If you’ve ever had to read for work, a class, or even chosen to read for pleasure, you’ve probably pondered the idea of reading more quickly. Some of you have probably even attempted to speed read; however, maybe you hesitated because you were scared that you would skim over some key information or miss out on the author’s tone and the emotion behind the piece. Or if you’re anything like me, you are intrigued by this talent but have no idea how to do it or where to begin. These are all valid worries and, luckily, speed reading has been a large topic of interest to researchers around the globe for decades.
What is speed reading anyway?
According to Bernice Leary’s article on speed reading, the goal of this technique is not simply to read the material quickly or how many words and pages you can read in an hour. Leary argues that speed reading is all about, “Aiming for the ‘speed of comprehension’, ‘speed of organization’, ‘speed in using the index’, etc..” It is important to remember that while the goal is to read more material in a smaller amount of time, we must focus on the comprehension, organization, and understanding of the material as Leary speaks about. Without comprehension, there is no point in reading the material in the first place.
When should you use this technique?
Before diving into learning the “how to’s” of speed reading, it’s also extremely important to understand why you should speed read and when it is appropriate to use this technique. In many cases, speed reading can actually do more harm than good. In Milena Tsvetkova’s article, The Speed Reading is in Disrepute, Tsvetkova discusses that the use of this technique may be the thief of knowledge and how the advantages of reading more slowly often outweigh those of speed reading. For instance, in a study discussed in Tsvetkova’s article, people who used speed reading remembered: “too little of the perceived information, because the messages [were] generally submitted chaotically, fragmentary, [and] out of any logical order or structure.” According to Tsvetkova, this is because, “The physiological truth is that the visual analyzer perceives the letter, the word only when it stops, and when the eye is fixed.” These gaps in cohesive sentences cause the reader to comprehend less information and read blindly, but, despite these negative outcomes, there are still instances in which speed reading is beneficial. For example, it is still a helpful technique to use when you have a general idea of the topic at hand and you do not need to comprehend too much of the information, like when reading for a review. Mostly, the question of when speed reading is appropriate is a complete judgment call.
So how do you do it?
According to Daniel Reisberg in “Cognition: Exploring the Science of the Mind”, it is possible to teach people to speed read, and it is actually quite easy. Reisberg claims that speed reading is not about reading faster, but instead about skipping more words in the material. In turn, you are not reading faster but reading less, and there are four steps to this process:
- Flip through the text quickly, look at the figures and figure captions, read the summary if one is provided, and gather a broad sense of what the material is about.
- Rely on inferences, not word-for-word ideas.
- Use your finger or an index card to guide you down the page. Make sure to use it to lead you instead of following it exactly.
- Don’t move too quickly. If you realize you don’t know what is going on, slow down.
Even though there are advantages to reading quickly, I believe that I will stick to reading more slowly in order to make sure that I understand the material I am reading on a deeper level. I will probably only try this technique if I have an enormous amount of reading to do in a short period of time and keep Leary’s tip in mind too, “only read materials that can be read speedily” like topics I am familiar with or things that are not of much importance.
Reisberg, D. (2016). Cognition: Exploring the science of the mind. New York: W.W. Norton &.