Top Secret Tips on Reading BIG Environmental Documents

Every wonder how your neighbor gets through the six-thousand or so page environmental documents?  Here’s the secret: more often than not – they are not reading six-thousand pages.  They might not even be reading six pages.  This might be the best kept secret in the world of Homeowner Associations, Neighborhood Councils, and Water Districts.

Spilling the beans:
  • Reading the online version: find a PDF viewer that allows the ability to make marks, bookmarks, and notes.
  • Reading a hardcopy: arm yourself with a highlighter, pen, and post-its
  • Look for a table of a table of acronyms and abbreviations.  You will find that HRAs, LONPs and NO2 are not meant to be mysteries.  And, let me just apologize for the entire industry – unfortunately it isn’t our fault there are so many acronyms.
  • Find a friend to read it with.  Come on…you did book clubs (Maybe you still do?), share a chapter, split the book.
  • Flip through the whole document, see what the whole thing looks like.  Take a quick peek at the chapter titles.  You find there are longer chapters, chapters with more graphics, and there are chapters with tables!
  • Look for the #1 question burning a hole in your pocket and find the answer.  You might find the rest of the document less entertaining if you already figured out the green-speckled summer snail was already identified as a sensitive species.
  • Before tearing into the Executive Summary – flip through it. Â Get a sense for how long it will take to read.  Are we looking at “put the kids in the tub and read a couple of pages” or are we looking at “I have to give up my entire weekend, send the kids off to the grandparents and read this thing”.  Once you know what the document size is – you will know how much of a time commitment you will need to make in order to get this done.
  • If you can only read one part of the document, make it the one part you are the most worried about or interested in. Â If you can’t find what you are looking for, email the project team and ask for assistance.
It is important to note that not everyone gets paid to read these documents, and sometimes I wonder if these documents have become so large because there are too many people out there getting paid to review these documents.
I’ve read far more of these documents not because I was paid to, but because these are projects I am personally interested and I have to read them in my “off-time”, like for bedtime reading for Iolani.
But, when I am paid to read these – I tend to follow all the bullet points above and then read the chapters completely out of order.  I read the chapters that interest me the least first to get them out of the way.  But of course – the last thing I do is read through the list of preparers to see if there’s anyone I know.
(crossposted from