Friday, June 27, 2008

In Praise of Speed Reading

I have been flying a lot lately so have read lots. I am way behind in my book reports here.

As a constant learner, I think reading is about the best way to learn. And as an efficiency person, of course I want to read more and more quickly. A friend asked me how to speed read and this is my email reply:

I would suggest you get Evelyn Woods book from the library. Some ideas that increase the amount you can read and absorb without even speeding up are:

1 - know your purpose. What are you trying to learn?

2 - pre-read. That is read the table of contents, the slip cover, leaf through the book. You will find you retain more and know more of what interests you. Also, sometimes you will find the book is virtually summarized for you in the sub titles, insert boxes etc.

3 - don’t read it if it is not good. Some people figure if they get a book - they need to read it. Variant on this - don’t read it all. I only read completely half the books I get.

4 -high focus and concentration

5 - simply pushing forward works. The more you do it, the more easy it becomes.

6 - use your finger (or a business card). 20% of the wasted time in reading is re-reading the same thing

7 - if you speak or mouth the words, you are slowing yourself down. Read in your head.

8 - sometimes only read the first and last paragraph of the chapter, the article etc.

9 - audio books are great.

10 - I do not like book abstracts or summaries but some people do. If I read a good abstract, I like to get the book. A good source of summaries is Getabstract.

Look at studying reading like eating right. I know how to eat right but each article I read inspires me to eat a bit better and I get better and better at it the more I read about it. If you want to learn something study it. How else would you learn it? And you learn different ways -so listen to an audio book on it, read a book, ask an expert, attend a seminar etc.

And the quote for the day:

"Success comes to those who are too busy to be looking for it"

---Henry David Thoreau


At 12:40 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hello Jim,

Permit me a some rambling on your "Speed Reading" comments. Regrettably, in my view at least, there are fewer and fewer "readers" in our society. It seems there is simply no time to read any more. Speed reading might help some to "catch up", but I'm afraid speed reading = speed forgetting.

Real reading requires processing, digesting, and reflection of the ingested material. That, in turn, requires time, which we don't have or don't take.

Even reading of emails would require the above process. Yes, people speed-read the emails and then...speed react. Stop, understand and think went out of style. Just observe the old saying ring true, anywhere you look: "Haste makes waste".

As for your quote of the day "Success comes to those who are too busy to be looking for it": it reminds me that most people are (or will say that they are) busy. Yet, why so few successful people? Being busy in executing a well conceived plan and focusing on it, yes, that kind of busy might lead to success.

At 1:37 PM, Blogger Matthew Cornell said...

Great tips on a favorite topic of mine. Perhaps the most important point of all: Be selective in what you read. We can't read everything, and not everything is of the same value, so you can *effectively* read much faster by being choosier, based on your goals... ?

FYI here are a few reading-related posts of mine:

How To Read A Lot Of Books In A Short Time

A Reading Workflow Based On Leveen's "Little Guide"

Double Your Income In A Year ... By Reading!? An Update On Reading For Learning, Plus A Current List With Brief Comments

Reading Gone Wild! How To Read Five Books A Week (or Why Scott Ginsberg Is My Hero)

At 3:06 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hi Jim

Great posts as always. Really got me wondering about whether speed reading to objectives runs the risk of perpetuating beliefs. Do we limit our opportunity to discover new thinking? I've put some more thoughts down here: and linked back to your post. Be great to hear the thoughts of others on this....

Have a great day


At 12:37 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I read your article and it prompted me to do a little research about the topic and I found this speed reading article. It's interesting how the brain works and processes information.

At 9:30 PM, Anonymous Dave said...

Vocalization is not a bad habit!

It is a common habit to vocalize, or at least sub-vocalize while reading. This practice will prevent you from reading any faster than you can say the words. But vocalizing isn’t really just a habit. It actually does help you understand what you read. Sentences are usually made of multiple phrases. Each phrase is an idea, or a separate thought. When you hear a sentence spoken, there are sound clues that indicate these phrases. You may not be aware of it because it's as subconscious as walking, but listen carefully to the previous sentence when it’s divided into phrases…

When you hear -- a sentence spoken, -- there are sound clues -- that indicate -- these phrases.

If you listen carefully to the spoken words, you will notice that the first word of each phrase is spoken in a lower pitch, like a lower musical note. Lowering our pitch indicates to the listener that this is the next thought being presented and this makes our spoken sentences easier for the listener to understand. This lower pitch tells the listener that a new part of the sentence is coming. But these audio clues are not available in written text, and so we have a tendency to sound out the words to listen for them ourselves.

There is a free online application which will take any text and convert it into its natural phrases. It will then display these phrases one after the other at your control or automatically with an adjustable speed control. Go to and try it out.

Although there is often more than one way to break a sentence into phrases, ReadSpeeder's patent-pending process does a good job of quickly finding the natural, meaningful phrases. When the sentence is presented to you in this way, you no longer need to internally sound out the sentences. You will instantly grasp the meaning of each phrase at a glance, just like you grasp the meaning of words at a glance, without thinking of each letter. Faster understanding will lead to faster reading. This method is really the opposite of most attempts to read faster. The usual advice is to push your reading speed, and try to maintain comprehension, with the hope that, with practice, the comprehension will improve. With ReadSpeeder, you understand faster to begin with. Use ReadSpeeder and no longer will you be restricted to reading at the speed of speech. You will be reading at the speed of thought.

If you have any questions, you can write me at

At 4:49 PM, Anonymous Diamond said...

I'm surprised that in a post about speed reading that you're also talking about audiobooks. I used to be really big on those until I realized that it took me 7CDs and 8 hours of my life to get through a 200-page book that I could read in three hours or less even without using speed reading.

I understand what you're getting at, namely that you don't have to actively pay attention to get your reading done, and that you can do it when you're doing something boring, but still, they're very expensive, and they're slow as can be.

At 9:28 AM, Anonymous Rex Tang said...

I don't think that speed reading = speed forgetting. I think you're saying that because you probably don't understand what you are reading when you speed read.

I've actually invested into a speed reading program and somehow it really helped me improve my speed in reading. The speed reading tool helps me to practice techniques and strategies on how to read faster. It's definitely worth investing for.

At 4:58 PM, Blogger thomasabu said...

Great tips !

At 4:59 PM, Blogger thomasabu said...

Great tips !


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