Speed reading, for those who can do it, is a highly useful and productivity-increasing ability. There are countless situations where we need to get information from a body of text. Whether we are trying to quickly look up an answer to a question online, whether we are following instructions that we have been sent by post or e-mail, or whether we are trying to extract quotes and information from a book or article. In any of these situations we need to be able to quickly get the information we need so that we can start working effectively.
At the same time if you could speed read effectively then you would be able to seek out more information in your spare time too. It would enable you to read more books in a shorter time, to get through magazines faster and generally to consume information at a quicker rate. That in turn would then mean you were more knowledgeable on a range of subjects and more prepared for any situation.
The question then is how to go about doing it. Here we will look at some methods you can use and how to improve your general reading speed.
The Concept Behind Speed Reading
The main concept behind speed reading is that the process of ‘sounding’ words in your head takes a long time. In other words because you are forming the words in your head as though you were sounding them out, this then means that it takes you the same amount of time to read them in your head as it would take you to read them out loud.
The idea behind speed reading then is that you stop sounding the word out so that you can instead just glance over the words and take them in almost unconsciously.
Doing this of course takes practice when you are used to sounding words out after years of reading. To change your behavior then you need to change the way you approach reading and practice doing this on a regular basis.
First of all decide what it is that you want to search for in the text. If you are reading a fiction story for entertainment then this won’t work quite as well, but otherwise you can start out with a goal and use this to determine what you’re looking for. You can write these down if it helps.
Now you are going to skim your eyes over the text. The idea is that you are going to read from top to bottom in columns instead of reading left to right as you normally would. This helps to encourage you not to sound out the words or to think of them as prose as you normally might.
As you spot the words you are interested in read those sections in more detail. Try to quickly skim through the text still and instead of taking in the wording instead focus just on the main point.
At first this won’t come naturally and it may seem like it takes just as long or that you miss crucial details. Practice then is important so to help yourself improve try setting yourself goals and repeatedly testing yourself. Put yourself out some paragraphs of text, and set some questions to answer by speed reading through the text as fast as you can. Do this repeatedly and you should start to find that both your speed and accuracy begin to improve.
Other Forms of Speed Reading
You can also improve your reading speed in other ways. One is simply to practice reading fast. Try not to linger on words and phrases, and again by practicing you can start to notice improvements over time. You can also try abbreviating words in your mind so that you at least aren’t sounding out words that take as long to say – try speaking as ‘text speak’ in your head. Otherwise you can purposefully omit certain sounds – try omitting vowels for instance, or leaving out ‘ands’, ‘ifs’, ‘ors’ etc.
Finally there’s also a useful tool online called ‘spreeder’. This is designed specifically for speed reading and lets you paste text into a box and then set how fast you want each word to display. This way you can quickly work through a large body of text and know precisely how long it will take you to finish (if an article has 2,000 words and you set it so that you see four words a second then you know that it will take you 500 seconds to read through it). It’s a great idea and well worth a look.