Today I Learned Writer

How to speed read

Since the development of writing, the printing press and more recently the internet, it has become more and more easy to access knowledge. We are bombarded with an unprecedented amount of information, but with increasingly limited time to process and consume it.

There are no magic tricks to upload the information directly to our brain Like how NEO was able to in the Matrix. Neither does a device that will allow information to be injected during our sleep currently exist (Omelette du fromage anyone?).

The trick then is to become a more efficient reader and realize that not everything is worth reading or remembering. It is more useful to understand what a text is trying to convey, then to remember the text word by word, right? Below you'll find a general outline of notes on how to speed read.


The first thing that is important to be able to understand texts is concentration. Often when reading you find yourself daydreaming or distracted. When speed reading you will have to concentrate otherwise it won't work. Try to actively engage with the material though, by connecting your own experience and knowledge to the text. This will allow to remember relevant information better. In addition to that try not to reread what you just read, or read with a voice in your head, those will only slow you down. Finally, it's probably the best to take a break every 15 to 20 minutes to keep the concentration high.


Concentrated? Good. Basically speed reading involves techniques for not reading all the words, word by word, but by skimming over the text, taking in the information in bigger dosages. Your brain is a quite amazing tool and it has the power to recognize patterns, we've been training our whole life for that. Look at a text as a series of patterns. Skimming over the text will allow you to recognize in general what the message is.

Read keywords

An example of skimming is by looking for keywords in the text. Usually texts contain a lot of cruft between the most important words, so trying to look for those can really help by getting an understanding of the overall idea of the text.

Reading between the lines

It can also help to look at the space between the lines instead of directly at the text. By reading between the lines you won't be stopped by words directly and you'll be using your peripheral vision, allowing you to take in more words at a time.

Force your eye movement

If you find it hard to skim text you might find it easier to force yourself to read by using a tool to determine the speed of reading. By tool I mean you could use your finger or a pen to flow over the text, all the while following it with your eyes. Start slow by using your finger and move evenly along a line of text. While doing so keep your eye movement synchronized with your finger while taking in the text. Keep increasing the speed by which your finger moves and voila, you're basically speed reading. If this works for you, you might opt for using something to overlay the text you've just read with something to prevent you from looking back.


It is totally possible to speed up your pace of reading. I've used some of the techniques above for years and when I started I was significantly slower than now, I estimate at least a 50% improvement. It doesn't come without effort though. Speed reading is a skill and it can and should be practiced. Then some texts might not be completely suited for speed reading, like really technical documents, or anything you'd want to read for leisure. But in the right circumstances it is a great technique to obtain information.

If you'd like to know more there's quite some material out there, for instance, I read 10 Days to Faster Reading by The Princeton Language Institute.