I am afraid of missing important information…

The fear of missing important information is one of the first reasons for slow reading. This fear is understandable, but reading slow does not hinder missing important information. This post aims to show you why you should get rid of this fear – and what you can to increase your reading speed.

This is one of the most frequent reasons I hear why PhD students read so slowly: “I am always afraid of missing important information”.

This fear is understandable. But do you really think that reading slowly will stop you from missing something important?

Let’s do an experiment: what do you see below?


I guess you see a triangle. But if you look carefully, you will see that there  are no lines. The white triangle is on a white background and there is no border. Nevertheless, you see a triangle, don’t you?

Why do you see a triangle when there is none?

First of all: we don’t see with our eyes, but with our brain – more specifically, with our visual cortex which is located in the brain’s occipital lobe.

Our mind cannot put up with emptiness or  with things that do not make sense. So the brain will use forms it knows to build a meaningful picture – in this case, it  uses fragments of dots to build a picture – the triangle.

If this works for pictures, it will also work for texts. You have probably noticed that your understanding of a text changes with the evolution of your knowledge.

Your mind will always aim to build a meaningful story, using pieces of knowledge that you already have.

The more you know about a topic, the more dots you will set to draw your triangle,  sticking with this metaphor.

The opposite is also true. The less you know about a given topic, the more you will imagine your own triangle. There is nothing you can do to change this. It is a mental bias.

You just have to be aware of it.

What can we conclude? As  a minimum, important texts need to be reread many times. I find it essential to keep a record of the date when you read  a text, no matter how you take notes, with a mind map or a template like yesterday.

So, don’t be afraid of missing key information when you read a text for the first time. If you don’t see it today, you will see it tomorrow.

And be aware that important information is rarely mentioned once and never again. Usually authors refer to sections of others’ studies.

So, if you don’t see a piece of information in text A, you will see it in text B or C.

Usually important information reappears in different articles about the same topic – doesn’t it?

And: what is important today is not necessarily important next month. So instead of aiming to read everything, set reading goals. Clarify what information you are looking for, what information you need – and if it is in the text, you will see it. If it is not, then  find another text which might contain it. This article explains you how.

To conclude: it is not guaranteed that by  not reading slowly, not rereading the same incomprehensible sentence 10 times, you  will not miss important information. Instead, summarize what you understand, what you have retained, then reread the text in a couple of weeks, in a couple of months, or perhaps in a couple of years – if it is an important text.

The fear of missing important information is understandable, but it is a source of  reader’s block, it makes reading slow and boring. Work on getting rid of it!

  • 23/05/2018

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