Editorial: Pointing the way to a quicker read

March 1, 2006

Look to our brackets as signposts to reading in concentrated doses, a 'distillation' of our longer articles.

punc·tu/a·tionn . The act or practice of using standardized marks in writing and printing to separate sentences orsentence elements or to make the meaning clearer.

The word "punctuation" is derived from the Latin punctus, which means to point. In its earliest form, punctuation may have been an aid for "voicing" liturgical manuscripts, literally indicating to the reader where to pause for breath.1 Over the centuries, punctuation has evolved to connote much more than an intake of breath. Today, we use commas, ellipses, and semicolons to suggest subtleties in tone, accent, and degree of pause.2

Why all this emphasis on concentrated "speed" reading? I know first hand just how hard it is to keep up with the literature. I believe there are few disciplines in medicine where it is harder to keep up with clinical developments. Take the past 5 days of my professional life: I was on call over the weekend, and between deliveries, consults, and caring for critically ill patients, I had not a minute to read. Then I was post-call and sleep-deprived, certainly not a state conducive to reading the literature. The next 2 days were packed with patient care for about 9 exhaustive hours each, then I was on-call again! So when was I supposed to keep up with the literature? And I am a Chair, so I take less calls and see fewer patients than most of my readers!

Contemporary OB/GYN well realizes that clinicians are busier than ever but they have a sincere desire to stay abreast of the latest developments in medicine. A national survey of internists done in 1989 showed that they spent about 6 hours per week reading medical journals and newsletters.3 By 2000, the time commitment for reading had dropped to about 4 hours per week, according to a smaller survey of internists, and they were looking at only the abstracts from two of every three articles they picked up.4 And you can be sure those internists were not missing out on 1 or 2 good nights sleep per week or stuck in the OR for 8 to 16 hours a week!