Read by editing

I'm constantly looking for ways to improve the code and/or text as I'm reading.

This morning I was listening to a podcast about some of the benefits of writing, which got me thinking about my own writing, and even reading habits.

That’s when I realized that when I’m reading code, and even sometimes when reading English text (especially on sites like Wikipedia, or StackOverflow, or open-source documentation), I do what I decided to call reading by editing.

That is to say, I’m constantly looking for ways to improve the code and/or text as I’m reading.

This is most natural with code, which is often read via a code editor, but even when reading code on GitHub, it’s usually pretty easy.

I start reading, as one normally does, but as soon as I have to pause to think about something, due to unclarity, or a typo, or other error, rather than just mentally fixing it, I actually fix it.

Of course this approach doesn’t work everywhere. It’s hard to edit a printed book, no matter how badly I may want to. But for work we do collaboratively as a team, this is a great approach in many areas. Here are a few:

  1. When reading code, so you know what to modify for a feature add or bug fix, fix any unclarities and commit them so the next reader of that code has an easier time.
  2. When reading a Wikipedia article with an error or omission, submit a quick edit.
  3. When reading a StackOverflow question or answer, submit an edit to fix a grammatical error, broken link, or any other unclarity.
  4. When onboarding on a new team, if you notice any technical errors our outdated information, fix it.

Read by editing. It’s a powerful way to make the things you read just a tiny bit better every day. And it adds up.

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