Assuming I am reading a textbook/paper or any kind of rich material and then there is a point where I feel that the chapter I am reading is unnecessary or insignificant (I can get back to it later if I am wrong) or at times unmotivated or boring, what are good practices to skip such chapters?

(Assume Math/Engineering books)

How do you make sure that the content you skipped doesn't get in the way of the subsequent chapters? (i.e. Skipping does not carry any drawbacks)

  • 3
    It really depends on why you are reading the textbook.
    – StrongBad
    Jul 17, 2012 at 13:21

5 Answers 5


I'm usually backtracking, i.e., I try to read a subsequent chapter, then I usually discover that there are some definitions/concepts that I do not understand, so I go backwards to look these up, and, once I've understood these notions I can resume the reading of the subsequent chapter.

  • 2
    That's a really good approach: get the "big picture" first, then fill in the details later.
    – Paul
    Jul 17, 2012 at 16:45

Often the authors will tell you which chapters or sections are prerequisites for others. The most common place to find this is in the preface or forward. If you don't find it there, you may also find this information throughout the book. One book that I'm working through right now has 25 chapters, grouped into 9 sections. At the start of each section, the authors spend about a page outlining the goals of each chapter. Nearly any time I plan to read much of a book, I first read or skim the introductory material. These sections usually don't take much time, and they often give me a decent sense of what to expect from the rest of the book.


There is absolutely no compulsion to force yourself to read every section ... on a first pass, or second, or on any particular pass through a book. Often, seemingly obscure choices become clearer only later, and, even then, often only on the fifth or tenth time through. That is, genuine reading of sources is essentially never linear, and takes many passes through, both to get an idea of the content, and to absorb it in varying degrees. Certainly we should not feel bound by artificial rules, although the physical linearity of books and papers perpetually misleads us.


In addition to the existing suggestions, if you know someone else who has read the book they might have very good advice on which sections are essential or can be skipped.


How do you judge that the chapter is unnecessary or insignificant without reading it?

I know it is tempting to skip the boring stuff, but I don't see how you can decide that a section is not needed except in hindsight.

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