Reading a script, a book or a paper in mathematics can sometimes be so time consuming.

Sometimes it takes me hours to read a single page, because something just makes no sense. But I find reading mathematics without going into all the details very unsatisfying.

How normal is this and how do people doing research in math deal with this problem?

Do researchers also train their basic math knowledge to become more efficient in reading?

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    My unscientific sampling of mathematicians (myself included) suggests we read carefully fewer papers than we write. It's common for grad students to read more, because they have to learn the subsubsubfield they are working in (but a PhD student who is focused on learning just enough to write one dissertation can often get away with reading just one paper), but many experienced mathematicians only read a paper if they are asked to referee it (which frequetly is a full week of work) or if they actually need the detailed techniques of the paper for their own research. Jul 28, 2023 at 22:47
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    I will second @AlexanderWoo's comments, and add that, yes, it can take hours to read a single page. If I really need to grok a paper for some reason, I typically allocate 2-3 hours per page. Sometimes I actually get through it faster than that, but that's the time I give myself. And you should read with both a pen and scratch paper handy. Jul 29, 2023 at 1:18
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    One approach: go for a general overview first, then use that to decide whether to make this paper one of the few that you actually read carefully. This way you will have a general idea about a lot more papers than the ones you know inside-out.
    – GEdgar
    Jul 29, 2023 at 1:35
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    @MackeyTopology I tend not to attempt to read papers straight through with the intention of understanding everything. Typically, I start by reading the introduction, then skimming the main results (while ignoring the proofs). If there are parts of the paper which I think are going to be useful, I'll go back and read those a lot more carefully. For what it is worth, I think that there are three papers and one book chapter that I read very carefully while writing my PhD thesis. My masters thesis was written after reading two papers very carefully. Jul 29, 2023 at 20:58
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1 Answer 1


My own experience is that if I just want to gain a basic understanding of a result, then I do not struggle to understand all the details of the paper. I read it much as a might a news story.

On the other hand, if I want to use the result, or use the approach in solving a different problem, then I'm tenacious, and sometimes very very slow. I am currently reading a paper where I have gotten stuck in my understanding half way through the second of 5 pages. It's been that way for a while despite my efforts. I understand the overall result; no problem there. But since I want to use the result and method in a piece of my own work, I really need to overcome the barrier that is confronting me ... and in my case, I suspect it will only be by enlisting the help of a colleague who can explain it to me.

Ultimately, I might have to read another paper that gives me sufficient background, before coming back to this one. I imagine, but have not evidence, that my approach is not unlike that of other people.

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