So you think you know all about Reading?

Ok so you can read but do you know how you read and have you consciously considered the approach to reading that you rely on?

What? Surely there is only one process start at the top left and go through the words in order?

We no there are far more options available than you might think.

What you already know 

First you should know that reading is what is called a Psycho- linguistic process. This means that its a process involving language and thought. It concerns thoughts and language and uses each of them to enrich the other.

Look around you now for something you can read but haven’t yet read. You already know something about it before you even pick it up your mind begins to construct a set of meanings about it the more data you have about it  –  Graphics, colours, format, titles etc all enable you to build up an idea about what it is you are going to learn from it when you read it before you get near it.

An unopened letter, a leaflet, a book, even a packet all have a context we use to construct a meaning before we read it.  As soon as you start to pay attention to the text all you are doing is processing the text against the expectation you have already built up. Your reading process test the text against your expectation and allows you to build up your knowledge by building on the expectation created before you picked it up

A purpose for reading

Next there is the reason for reading it i the first place. Whats my reading purpose? You will accelerate your reading when you clarify and reflect on your reason for reading something in the first place.

This could be: I want to know what happens in this novel and that would include things like who is in it who are the main characters, where is it happening, when is it happening? What is the plot? What is the language being used?  Will I find this fun?

It could equally be: What are the features of the market for dry bulk goods in UK supermarkets? Profitability, Issues, Trends over times, What other markets do differently? Supply Chain. and so on.

Spend some time to clarify your reading purpose before you go near any text. In fact use your reading purpose to select your reading material.


We naturally survey every text before we read it so do it purposefully. How far will it help you achieve your reading process.Identify the structure of the text (from Leaflet to Book –  they have a structure) Look for everything which aligns with your purpose. and notice it. Check the title, subtile, sections, chapters, bold print, the back of the book, reviews on line.


Identify some questions you need the text to answer you might ned to write them down if you are doing some research. This can even be as simple as what is this book about? Your questions evolve over time but they help you dig into the text quickly and purposefully.

Read Recall Review 

Now and only now do we start on the text. reading through the text –  or relevant sections to start with. You don’t have to read it in in the order its printed in. It certainly want written in that order – its up to you to read it in any order you find most helpful. In fact academic papers are best read in a non sequential order. You want the research brief, then the findings and conclusion then you might want to look at the methodology but its up to you to choose the route through the text that suits you best. Your  job as as a reader is to develop your internal understanding of the ideas in the text and notice how it relates to and informs your internal body of knowledge and understanding. Recall the bits you want to focus on  –  highlight underline remember – you know what to do. And finally you take a few moments to reflect and integrate what you have read into what you already know.

Now thats where the majority of reading process guides stop but there is a lot more to think about.

Lets get Fixated

The first thing is to notice how your eyes – you visual processes attend to the text on the page. You attend to a position on the page of about eight characters on a line of text at a time. You respond to a known vocabulary of words know as your sight vocabulary. This works by using the minimum amount of data from the page to identify each word. You use your knowledge of semantics and syntax to predict the text ahead of where you look at it. You only use sound spelling relationships when you meet a word you’ve never encountered before, but it is its position in the sentence , its context, syntactic rules give you information about what the word means and how it might be pronounced.

So, you have this super fast efficient process going on with repeated fixations of your visual field across the page and I bet you think they go left to right. Think again. Your mind is working so fast that you probably don’t realise that you are fixating right to left and left to right. Notice how you can read this paragraph your eyes moving right and left picking up data to develop an internal understanding of the text really quickly and you cannot stop your eyes noticing words and constructing meaning no matter which way your eyes are moving. They don’t switch off as they return to the left.

When you learn this you can actively use this technique to notice more content and data scan through text in a figure of eight pattern left to right to very quickly assess whether a paragraph is worth digging into in more depth. Research indicates that you extract about 80% of the information from a text in this way in about 10% of the time thorough reading would take. You have limited time –  spend it wisely.

This isn’t new

You are already doing some or all of this as part of your natural reading process. what I’ve just done is to make you more aware of what you naturally do and given you a few suggestions as to the way you can be more confident reading and learning in this way in a much more efficient and enjoyable manner. If you want to you can always still read your favourite authors slowly savouring their every word. But If you want to learn and lear fast be confident that practising this process works.

And Finally

I once went on a photo reading seminar. I got myself into a productive receptive state before the seminar –  I cycled there! We were given bools to practice on for the seminar. The presenter went through some of the processes I’ve outlined-  lang the lines of surveying and a brief idea about questioning. but then spent about 20 minutes explaining the process of photo reading which involved looking at each page in one fixation letting the text be absorbed by the unconscious by looking slightly past each page so that peripheral vision could access the text. Without realising it, by the time the presenter had finished describing the process to the seminar, I’d finished the book.

Yo already have all the skills and strategies needed to become a super fast efficient reader – it might just be a matter of letting the breaks off!

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