5 secrets for reading faster (without a speed reading course)

If you’re a copywriter, consultant, business owner, or anyone involved in marketing, you’re also a reader.

In fact, if you’re like me, you probably spend a good portion of your day reading reports, email, creative briefs, proposals, and all manner of materials. So if you can read faster, you can be more productive.

The question is, can you really read at lightning speed and still comprehend and retain what you’re reading? This is a hotly debated question. Some swear they can read and remember a whole book in 5 minutes while others say speed reading is a bunch of baloney.

I think Woody Allen settled the matter when he said, “I took a speed reading course and read War and Peace in 20 minutes. It involves Russia.”

I don’t want to rehash the debate here, but I think the issue boils down to how you define “reading.” To me, reading means taking in every word and every nuance. But most speed reading courses teach you how to skim. You breeze through text to extract the information you need and ignore the fine details.

Research shows that most people read 200 to 400 words per minute with a reasonable level of comprehension. With training and practice, you can double your speed without much drop-off in comprehension. When you get to 1000 words or more, you’re “speed reading” or skimming, and comprehension starts to suffer.

Sure, there are people who seem to have the ability to glance at a page, absorb, and remember everything, just as there are people who can eat anything they want and stay thin. But these are freaks of nature.

If you want to learn actual speed reading, take a course. But you can read significantly faster with just a few simple and practical techniques.

Use a pointer. Most people read at about the same speed. However, slow readers re-read, going back over previous text repeatedly. It’s like taking two steps forward and one step back. By using a pointer (finger, pencil, ruler) and moving it along the text at a steady rate, you can keep your eyes and mind focused. You take in words just once and eliminate most of the backtracking.

Eliminate distractions. This is an obvious point, but people ignore it. Ringing phones, chiming email programs, and blaring TVs and radios take up mind space and slow your reading. To maximize your reading speed, find a quite place with no distractions. Some people even wear headphones to shut out the world.

Scan ahead. Get an idea of what you’re going to read before you read it. This prepares your mind for the material, making it easier to grasp. The more familiar you are with a subject, the faster you can read about it. Also, you may find less important sections you can skip.

Start chunking. You learned to read word-by-word. But as your reading skill grows, you are able to take in phrases or chunks of text. For example, in the first sentence of this paragraph there are seven words. But you can group these words into two chunks, “You learned to read” and “word-by-word.” Reading two chunks is faster than reading seven individual words.

Stop subvocalizing. Here’s the tough one. Nearly everyone does it and it may be the primary reason you read slower than you could. “Subvocalizing” means sounding out each word, either under your breath or inside your mind. This happens because we associate written words with spoken words. But pronouncing each word, even if you do it in your mind, puts the breaks on reading. Instead, try to read visually, seeing words and understanding them without “hearing” them.

If you’re interested in learning one way to stop subvocalizing, watch the video I posted on my copywriting blog. The technique is a little strange, but give it a whirl and let me know if it works for you.

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5 Responses to “5 secrets for reading faster (without a speed reading course)”

  1. Jenny S on July 14th, 2011 2:38 pm


  2. Matthew on July 14th, 2011 4:24 pm

    Great post! It’s really important not to take the gifted and say everyone can and should be like them. The basic rules you gave for increasing speed are right on. Thanks!

  3. Jodi Kaplan on July 17th, 2011 7:25 am

    Oh dear, I guess I’m a double freak of nature then.


  4. Marji on August 19th, 2011 5:56 am

    Thank you, great advice.

  5. Self Help For Speed Reading | Self Help Now on January 11th, 2012 6:07 pm

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