Layer 2: How is the argument or premise structured? Drill down into the chapters that most piqued your interest, skim through them and get a feel for the purpose of each chapter. See what questions that chapter brings up in your mind, or what problems it might solve. Again, don’t overthink it – jot down the questions that come to mind.
Layer 3: The magnet chapters. With a broad but somewhat shallow (not detailed) understanding of the book, there should be some areas of it that you’re thinking about and want to read more of. In Layer 3, you get to finally dive into those chapters that really stuck out at you. Still, at this stage, only scan them, don’t ready each and every line. Focus on the subheads and the first sentence of each paragraph; you’re still just working out what the content is, not what the details are.
Layer 4: Fill in the gaps. By now you know the general contours of the book and you’ve read what really interests you. Now go back to the Table of Contents and re-read it with your now deeper knowledge of the book and its argument. Re-visit chapters that were of less interest when you started. Re-read the ones that were of interest, this time in detail.
It got me thinking about the task (chore?) of reading the AS 2885 suite of standards. This year, 2017, will be a big year for the suite, given that Part 1 (Design and Construction) is undergoing a major re-write, and from it we are extracting the topic of Pipeline System Safety Management, into the new Part 6. Part 3 (Operations & Maintenance) and Part 5 (Pressure Testing) are also currently undergoing reviews. Part 4 (Offshore) was published in December 2016, and Part 2 (Welding) was published in May 2016.
We started the Part 1 revision (in 2013!) with the noble intention of “no change for change sake, minimise the text changes”. Well, you can imagine that a group of 20-30 people, many new to the committee, won’t stick to that intention, because when given a chance to ‘improve’ the Standard, one of the seemingly easy step is to ‘fix’ the grammar – and that’s when half the team tunes out (because it doesn’t matter to them) and the other half discuss and argue for hours about a single paragraph.
But – this post is meant to be about how to read a standard, not the effort that goes into writing it. For new readers of the Standard, or those making the effort to revisit it in its entirety – and in particular, for the new Part 1 and Part 6 due out mid-year, the layered approach might just work. Instead of Layers, I’ve called them Levels, here, to better reflect the ‘increasing level’ of understanding as we go through them:
Level 1: How is the Standard structured, and/or what has changed? Read the preface, and then read it again. Review the ToC for familiar topics, either for the first time, or to find out where they’ve gone.
Level 2: Where are my areas of specialty (now) located? Flip through to your subjects/chapters of interest to see where they are if it’s your first time, or where they’ve moved for the new edition, and get a feel as to how they fit in with the structure.
Level 3: The magnet subjects. Now go to those subjects that are of particular interest to you, that you need to know for your day job, and skim through the section to familiarise with the subheadings and level of detail provided for those subjects.
Level 4: Fill in the gaps. Now read the paragraphs in great detail, making notes in the margin when something piques your interest or raises a question. Read them again, and then go back a section and read it again.
Level 5: Go back and read the whole Standard. In writing this comparison with Kadavy’s “Layered Reading” suggestion, I’ve realised for reading a Standard, a layer – or level – is missing: the level that requires the ENTIRE standard to be read, in detail, so we know what’s in there and can apply it properly.
Let’s all strive to get to Layer 5 comprehension of the AS2885 suite of standards.