Warren Buffett is one of the world’s savviest investors. But did you know the CEO of investment giant Berkshire Hathaway is also a voracious reader?

When he started his career in investment, he reportedly read 600 to 1,000 pages of material—research papers, company reports, trade publications, and books—each day?

Buffett believes that, just like his investments, his reading creates knowledge that compounds over time.

He’s not alone. Some of the world’s well-known business leaders—such as Amazon president and CEO Jeff Bezos, Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates, and former Pepsico CEO Indra Nooyi—set aside some hours a day for reading.

Reading is not just important for professional success, it is critical to it. It helps you to think critically, absorb information, and improve your efficiency.

But it isn’t just about what you read or how much you read, but about how well you read.

Ask people what they read and most of them will probably rattle off the books they’ve read or authors they like. But ask them how well they read and chances are many will be at a loss for words.

How well you read depends on the four levels of reading which were conceptualized by American philosopher Mortimer J. Adler in his classic How To Read A Book.

Not all information is the same, and the reason why you read it also varies.

If the purpose of reading varies, so should your approach. The waiting room magazine does not deserve the same treatment as your favorite novel or the course work you are pursuing.

So, what are the levels of reading and how do they work?

Different levels of reading

A reader’s involvement with a text is controlled by four levels of reading. These levels of reading vary depending on the reader’s commitment.

  1. Elementary reading

Among the different levels of reading, the first is elementary reading. At this level, you just try to understand the meaning of the words.

At the elementary reading level, you only identify each word and what it means. For example, when you begin to learn a new language, you focus on the words. It’s only later that you get into understanding the nuances.

  1. Inspectional reading 

In the second stage of reading, the focus is on understanding the topic or the book you are reading. Unlike the other reading levels, this one is all about saving time.

As part of inspectional reading, you may skim through a book by studying the introduction, the chapter titles, and the index to get an idea about the topic. For example, when you flip through a comic book to identify the main character.

Another way to approach inspectional reading is to read everything superficially. You may halt to comprehend the words or fill the gaps in your understanding, but you wouldn’t care about the arguments presented or the opinions of the author.

  1. Analytical reading

While the first two levels of reading are more for beginners, this one is for the serious readers. It is meant for you if you want to take your time and understand the information thoroughly. You would try and grasp the author’s opinion and hypothesis and also end up forming an opinion of your own.

The goal of analytical reading is to go beyond gathering information or getting entertained. The analytical reading stage is used only when a complete understanding is required.

This reading stage generally takes longer and is more taxing. Yet, it is the most complete type of reading. For example, reading your reference books before an exam.

  1.  Syntopical reading

The final stage of the reading levels is syntopical reading. This is by far the hardest level. Here, you will go beyond thoroughly examining a single book. You will try and contextualize the book within the overall subject, compare it with other texts in that area, as well as with the ideas of various authors on the subject apart from the one whose work you are reading.

Syntopical reading allows you to take a holistic view of the entire topic. After the analysis, you can use the knowledge to form your own original opinions.

For example, if you plan to write an academic paper on American classics, you will need to study all the books that fit this genre.

It is important to remember your objective when you choose from among the reading levels. Let us refer to the example we used in the beginning. You will need inspectional reading skills to skim through the waiting room magazine, but to read your favorite novel, you would use analytical reading skills.

To further understand the complexities of these levels, check out Harappa Education’s Reading Deeply course. It covers Adler’s four levels of reading in great detail. The course guides you on how to develop your perfect reading style. Join now and learn to read smartly.


Explore topics such as the importance of reading and the types of reading in our Harappa Diaries section and improve your reading skills.

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