Reading is a major part of any research career or education course. With the ever-increasing number of scholarly manuscripts published each year, researchers only have more and more to read, but often less time to devote to new articles. At the broadest level, there are two solutions: to carefully select what you read (meaning less time is wasted on material that didn’t help) and to increase your reading speed. This article focuses on some ways to help you read more quickly, giving you more time to put back into research, mentoring, writing, or daily life.
How we read
Rather than processing every letter and then assembling them to create a word, your eyes can lock onto different letters at the same time, usually two characters apart. Your brain then fuses these images together to form a word, filling in the blanks. There are many paragraphs and articles on the Internet related to this phenomenon, including the following:
- I cnduo’t bvleiee taht I culod aulaclty uesdtannrd waht I was rdnaieg. Unisg the icndeblire pweor of the hmuan mnid, aocdcrnig to rseecrah at Cmabrigde Uinervtisy, it dseno’t mttaer in waht oderr the lterets in a wrod are, the olny irpoamtnt tihng is taht the frsit and lsat ltteer be in the rhgit pclae.
Moreover, you do not read in a straight line, but rather in a sequence of saccadic movements (jumps). Each of these saccades ends with a fixation, or a temporary snapshot of the text within your focus (approximately the size of a quarter at 8 inches from the reading surface). Each fixation will last 1/4 to 1/2 of a second. By utilizing your brains ability to process words in blocks and the natural way that your eyes jump and fix, you can increase the speed at which you read with some practice. The largest obstacles to speed reading tend to be common reading habits that slow us down, including sub-vocalization and regression.
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Reading habits you must break to read faster
Sub-vocalization is saying each word to yourself in your head while you read. This process of saying the words to yourself takes quite a bit of time, but you can understand and absorb the information without doing so. How do you stop sub-vocalizing while reading? First, acknowledge that it occurs and then practice “not speaking.” Practice trying not to sub-vocalize until this habit is erased. Reading blocks of words also helps, as it’s harder to vocalize a block of words. If that doesn’t work, try this technique: repeatedly say “A-E-I-O-U” or count “1, 2, 3, 4” as you read the text. This action will help train you to stop reading with your larynx and start reading with your eyes. This little trick can increase your speed in a matter of minutes.
Reading word by word
Reading word by word is slow and can make it difficult to get the complete meaning of a sentence in one reading. By grouping words together and reading them as blocks, you will see the “bigger picture” of the writing (at the sentence level rather than word level). Practice expanding the number of words that you read at a time. You may also find that you can increase the number of words you read in a single fixation by positioning the text a little further from your eyes.
Inefficient eye motion
Slower readers tend to focus their eyes on each word and move across the line. The eye can span about 1.5 inches at a time, which encompasses four or five words on an average page. In addition, many people don’t utilize their peripheral vision at the ends of sentences. Try to “soften” your gaze when you read. By relaxing your face and expanding your gaze, you’ll begin to see blocks of words instead of seeing each word as distinct unit. As you get good at this, your eyes will skip faster and faster across the page. When you get close to the end of the line, let your peripheral vision take over to see the last set of words. This way you can quickly scan across and down to the next line.
Regression is the unnecessary re-reading of material. It is possible get into the habit of skipping back to words you have just read or of jumping back a few sentences, just to make sure that you read something right. When you regress like this, you lose the flow and structure of the text, and your overall understanding of the subject can decrease. Be very conscious of regression, and don’t allow yourself to re-read material unless you absolutely have to. To reduce the number of times your eyes skip back, run a pointer (a finger, a pen, or the cursor) along the line as you read. Your eyes will follow the tip of your pointer, helping you avoid skipping back. The speed at which you read using this method will largely depend on the speed at which you move the pointer.
Because speed reading involves breaking poor habits and developing new ones, it just takes concentration and practice. There are some free resources on the Internet that can help you with training and practice. In particular, Spreeder can help you track your progress (or determine your current reading speed) by allowing you to paste the text you want to read and calculating your words per minute. Regent University also provides an online course in speed reading.
We hope that this article gives you some useful ways to increase your reading speed, putting more time back into other aspects of your career. AJE wishes you the best of luck with your research, writing, and reading!