Speed Reading: How to, When to, and Why to

Most people, when they read normally, hear a voice inside their head spelling out the words. You might not notice this at first, but it's the reason we're all so impressed when a child can read 'silently' - because they've added yet another level of complexity to the already difficult task of processing the written words.

Speed reading is very, very different.

1. How to speed read without killing your brain.

The main conceptual difference between speed reading and ordinary reading is that ordinary reading attempts to understand more than just the big picture. It also attempts to understand and process details like names, subplots, and information not necessarily important to understanding the concept of the story. Speed reading, on the other hand, is big-picture focused. This means that you can safely skip some of the details, but you need to be careful deciding what is and isn't important.

The main practical difference is that, while ordinary reading consists of a reader hearing a voice inside their head which is speaking the words aloud, speed reading completely skips this step. Instead, you have to see the words and process them without hearing them spoken. Since many people learn best by hearing, this means that speed reading often leads to quick forgetting. It also means that readers tend to skip words, including articles, adjectives, and sometimes nouns. There's a technique to deciding which words are important and which are not.

You can safely skip:
-Most adjectives
-Some non-capitalized nouns (but be careful: some might be important, and you'll find yourself getting confused later)
-Modifying clauses

You should avoid skipping:
-Proper (capitalized) nouns
-Most verbs

English sentence structure is simple: subject-verb, and sometimes subject-verb-object. These are the key parts of a sentence. In order to understand what you're reading as quickly as possible, look for these key parts. For example:

The quick brown fox jumps over the lazy dog.

(sound familiar, fellow nerds?)

The key parts of this sentence are the verb and the subject. Therefore, when speed reading, this sentence becomes:

Fox jumps.

We've missed a lot of information, but at least we know the key parts. The sentence, obviously, became much shorter and easier to read.

2. When/Why to speed read.

Most of you can probably answer this question already, but put briefly:

Speed read:
-Badly written novels
-Informational literature with a 'big picture' approach to a subject
-Required reading that you're late on (but please try not to be late on required reading ...)
-Reading passages on tests (but be very, very careful with this)

Do not speed read:
-Well written novels
-Informational literature with a detailed approach to a subject
-Informational literature about a subject you are unfamiliar with
-Anything you really want to understand

Sometimes, for one reason or another, you need to read something quickly and understand the big picture while skipping the details. This is what speed reading is for. However, if you really want to understand something or become familiar with a subject, speed reading is not your friend.

Now try speed reading this article! For practice, see if you can state back the major points once you're finished. I'll help you out. Briefly, this article covers:

-The difference between speed reading and normal reading.
-How to speed read.
-When/why to speed read, and when/why to avoid it.