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Some notes on Speed Reading

<Breaking Tsundoku - Part 4>

This post will cover:

  • the perception of speed reading

  • things that slow our reading down

  • things that speed our reading up

  • a summary of the key points


A common misconception about those that are able to read lots of books, is that they simply read faster. That they start at the beginning and read to the end in record time by applying some magical and mysterious speed reading skills. But as you probably figured out by now, this is a myth.

That's not to say that there is no value in learning some ninja speed reading skills, but the focus should be on being able to read at many different speeds. Just reading faster than you can now should not be your sole motivation. It would be much more appropriate to focus on when different speeds are more appropriate in order to apply the right tool for the text in front of you. Almost every book has pages which can be whizzed through, and others which require you to slow down, to digest on and consider the ideas, but more on this when we get into Level 3 reading - Analytical.

As you have hopefully discovered in part 2 and part 3 of this series, Level 2 - Inspectional reading is about extracting as much as you can from a book in a limited amount of time, but this is not because you simply read faster. it's also because you are actually reading less of a book, and reading in a different way, with different goals.

With that in mind, I'm still going to share some insights here that you can practise in order to be able to accelerate if you need to. There are many, many books on this topic, so I'll keep it high level.


Things that slow us down 🐢

Verbalising words

Do you listen to yourself read? Do you hear the voice of the author in the back of your mind as you progress through some text? Maybe you even sound out the words and move your lips as you read? This is called sub-vocalising. It reduces your ability to read faster, as you can only read as fast as you can speak.

Eye movements

Most peoples eyes stop or 'fixate' as many as 5 or 6 times on each line.

We also reread text we didn't fully process on the first pass. This happens more than we realise with some studies suggesting it accounts for 30% of our reading time!

Limited vocabulary

Unless you're Suzy Dent it's highly unlikely that you will know all of the c.470,000 words in the english language. Stopping to lookup and understand new words will obviously slow things down.

increasing your vocabulary will undeniably aid your speed reading efforts.

(Essential Speed Reading Techniques - Katya Seberson)


Things that help us go faster 🐇

Setting the right environment 🛋️

Sitting upright at a table or in a comfy chair. Having good lighting. Not being in a noisy disruptive room. Obvious but important none the less

The word-clustering technique

This is not about grouping words together at random, but rather its about spotting common combinations of words that already have meaning for you like 'in the morning', 'at the office'. as you spend more time with an author, you will also begin to notice common phrases they use, and be able to cluster these together. TBH this can be pretty tricky to get the hang of, but awareness is the first step.

The reduced margin technique

Margins of white space significantly improves the readability of text, as it helps us see where a line starts and ends. However, given that they don't actually contain any content we can use our peripheral vision and anchor our first and last fixations on each line further in than we naturally do. Here's an example:

👉🏻 Using your finger 👈🏿

This is the place to start, and (IMHO) the single best way to speed up your reading. As you may imagine this involves placing your finger on the page / screen and moving it at a consistent pace across each line, faster than you would normally read. You'll be amazed at how quickly you adjust and how smart the brain is at absorbing information, instantly reducing (but not removing) fixations and subvocalising.


In Summary

  • Reading faster should not be your sole goal

  • Being able to read at different speeds for different types of texts is more useful

  • Speed reading is predominantly about changing our eye movements i.e. reducing the number of fixations per line

  • It's also about reducing subvocalisation (the voice in your head when you read)

  • There are a number of different techniques you can apply to speed up your reading such as word-clustering, or reduced margins

  • Learning and being able to apply these simultaneously is possible, but can take months of practice

  • The single best way to start with speed reading is simply to follow your finger across the lines at a pace faster than your normal reading speed

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