Wednesday, October 24, 2018

Reading Faster

Author: Nation, Paul
Date: 2009

Paul Nation, a Professor in Applied Linguistics, wrote this article to describe reading processes as it pertains to reading speed. He also discusses ways in which an individual can increase their reading speed (including orally), and fluency development and activities.

The author begins with the nature and the limits of reading speed. Three types of action are involved when people read, fixations on particular words, jumping to the next word to focus on, and regression or going back and re-reading a word or a phrase. Research on eye movement while reading has determined that, a skilled reader at 250-300 words per minute, tend to get fixated on 90 words out of 100, these are mainly words with content. Longer words usually are fixated and the longer it is, it may be fixated 2 or 3 times. Research also says that people reading in the English language, usually jump is around 1.2 words, or 8 letters total. Lastly, for every 100 fixations, the average skilled reader makes around 15 regressions. Regressions occur because of big jumps in the text or due to misunderstanding.

If someone is reading at a faster pace, around 400-500 words per minute, they are no longer reading carefully but are doing “expeditious reading.” If the topic being read is familiar to the reader, they may be able to answer questions in detail on words they were not fixated on. Reading speed can be affected by the difficulty of the reading and the purpose of the reading. There are two types of expeditious reading - skimming and scanning. Generally reading about 300-400 words per minute, skimming, is where the reader reads through the text not paying attention to every word, mainly to get the gist of the text. Details usually go unnoticed. Background knowledge of the reading is likely to increase the skimming speed. Scanning entails searching for particular pieces of information including, words, phrases, numbers or names. Skimming skills are more useful because scanning skills rely on skimming and reading skills.

The author then discusses reading aspects and how they change fluency develops. Decoding is taking written text and turning it into a verbal form. Word recognition and repetition of an activity or the same material, help improve a readers speed and understanding of the text. The author often refers to reading speed and fluency to those who know English as a second language but discusses effective ways in which anyone can increase their reading speed level.

Research suggests that 150 words per minute is good oral reading and 250 words per minute is good silent reading. Pressure in reading fast, results in stressing and reduces a reader’s ability to comprehend what they are reading. A way to increase reading more words per minute is to speed read timed readings and answer questions after, there are courses offered to help improve speed. It is best to read at a slower pace to better understand the text, there is no point in speed reading if nothing is understood. 

Speed reading, more specifically, skimming, is obviously a beneficial technique when trying to acquire more general information or the gist about a reading. An issue I find with it when looking at it from an analyst’s point of view is that sometimes one may read over a small important detail that can lead to or answer what you are looking for. I understand that speed reading is useful when determining whether the article is useful or not, but sometimes a significant piece can be overlooked. 


  1. Chelsie I think you're right about analysts needing to catch those small details. I wonder if it might be best for us to reserve skimming for the preliminary collections part of our intelligence process-- that time when we first get a requirement, know next to nothing about the topic(s), and need to become familiar with the various parts of the problem before we can even begin to analyze. I think that's an appropriate time for expedited intake of information at a shallow level.

  2. Did the author mention any type of study on regarding any type of diminishing returns aspect to comprehension improvement with speed reading?

  3. Hi Chelsie,
    I find the authors' discussion of skimming vs. scanning interesting and I see each as being useful depending on the nature of the time constraint. For more immediate intelligence tasks, skimming has the benefit of speed at the cost of missing detail. However, for urgent tasks that are less immediate, scanning has the benefit of giving more attention to detail at the cost of speed. Do you think analysts should exclusively stick to skimming or do you think scanning may also be appropriate in less-immediate circumstances?

  4. Chelsie interesting article. I have always thought of skimming and scanning to be the same thing. I like how the author laid them out. I liked how you brought up the stats on English not being your first language. I know when I was taking Italian if I could skim a few words a could get a good enough understanding of the text. Do you think skimming is more effective when dealing with a second language?