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Breaking News: Speed Reading Still Doesn’t Work(*)

14310069428_46d05b7e7b_hLate last week Inc reported a story which makes the same point that many speed reading detractors have been saying for years: speed reading doesn’t work.

Or to be more exact, as one’s reading speed increases, one’s comprehension and retention decreases:

But don’t let the sensible wish that you could squeeze more reading into your busy life lead you to be seduced by the idea of speed reading. It sounds pretty close to a real-world superpower, but sadly, according to new science, it just isn’t possible.

"The available scientific evidence demonstrates that there is a trade-off between speed and accuracy–as readers spend less time on the material, they necessarily will have a poorer understanding of it," Elizabeth Schotter, a psychologist at the University of California, San Diego and study author, commented. The bottom line: sure you can read faster but you won’t really understand what you’re reading, so what’s the point?

13263474875_2ec6d43a1e_hWhen I first reported on Spritz, I cited Wikipedia and mentioned that comprehension tended to decrease as speed increase. Similarly, Lifehacker and The Atlantic both cited experts and raised this point in 2014, and they are just a few of the many news sites to do so.

I would not say that this supports the conclusion that speed reading doesn’t work. Instead, I would say no more or less that there’s a trade off of speed for accuracy, one which everyone has known about for years and years. That trade off is probably why speed reading fell out of favor for so many years before gaining attention again with the launch of Spritz a few years ago.

Many have already pointed to the trade off and proclaimed that speed reading doesn’t work, but don’t let that stop you from using the various techniques. Not everyone reads the same way, or at the same speed, so if you can make speed reading work then by all means keep at it.

images by Akshay Hallurnatasia.causse



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poiboy January 27, 2016 um 5:21 pm

hmmm, i would disagree with how this article is initially presented. it would be possibly better received if the author stated that speed reading doesn’t work *for some* at the beginning instead of a borderline throw-away line at the end stating "so if you can make speed reading work then by all means keep at it". 🙂

i know a large number of people who read fast. they do it for recreation or necessity of a job with a heavy reading load. i read fast. it’s a skill i have developed over decades. the way spritz works gels nicely with how i read. therefore, it makes the process easier for my eyes.

the only problem is the integration of the app to ebooks is more difficult than it needs to be. i feel that this may also be a major reason why it has not caught on so well. i don’t see Amazon or Kobo adding it to their ereader OS anytime soon. it would work well on an iWatch/Pebble, but i have not seen an efforts made to integrate it well by the developers. so that limits it to mainly online reading. i have tried to add/convert some of my ebooks to work with various Spritz-esque apps and the effort has be frustrating.

and finally, does the Elizabeth Schotter UofCSD research even account for the far longer ongoing research of Readability? i would encourage other to at least skim over the wiki of this:

perhaps it’s our ability to read which is mildly or greatly affecting the success of speed reading. or to be more exact, as one’s own comprehension and retention increases, one’s reading speed increases. 😉

Nate Hoffelder January 27, 2016 um 5:31 pm

I started correcting the misconception with the second sentence, so I think it’s a fair post.

poiboy January 27, 2016 um 6:04 pm

as i further countered your second sentence with my final sentence to make it fairer rebuttal. 🙂

Will O’Neil January 27, 2016 um 9:13 pm

I have always read pretty fast, since I was a child. My teachers used to disbelieve that I had finished the reading portions of tests as quickly as I did. When the situation is right I can read a 2500 word paper in a minute, and go through 45 or 50 in an hour. But I don’t have any illusions about how thoroughly I read at such rates. When I want to be sure of absorbing what I read my speed drops, sometimes to no more than 200 wpm or so in dense material.

In place of poorly-informed speculation or reliance on such "authorities" as Wikipedia I recommend reading Elizabeth R. Schotter, Randy Tran, and Keith Rayner, "Don’t Believe What You Read (Only Once): Comprehension Is Supported by Regressions During Reading", and Elizabeth R. Schotter, Bernhard Angele & Keith Rayner, "Parafoveal Processing in Reading."

Nate Hoffelder January 27, 2016 um 9:28 pm

Thanks for the link to the paper on not reading only once; it’s an interesting read.

Will O’Neil January 28, 2016 um 2:30 am

"Thanks for the link to the paper on not reading only once; it’s an interesting read."

I trust that means you reread it, at least in part. 😉

Nate Hoffelder January 28, 2016 um 10:19 pm

@ Will

I have so far found one of the papers you linked to. It’s a slow read. » No Need for Speed? Forscher meinen: Schnell-Lese-Techniken sind buchstäblich sinnlos January 28, 2016 um 5:51 am

[…] (via & The Digital Reader) […]

poiboy January 28, 2016 um 7:22 pm

it’s adorable that people believe wikipedia is the "authority", when it points *towards* links and refers to extensive studies for people to delve into themselves. perhaps actually read the wiki summery source before believing a poorly-informed speculation as actual studies (i majored in Psycholinguistics).. but perhaps i was making it too easy for the common commentator. 🙂

Nate Hoffelder January 28, 2016 um 8:54 pm

It’s also adorbs when people assume I had only read Wikipedia, and not its sources, in the three years since a story first crossed my desk.

poiboy January 28, 2016 um 7:23 pm


poiboy January 28, 2016 um 9:22 pm

clearly not.. or it would be a better written article. but you’re trying. but my comment was for will.

Nate Hoffelder January 28, 2016 um 10:00 pm

You’re right. This post, which caught the context that pretty much everyone else missed, is terrible.

Just a second while I go delete it.

poiboy January 29, 2016 um 2:38 pm

well, at least you’re trying. good on ya.

Nate Hoffelder January 29, 2016 um 3:15 pm


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