Top Speed Reading Techniques to Boost Your Productivity

by John Soares on October 24, 2011

Speed reading is a key time-management skill that boosts your productivity. When you read faster with a high level of comprehension, you have more time for making money in your business or profession, or for doing anything else you want to do.

If you are like most people, you read 250-300 words a minute. By learning and practicing the proper speed-reading techniques, you can easily double your reading rate, possibly triple it, and perhaps read far faster.

It’s really not difficult. I initially put in about 10 hours with the 2 books below. I went from 300 to 500 words per minute fairly easily, and over time I’ve risen to the 600-1200 word-per-minute level, depending on what I’m reading, how alert I am, and certain other factors like font type, font size, and line length.

Two Recommended Speed Reading Books


Breakthrough Rapid Reading by Peter Kump

Complete Idiot's Guide to Speed Reading








You need to delve into Breakthrough Rapid Reading or the Complete Idiot’s Guide to Speed Readingclick the covers to find out more — but I’ll examine the 5 most important points here.

Five Ways to Increase Your Reading Speed

1. Make Fewer Eye Stops

Minimize the number of stops your eyes make as you read a line of print, and the amount of time you spend during each stop. A stop takes a fraction of a second, but when you stop several times per line, the lost time becomes quite significant in slowing your reading speed.

2. Minimize Back-Skipping

Back-skipping (regression is the fancy word) occurs when you look back at something you just read, either consciously or unconsciously, perhaps because you didn’t understand it or perhaps because you think you may have misread it. Back-skipping keeps you from reading quickly and can actually reduce your comprehension. Of course, sometimes you need to go back and re-read something, but do it consciously and for good reason. The more you apply speed-reading techniques, the less you’ll be tempted to back-skip.

3. End Subvocalization

Subvocalization occurs when you read one word at a time and mentally say the word in your head, perhaps also moving your lips. This is, of course, the slowest way to read, and it’s how most of us were taught when we were little ones in school. You must break this habit and start reading multiple chunks of words at once without sounding them out in your mind.

4. See Multiple Words

Train your brain to see as many words as possible before you move your eyes to the next unit of type. You also want to start as far as you can into a line while still seeing the first word of the line, and then apply the same technique at the end of the line by stopping as far away from the end of the line as you can.

5. Use Hand Techniques

The easiest technique: Use your forefinger to move just under a line of words as fast as your eyes can follow, and then quickly whip that forefinger down to the next line. You can also use a blank white card and either move down the page just above the line you are reading or just below it.

6 More Speed-Reading Tips

1. Develop the skill of relaxed concentration when you speed read. Keep your main focus on processing the information in the words, not on the actual process of speed-reading. This takes time and practice, but you’ll get it.

2. Comprehension is crucial for most of what you read, so don’t read so fast that you can’t understand and remember the information.

3. Some writing deserves word-by-word detailed attention. Poetry is a prime example.

4. Some subjects may be so fact- and idea-rich that you need to read at a moderate or slow pace so you can truly understand. I studied a lot of physics, chemistry, and biology in college; these disciplines demand slower reading.

5. Memorization and studying require that you read more slowly.

6. Most important: get one of the two books pictured above, or another book or course that suits you, and learn and implement the techniques.

And Two Suggestions

1. Apply the techniques described in this chapter immediately to your reading. You’ll soon see substantial results.

2. Speed-reading is especially useful when you’re doing research. You can quickly skim material to find exactly what you need.

Your Take

Do you think you can boost your reading speed? How would it specifically help you? Have you previously learned and applied speed-reading techniques? What was the result?

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{ 31 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Aaron October 24, 2011 at 1:18 AM

Generally we work 8-9 hours a day online and most of time we spend on reading something, like facebook updates, tweets, emails, notifications and so on. So it’s really important to read something really fast so that we can save our lot of time which we can utilize in other things which we can’t do due to “no time”.

Nice tips John, I’ll try to focus on these points and see how it helps me to improve my reading speed and saving my precious time. :)
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2 dojo October 24, 2011 at 2:00 AM

I usually have a decent reading speed, developed over years of reading. These tips though come in very handy, since my reading time is not what it used to be. running a small web business doesn’t leave too much time for ‘literature’, not to mention there’s a lot of specialized books to be read.

Will try to follow your advice and hope my reading will become even faster 😉


3 John Soares October 24, 2011 at 2:03 PM

You’ll find that learning a few of the most important speed-reading methods will pay huge dividends in increased reading speed. I thought I was a reasonably fast reader until I did the exercises in the two books above.
John Soares recently posted…Why Writers Must Avoid Perfectionism


4 Yolanda October 24, 2011 at 1:24 PM

I started out with the Evelyn Wood book and can read fairly quickly now. I’m not sure what my word speed is but I can do about 100 pages a hour of a typical hardback book. And it does depend on what the content is and why I’m reading it.

My new struggle is with the iPad since by touching the screen you turn the page. So learning to focus without being able to use a finger is more difficult but I’m getting better with practice.

Definitely going to check out the books you reference!
Yolanda recently posted…Your Brain: Forget ‘Bout It! Confirmation at Last!


5 John Soares October 24, 2011 at 2:05 PM

Yolanda, I hear you about the difficulty of reading screens, especially touch-sensitive ones like the iPad.

I’ve found that I still read print on my computer screen very rapidly, although not as fast as I read regular print in a book, where I can use hand/finger techniques.
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6 Dave Doolin October 24, 2011 at 10:19 PM

I can do 100 pages/hr pretty easy in fiction or light business type reading. For technical material, less. For math, sometimes it’s days per page.
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7 John Soares October 25, 2011 at 7:28 AM

Hah! I remember the “days per page” period of my education: differential equations, vector analysis…

But the hardest course for me, and the one for which my reading was glacial, was the upper division course I took in quantum mechanics at UC Davis.
John Soares recently posted…How to Minimize Interruptions So You Can Get Your Writing Done


8 Ruth - The Freelance Writing Blog October 24, 2011 at 3:43 PM

These were such great tips John that I was able to read the post in only 4 seconds! Jokes….

Great tips. I think I do several of these things, but now that I’ve actually reviewed your strategies, I will be more mindful of how I read and probably speedier and more productive.
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9 John Soares October 25, 2011 at 7:29 AM

Ruth, just applying the five main techniques I provide here will help a lot, especially if you consciously apply them to all of your reading for a week or so.
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10 Dave Doolin October 24, 2011 at 9:53 PM

I like narrower text because I can pick up whole chunks of words at a time.

I have come to understand that people who read every word, one after another, prefer longer, possibly much longer lines of text.


Great article on Coding Horror a couple of years ago about how text width influences reading speed.
Dave Doolin recently posted…Learn is a four letter word – and a good thing too


11 Camille October 25, 2011 at 4:11 AM

This is a very great information! I just read a minute ago about a routine how to boost your brain.. And one of it is reading a book!
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12 Ray Anderson October 25, 2011 at 5:30 AM

This comes at a good time for me. I do some research in magazines I subscribe to, and there is no reason why I can’t blow through them faster. And when I promise a writer that I’ll read a draft, I think I would get a better fix on problems, by taking the macro approach and simply read the ms faster.
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13 John Soares October 25, 2011 at 7:33 AM

Ray, reading magazines is a great time to apply speed-reading techniques, especially when deciding which articles are actually worth reading. I subscribe to Newsweek and The Week, and I’ll actually often read the last couple of paragraphs of an article for its main conclusions; many times I find I don’t need to read the entire piece.
John Soares recently posted…Writing Ergonomics: Top Tips for Proper Posture, Alignment, and Movement


14 John Soares October 25, 2011 at 7:35 AM

Reading a manuscript can be a different matter. Speed reading for information and content is fine, but if you’re actually editing it you’ll need to go quite slow.
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15 Eric Soares October 25, 2011 at 7:51 AM

Great suggestions, John, thank you. Like you, I read glacially when trying to digest a complex concept that I must learn. Novels, especially classic literature, I read rather slowly, because I want to savor the way the words are put together. For example, it would be a shame to speed read through WIND IN THE WILLOWS, an easy but delightful book.

Newspapers I read quickly. My greatest speed reading feat was reading the entire L. Ron Hubbard’s DIANETICS while standing in a check-out line. I was curious about the book, but was too lazy and cheap to buy it and read it properly. Because I knew I had only a couple of minutes, my mind blazed throught it, searching for key concepts (most of which were stolen from unattributed authors/researchers).

I leave you with a funny quote: “What Evelyn Woods calls speed reading I call skimming.” Woody Allen
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16 John Soares October 25, 2011 at 8:34 AM

I always slow down to a certain pace when I’m reading for pure enjoyment, like a novel.

But I do rip quickly through most newspapers and magazines, often just reading the first sentence of paragraphs or skipping whole sections entirely.
John Soares recently posted…How to Capture, Save, and Review Your Freelance Writing Ideas


17 John Soares October 25, 2011 at 8:34 AM

And there’s another Woody Allen quote I love:

“I took a speed-reading course and read War and Peace in twenty minutes. It involves Russia.”
John Soares recently posted…My Review of Carol Tice’s Freelance Writers Den Membership Site


18 Anne Wayman October 25, 2011 at 10:29 AM

lol, love the Woody Allen quote John. I’m naturally a fast reader. Plow through novels fast enough to be embarrassing. Love finding writers that force me to slow down because I savor their words. Thinking right now of Buckminster Fuller. I swear I have a switch in my brain that flips and suddenly I can understand his long, long sentences and enjoy them. That’s not fast reading.
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19 John Soares October 25, 2011 at 4:54 PM

It’s definitely important to know when to read slowly and when to read quickly. I also love to slow down and really savor the best writers; it’s the only way to truly enjoy the prose.
John Soares recently posted…Why Writers Must Avoid Perfectionism


20 Veronica Cervera October 27, 2011 at 6:23 PM

I can just imagine how much time we can actually save if we read things faster, especially in blogging. We probably spend around half of our work time on reading, so saving half an hour or an hour to spend on other things is a huge plus for us.

I’m going to try your tips, John. Looks like I’m going to have to practice a lot of it. :)


21 Hmerologio October 29, 2011 at 9:25 AM

I don’t think that speed reading is working. At least for serious material.
Maybe you can use this techniques for reading a newspaper, a magazine or even commercial material, but i’m not sure if can help you on reading a book.


22 Ray October 30, 2011 at 12:58 AM

I don’t know about book reading too much, but in the online world I think there is a lot of skim reading. I admit I am guilty of it myself from time to time. For me the main thing is distractions. I need it to be quiet so I can concentrate. Sometimes just a radio or tv on in another room is enough to slow me down.
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23 John Soares February 23, 2013 at 6:29 AM

Ray, you definitely want to minimize any distractions when you are reading or trying to do anything important.
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24 SRS November 19, 2011 at 11:52 AM

I know you mention books as a good way to learn speed reading, but I think that there are some computer programs out there that blow books on speed reading out of the water. Take advantage of technology!
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25 Joseph Juliu November 21, 2011 at 3:08 PM

i’m enrolled into medical school,material are too many and the languages used are not normal especially in anatomy.If i read at that higher speed,will i comprehend?


26 John Soares November 21, 2011 at 3:34 PM

Joseph, for material as information-rich as the typical texts in medical school you’ll need to slow down so you can comprehend and memorize the material, and also to correlate it with other information. You obviously can’t just zip through an endocrinology book.

However, you can still benefit from speed reading techniques in other areas of your life, and they will likely also help when reading your medical textbooks, especially for previewing material before you read a chapter and for reviewing material before an exam.
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27 Brian February 23, 2013 at 1:49 AM

I will try these speed reading techniques. I am bi polar manic depressant and have had trouble reading while in school. I hope these new techniques can bring me up at least to average reading levels. That way I will not be laughed at anymore.


28 Pinar Tarhan February 25, 2013 at 2:13 PM

Hi John,
True to the nature of the post, I tried speed-reading it, and I did OK. It takes a little bit of getting used to, and it is sometimes easy to forget about it when we are researching, hungry for information.
But I should definitely try improving my reading speed.
Pinar Tarhan recently posted…Finding Article Ideas & Writing About Them: 30 Inspiration Tips for Writers


29 Eddie March 8, 2013 at 9:41 AM

Hi John,
recently I started doing a lot of research online and I think I am a fairly fast reader.
I tried some of your tips in a book and i feels to me that it improved my reading speed.
Think it is time for me to do some more practicing and implement this with reading on computer.
I found that it is fairly easy to use the “finger” technique on a laptop.
Great tips,


30 Delena Silverfox March 19, 2013 at 7:54 PM

Hi, John!

Thanks so much for the book recommendation. I’ve been thinking lately that, fast as I read, I need to be reading faster. These days, the requirements on my time are legion and my required reading has at least tripled since my freelancing days. Sometimes it’s a little much!

This is really useful, and a great reminder that I’ve got the brainpower, so I should be utilizing it in better ways.
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31 John Soares March 20, 2013 at 5:00 PM

Delena, you’ll be surprised at how much your productivity will increase just by getting 50% faster at reading.

It’s made a huge difference in my career.
John Soares recently posted…Top 10 Ways to Be a More Productive Freelance Writer


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