There's nothing that beats a good read...

People used to dream about the paperless office. But most journalists read more now than they’ve ever done.

Fifteen years ago, news editors and desk heads just had to plough through two postal deliveries a day and a few bits brought in by hand. Now they have to cope with hundreds of emails and faxes, too. So it makes sense to read more efficiently.

There are a number of ways we can speed up – and we should be able to improve by at least 30 per cent with practice.

Reduce the amount you read

  • If you get unwanted mail, memos and emails, get yourself removed from the distribution lists. And use a good spam filter.
  • Divide reading matter into Important and Less Important. If it doesn’t fit either, then bin it.
  • Have a pile of Less Important material ready for unexpected waiting periods, like holding on the phone or waiting for the computer to reboot.

Pinpoint the things that slow you down. Here are some common problems and solutions:

Limited perceptual span: You read word-by-word. Practice looking at words in groups of three instead. Gradually increase the size of each group to four, then five. Jump from one group of words to the next, rather than force your eyes to read faster.

Slow recognition of what you are seeing. Try learning phrases and words that you come across frequently, so when you see them, you don’t need to read them.

Reading under your breath. You will never read anything faster than you say it. Discipline yourself to ‘shut up’if you catch yourself muttering out loud.

Inaccurate eye placement. Train your eyes to go straight to the top left-hand corner of the page.

Poor evaluation. You just read everything at the same speed. See Learn to read different things.

Learn to read different things in different ways. You should skim some parts of a document and analyse others. So before you start reading that report, browse through it – get to know what’s in it and where it’s located. Notice the layout and how the information is presented. Remember the documents where the best stuff is at the back.

Rereading. This is rarely necessary – yet some people reread 20 per cent of each document.

As you read, slow down for: unfamiliar terminology; difficult sentence and paragraph structure; unfamiliar concepts; detailed, technical material. Speed up for: Simple or familiar material; unnecessary examples and illustrations; unnecessary detailed explanation. Ignore repetition of something said earlier.

Practice exercises:

  • Familiarise yourself with new words so you don’t get stuck on them when you read them again.
  • Spend 10 minutes a day forcing yourself to read at around two-three times faster than usual.
  • Read things backwards or upside down (preferably not proofs).
  • Place a card above each line of print to block the words after you have read them. Draw it down the page slowly and evenly and try to read the passage before you cover the words up. This helps break the habit of rereading. Push the card down faster than you think you can go. Slide the card down once per page.

Cleland Thom is director of Potential.GB.com, a journalism training organisation that runs in-house courses in speed reading

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