Top Tips for Digital and Online Reading (ebooks, Kindle, pdfs)

Top Tips for Digital and Online Reading (ebooks, Kindle, pdfs)
Digital reading is a relatively new – and growing – phenomenon, and it merits specific consideration.

All 37 of the spd rdng techniques apply equally to paper-based texts and digital reading (including online reading). Some need slight modifications, some are easier digitally (such as scrolling quickly when downloading or previewing) and some of the things that we take for granted on our computers, reading devices and mobile phones (such as searching for information, not feeling obliged to read every word, stopping once we’ve found the information we need, etc) are strategies which can profitably feed back into our paper-based reading.

Kindle and ebooks
Hopefully you already know that a Kindle is a device (which you buy as an alternative to an iPad, for example), but whatever your device (including your computer and your phone), Kindle is also software which you can download for FREE, allowing you to read ebooks on any compatible device.

Clearly there are advantages when travelling to be able to carry one small device rather than a range of heavy books – train reading has been transformed by Kindle and the iPad. But just check that you’re taking maximum advantage of all the features:

  • Most ebooks offer you free samples. Many are so generous with the amount they offer, that you can get the information you need from the free sample alone so you don’t need to read the rest of the book. It is always worth looking through the free sample as part of your online previewing.
  • The search function is a great way to find information (thereby avoiding the need to use the speed-reading patterns to look for information ‘manually’ as it were). As soon as you’ve defined your purpose, identify the key words which you think will give you most information. As you find information, identify more key words to refine and extend your search.
  • You can highlight important passages and take notes (annotate) as you go along, and easily find them again. You can also save typing time, since both notes and highlighted passages can be exported directly to Twitter and Facebook (and from there to your computer). On an iPad with the relevant app you can also create a mindmap as you go – or later from your notes.
  • You can alter the format of the text (font, type size, background colour, etc) to suit yourself. You might like to make it smaller for previewing and downloading, where you want to look through a lot of information quickly, and slightly larger for sequential reading or taking in information. However, have as much information as you can read comfortably on the screen at one time. Too big a font can slow down your reading just because there physically isn’t as much information for you to take in.
  • When people (including you) highlight any key passages in the ebook, Kindle knows it (because all the information is stored on the cloud), and by switching on the ‘popular highlights’ option in your preferences, you can see (as little dots underlining the text) what others have highlighted (and how many people have highlighted that bit). Thanks to ‘crowd wisdom’, as more and more people read a particular book, key passages are much more easily accessible. As a bonus, all popular highlights can be viewed online without even buying the book! (Find popular highlights on the Amazon website, near the bottom of the descriptive information about each book.)
  • Check out reviews on Amazon as part of your previewing. Keep an open mind, but notice particularly the bad reviews (which won’t have been written by the author’s publisher, family and friends!)

Jan’s experience
Jan was standing in a longish queue in a post office, and so as not to waste the time, he downloaded an ebook to his iPhone and in five minutes read all the popular highlights – and discovered that he had got all the key points from just this short read. When he got home he decided to check the value of the popular highlights, so he rapid read the book (from cover to cover) and realized that he hadn’t missed anything of significance. He spotted a couple of additional anecdotes and quotes, but they didn’t actually add anything to his understanding. Crowd wisdom rocks!

Kindle – additional features
Ebooks are being published with all sorts of additional features (not all available with all ebooks). Look out for the following – and keep an eye out for new features as they are developed:

  • X-Ray As books are downloaded to your device, they are accompanied by a host of additional information items which you can look up without needing to be online. The sorts of things you can access are historical figures, places, ideas and topics of interest from Wikipedia, as well as information about the book itself.
  • Active links to other resources – ebooks have links to external resources online that you can access with one click
  • Book extras You can read summaries, glossary items, memorable quotes, important places and people, and more.
  • Lending your ebook At the time of writing elsewhere in the world (eg the USA) it is possible to lend/borrow ebooks just as you would a hard copy book, so the facility will come soon to the UK. The lent ebook disappears from the owner’s Kindle/iPad for two weeks while it is accessed by the friend on their own device. The borrower can see highlights and notes and add their own. (NB There are also ongoing court cases about leaving ebooks to your heirs when you die. At the time of writing, you can’t).
  • Kindle is gathering and storing information on how readers read. Since the book you are reading is actually stored on the cloud, Kindle is able to collect information about reading habits and styles. It knows when you start and stop reading a book, at what times you read, and for how long, etc. We hope in the future that we will have access to this information to help us build our spd rdng skills.

Jan’s experience
Jan was able to gather almost a hundred scientific papers relevant to a project he was working on simply by using the search function to identify those containing the critical key words. This was in a fraction of the time it would have taken to look through every paper individually.

Digitising books
Jan is so enamoured of the benefits of digital reading that he has digitised his whole library so he can access all his books on his iPhone, iPad, Mac computer and other devices. If you want to free up some space on your bookshelves go to and read his blog about how to do it (how to digitise books – click here). (To keep in touch with the material world he kept one book – the paperback of this Speed Reading Bible.)

Amazing bookshelf of the future cartoon - see 30 funniest cartoons about ebooks and digital reading

Amazing bookshelf of the future cartoon – see 30 funniest cartoons about ebooks and digital reading

Online reading
There is no shortage of information in the world – what is missing are overviews and ways of finding relevant information. Once you’ve found it, you can use any relevant spd rdng technique or strategy to glean the information. So how do you find what you’re looking for?

  • One of the most effective aids to reading online is, once again, the search facility and it’s worth learning how to search most effectively online. Go to Google and search for ‘how to search on Google’. It will be one of the best five minutes you’ve ever spent and will save you tons of time.
  • If you have particular interests, set up Google Alerts for relevant key words and Google will alert you to any new information that is published (you need to have an account with Google). In this way you don’t have to look for information – information will find you. You can get these alerts in real time or every week etc, depending on what suits your needs. Similarly, ZITE is a brilliant app (Apple, Android) that learns what you’re reading and finds relevant articles online for you.
  • Find the best expert websites for your subject by subscribing to RSS feeds (Rich Site Summary) where you are effectively asking experts where they find key information. For example, probably the best and most comprehensive website on health and related issues is and is a brilliant website on technology, education and design.
  • The future is mobile. Find the best app for your devices to read pdfs on the go. We use PDFAnnotate which is an excellent tool for organising documents.


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