Speed reading isn't a whole different way of reading; it's just a more focused way of reading. Reading engages the eyes, ears, mouth, and, of course, the brain. Speed reading engages these senses even more than normal reading because you use your senses and brain power even more efficiently.

Speed reading is

  • Seeing: The first step in reading anything is seeing the words. With speed reading, you use your sight in specific ways:

    • You read several words in a single glance. Unless you're encountering words you don't know or haven't read before, you don't read words one at a time.

    • You expand your vision so that you can read and understand many words in a single glance. A very good speed reader can read, see, and process 10 to 14 words at once.

    • You expand your vision to read vertically as well as horizontally on the page. Speed readers can read and understand words on two or three different lines in a single glance.

  • Silent reading: Most people hear words when they read. You may speak words to yourself because you learned to read with the sound-it-out method. The problem with sounding out words when you read is that you read not at the speed you think but rather at the speed you talk. Sounding it out is fine for beginning readers, but at some point you have to dispense with sound if you want to be a speed reader. Saying the words, even if you only whisper them inside the confines of your skull, takes time and prevents you from reading as fast as you can.

  • Decoding the words: When you come across a word in your reading that you don't know or recognize, you have to decode it. You break it into syllables, try to pronounce it, and see whether it's related to words you know. You try to get its meaning, and if you can't do that on your own, you consult a dictionary or other reference source. The more you read, the fewer words you have to decode because reading enlarges your vocabulary. It introduces you to more words.

  • Comprehending: The purpose of reading is to comprehend — to learn something new, see the world from a different perspective, or maybe just get information to pass an exam or prepare for a business meeting. How well you comprehend what you read is determined by your

    • Reading speed: When you don't read at the right speed, your comprehension is diminished. One of the skills you acquire as a speed reader is knowing when to slow down and when to speed up. The fastest speed readers adjust the speed at which they read, just as the fastest stock car racers slow down when they're in a crowded field or on a slick patch of roadway. They adjust their speed according to the type of reading they're doing.

    • Breadth of vocabulary: Having a large vocabulary is a must for speed readers. You can't get away from it.

    • Degree of familiarity with the subject matter: How strong a background you have in the topic you're reading about determines how well you comprehend what you read. Obviously, you have a head start if you're traveling in territory you're familiar with and you know the jargon already.

  • Concentrating: All reading requires a certain amount of concentration. Speed reading, however, requires sustained, forceful concentration because when you speed read, you do many things at once. As you see and read the words on the page, you also remain alert to the main ideas that the author wants to present. You have to think along with the author and detect how she presents the material so you can pin down the main ideas.

    As you read, you have to read with more perspective and separate the details from weightier stuff. You have to know when to skim, when to read fast, and when to slow down to get the gist of it.