What Is Syntopical Reading and When to Use It?

Syntopical Reading

While most of us don’t give it much thought and generally take it for granted, reading is a lot more than it might seem at first glance. It is a skill most of us develop over the years, but once we reach a certain level of fluency, we put no more work into improving it. Reading can be entertainment, science, or a learning tool, among other things. And given how important it is for us and how much it can help us develop, there’s really no surprise that it has been studied extensively over the years. 

How can we improve? How can we extract more value from each reading session? You might need to learn a little about syntopical reading if you’ve asked yourself these questions. What is syntopical reading, and how can it help? 

Here at Basmo, we are dedicated to helping you achieve new heights in your reading performance, so we did some research to aid you on your journey toward mastering syntopical reading.

What is syntopical reading?

The syntopical reading definition states that this technique involves proper research done from multiple sources on a certain topic. Also known as comparative reading, it is by far the most complex, demanding, difficult, and ultimately rewarding reading strategy.  The aim of syntopical reading is to gain a deeper understanding of the subject by comparing different points of view.

Before we dive any deeper into the syntopical reading meaning, the first thing you should know is that it is just one of the four most important reading skills. Syntopical reading is actually the last and most complex of the four levels of reading:

One interesting thing about the four reading methods listed above is that they work in a cumulative fashion. More precisely, if we look at elementary reading as the most basic method, you should know that it is essential in developing the skills needed for inspectional reading. The skills required for analytical reading depend on developing the ability to master elementary and inspectional reading. Following the same logic, syntopical reading is out of reach for those who don’t master the first three levels of reading (elementary, inspectional, and syntopical).

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What are some syntopical reading examples?

To better understand what syntopical reading means, you can simply look at it as an intense research session. Let’s assume for the sake of this explanation that you want or need to learn how you can deal with having a partner struggling with depression. 

The first stage that is involved in this research is the elementary reading component. Obviously, your research will be close to impossible to do if you don’t possess at least basic reading skills. Since you’ve made it so far in this article, it’s safe to assume that you do possess these skills, so let’s move on to the next stage.

You go to the nearest bookstore and start looking through titles in the self-help section. You find an interesting book that seems to cover the subject you are interested in. You use inspectional (superficial) reading when looking at the title, leafing through the pages, and reading the table of contents. You get a vague idea of what the book is about and whether it can help you or not. Let’s assume that you did find exactly what you were looking for.

The inspectional stage will most likely continue when you get back home and start reading some of the seemingly essential parts of the book. You’re looking at what the chapters are called and how the book is organized so you can better understand where the information you need will be found.

The analytical part begins now. You start actually reading the book, paying close attention to every single detail. You take notes and organize your thoughts on how you can help your struggling partner. You extract all the important information from the book, summarize it, and come up with a plan to overcome the issues you are facing. When reading analytically, your goal is to comprehend and remember as much information as possible from the reading material. 

Once you finish reading the book and your analysis is complete, it’s time for the syntopical reading stage. This is where you continue your research on the topic at hand. For example, let’s assume that the book you just read mentioned that mindfulness can help your partner overcome depression. 

Even though the term was relatively well explained in the book, you feel the need to go somewhat deeper in trying to understand mindfulness. This process of doing additional research from other sources and comparing the information you just received with things you already knew or confronting it with data from other sources is the actual syntopical reading stage. 

How to do syntopical reading?

As the most complex and demanding reading level, syntopical reading definitely requires some effort, dedication, and the correct approach in order to be mastered. Your success in this comparative stage of reading depends on a series of factors, one of which is knowing the exact phases this technique requires.

What are the phases of syntopical reading?

There are five main steps you will need to go through while doing the syntopical reading. The process can obviously differ from one reader to another and from one topic to another. The important thing to remember from the five phases of syntopical reading is actually the complexity of the process they describe and the depth of the research required to successfully cover a certain topic in its entirety. 

1. Inspecting the relevant passages. In syntopical reading, you and your needs – not the books you read – should be your main focus. The first step in this research process is to identify the relevant passages that you will need to examine in order to gain the necessary level of understanding of the topic. 

2. Bringing the author to terms. The most challenging step in syntopical reading is undoubtedly this one. In the end, you’re just making an author use your vocabulary instead of his own. Let me clarify that.

All of our typical reading practices are against this. Usually, when you read a book critically, you tend to believe the author to be superior, and this is especially true when the book is excellent. We have a tendency to accept the author’s language, terminology, and the way he has organized the explanation of the topic. But if you adopt the terminology of any one author, you will quickly become lost in syntopical reading. You will understand this particular book, but you may miss out on comprehending others on the same topic. 

As a result, as you move forward with syntopical reading, you must start developing a vocabulary that enables you to understand other authors, not just one or a select few, and, second, enables you to address the issue you are facing.

3. Getting the questions clear. As you move on with your syntopical reading session, you will need to ask yourself questions and find the answers within the book. This is also challenging. The questions must be phrased and arranged in such a way that they both help us solve the initial problem at hand that led us into the process of interpretive reading, but also allow the author or authors to provide us with the answers. The problem is that the writers may not have considered the questions we want answered to be relevant. They may have had quite different perspectives on the matter than ours.

4. Defining the issues. The interesting thing about syntopical reading is that sometimes you will be stunned to realize that different authors or different reading materials provide completely different answers to some of your questions. Creating your own logical and informed opinion should be the result of a clear analysis of all the possible answers you discover to your questions. You should categorize opposing answers, and find the relation between one another. 

5. Analyzing the discussion. If the questions to which you needed answers were rather complex ones, it’s relatively safe to assume that proper research is going to leave you with somewhat different answers. There is rarely a general, universal truth that applies to any given question. A syntopical reading session ends, more often than not, with a clear necessity for you to draw your own conclusions. After you have analyzed all of the answers, you must determine the relationship between them and form your own opinion. This is the final stage of syntopical reading, the part where you are informed enough to have your own thoughts and opinions about a certain topic.  

How Basmo can make syntopical reading easier

As you can tell, syntopical reading is a very complex process. It is stimulating, rewarding, and extremely useful, but it requires a certain level of dedication and effort. To make things easier for yourself, our advice is to always use a reading app when doing syntopical reading. Reading apps like Basmo can enhance your reading experience, improve your performance, and make the whole process a lot easier. Here’s how.

Basmo times your reading sessions. Since syntopical reading is an amazingly demanding activity, getting burned out is a real possibility if you don’t pay attention to your sessions’ duration and you don’t take enough breaks. Luckily for you, using a reading app like Basmo can easily help you prevent burnout. 

Every single reading session is timed, which means that you can easily set yourself targets and take breaks every 30 minutes for example. That way, you give yourself a well-deserved mental break and time to reflect on all the information you just went through.

You can easily annotate, highlight, and take notes. Writing things down when doing syntopical reading is absolutely essential. You need to jot down your thoughts, write down the answers to your questions, and create a scheme of relationships between the contradictory information you discover. On top of this, you will need to highlight and annotate as you read to make sure the relevant information is easily visible.

With Basmo, taking notes, annotating, and highlighting is easy and facile, and most importantly, it leaves your books in mint condition.

Keep a reading journal. Sometimes, depending on the complexity of the subject you are exploring, you will need to be able to write a lot more than just simple notes. 

That is why, with Basmo, you can easily keep a reading journal. This gives you a lot more freedom when it comes to the amount of writing you will be able to easily keep under control. Everything you write can be easily formatted however you see fit (using different fonts, font sizes, and colors) so that you keep things well organized and easy to follow whenever you need to go through the information again.

Basmo helps you stay organized. While being organized is generally a good idea in all aspects of life, it is of the utmost importance when it comes to reading, especially when reading syntopically.

With Basmo, you can easily create a reading schedule to match your daily routine, you can set reading goals and follow your progress toward reaching them, and you can create reading lists that will help you exhaust each subject you decide to read syntopically.

Final thoughts

What is syntopical reading? It is the highest level of reading, the result of mastering all other lower levels, and the most important learning tool you can possess. Having the ability to read syntopically, do proper research, draw your own conclusions, and form your own opinion is the best way for you to actually exhaust a certain topic and gain a superb level of understanding on a certain subject. Using Basmo can help you master this skill a lot quicker and become a lot more efficient.

Ready to take your reading game to the next level?
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