How can I read faster?

You can save a lot of time by reading more efficiently. This means understanding the main ideas more quickly or finding the specific information that you need, so you do not need to read as much.

You should always get an overview of the main topic and structure of an article, chapter or book before you read the whole thing.

  • First, read the abstract or summary.
  • Second, read all the headings and sub-headings. What is the structure of this text?
  • Third, read the introduction, and the conclusion if necessary.

These will give you an overall understanding of the purpose and content of the article. Knowing the writer’s starting point and end point makes it easier and faster to understand the body of the article because you already know where you’re going. It will also help you predict which parts of the text may contain the information you need.

If only some parts of the text are relevant for your purpose, go straight to those sections. If a section is long, you can quickly find the most relevant paragraphs by reading the topic sentences (i.e. the first few lines) of each paragraph.

If you’re looking for a particular piece of information, try scanning the text. Move your eyes rapidly across and down a page to find keywords. In some cases, graphs, tables and figures can guide you to where the information you want can be found. They’re easy to see and usually very close to the explanation in the body of the text. (With books, look for an index and search for keywords.)

There are companies which sell courses on ‘speed reading’ techniques – these vary widely in rationale, method and cost. They usually focus on decreasing ‘fixation’ length (the period of time for which your eyes stop moving as you focus on a portion of text) and increasing your ‘recognition span’ (the number of words you can take in during one fixation). The Learning Centre does not endorse any of these products.

For more help on this topic, see the links on the right...