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Write for Speed Reading

February 16, 2011

‘Read more, Learn more, achieve more’ shouts the front cover of the Speed Reading Book by Tony Buzan.  Like any claim of this kind, it implies that you have only to read this book and you will be able to speed read anything you like.  Well, in my opinion only half the responsibility for reading quickly lies with the reader.  The other half rests at the door of the writer.

Have you ever stared at a page for several minutes and learned nothing?  Of course you have – and it may have been because you were bored, cold or hungry.  Buzan acknowledges this kind of problem.  Nowhere does he mention that you may be trying to read something unreadable!  So this is where I come in.

I have selected three topics that always seem to come up in speed reading guides:

Back-skipping

Our eyes do not move evenly from left to right and down one line at a time when we read.  Fast readers take in more than one line at a time, and we often back-skip.  That is when the eyes go up or to the left and re-visit some words.  I can see that this slows me down and that I need to learn to keep moving on.  But long, poorly constructed sentences divulge nothing at all on first reading.  I have to read them at least twice, mentally unravelling the logic, before I can glimpse the intentions of the writer.

Scanning paragraphs

This is a great way to get through a document quickly.  Glance at a paragraph and make a quick decision what it is about.  Are we still at the introduction stage or have we moved on to the main point?  Is the writer linking two points, summarising the previous section or preparing me for the next?

Again, we can only do this if the writer has structured the material well.  I wish I had not read so many first paragraphs that dropped me right in at the deep end with no idea of what the scope or intention of the report might be.  I have also been presented with paragraphs that are three-quarters of a page long and cover background, recommendations and then a bit more background.

Vocalisation

This is the habit of reading out loud in your head, if you see what I mean.  Some people actually move their mouths as they read, others just hear the sounds of the words.  In my experience, the more fluent a reader you become, the less you are inclined to do this.

I have two pieces of evidence for this.  Children make the sounds as they read at first, then move their lips and then do neither as they become more proficient at reading.  I go through the same process when I learn a new language.  I can read French to myself, but I find it difficult not to vocalise when reading Spanish which I began learning recently.  So, I guess what I am saying here is that when reading is difficult, we are inclined to vocalise.  Do we do it when we are faced with badly written text in our first language?  I think so.

So, if you want to write stuff that people can read quickly, organise your paragraphs logically and write straightforward sentences that are not too long.  I recommend about 20 words as a good average.

What do you think?

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One Comment leave one →
  1. February 16, 2011 12:22

    So many interesting ideas here that could be expanded in future blogs. I would go further when you comment that ‘…only half the responsibility for reading quickly lies with the reader. The other half rests at the door of the writer.’ I suggest all the work rests on the shoulders of the writer. As you observe, ‘Nowhere does he [Buzan] mention that you may be trying to read something unreadable!’ This is fundamental. How can we speed read something that is difficult to read? Perhaps this is another practical measure of readability: can we speed read the text? Very useful insight.

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