Reading in clumps means taking in more than one word at a time while you read, and it's essential for speed reading. A clump is a collection of 4 to 16 adjacent words that you read in a single glance. When you read in clumps, you naturally increase your speed because you can’t slow down to vocalize (speak or hear the words as you read them). After all, you can’t speak 4 to 16 words at a time without slurring the words or turning them into corned beef hash.

If the notion of reading in clumps seems odd or impossible, consider this point: When you read text in columns, you’re prone to read in clumps, and that increases your reading speed. And if you read a newspaper or religious text, such as the Bible and Koran, you're reading text in columns.

You can read words in clumps because you read with your peripheral vision as well as your macular vision.

  • Macular vision is your primary focus. When you look directly at something, you see with your macular vision.

  • Peripheral vision is what you see less distinctly in the area outside your macular vision. Because receptor cells on the retina of your eye are concentrated at the center and are less concentrated toward the edges, colors and shapes are harder to distinguish in peripheral vision (although you can quickly pick up on motion). But you can see to the left, to the right, above, and below the area bordered by your macular vision.

When you speed read in clumps, you read words in your peripheral as well as your macular vision. Using your peripheral vision allows you to read with fewer eye fixations because your vision span is wider and you can see, read, and process more words at a time. Instead of reading word-for-word, you can jump ahead by several words and read in clumps. For example, consider this sentence:

A thing of beauty is a joy forever.

If you read the sentence one word at a time, you read it like this:

A — thing — of — beauty — is — a — joy — forever.

But if you read it as a clump, using your peripheral vision as you read, you can focus on the word(s) at the center of the sentence and rely on your peripheral vision to take in the words on either side. In this instance, your macular vision focuses on the word beauty, and your peripheral vision perceives the other words.

Try focusing on the italicized word and taking in the other words with your peripheral vision:

A thing of beauty is a joy forever.