19 April 2014

Do you Read or Skim?

A recent article in the Washington Post asked if living in the online Social Media world is having a detrimental effect on our overall reading habits. As reading is a learned skill, are we training our brains to skim-and-click for information we consider relevant without realising it may be to the detriment of longer, in-depth reading skills where we savour nuance and metaphor?

It caught my eye (yes, I did skim as an initial pass) because I’ve had reviewers who took me to task over aspects of my books, yet their observances were simply incorrect. At the time I couldn’t understand how the mistakes had been made as these were part of the physical reflective balance between characters, but could it have been down to the speed, and the way, of reading?

This question was raised again when I was sent a link to a speed-reading test. I clocked up 255 words per minute and answered all the subsequent questions correctly. I considered fast, but others who have taken the test have hit 500+ words per minute.

I certainly know readers who regularly challenge themselves to complete a 100,000 word novel in less than a day, but is this beneficial? Perhaps it all depends on the person, the clamouring of their mental debris at the time, and how multi-layered the text.

So... I’m obviously a slow reader. Are you a fast reader? Does this affect your ability to draw from your reading what the author seeds within the text?


  1. There may be two different factors at work here, Linda. Speedreading is a learned technique that has been shown to enable practitioners to both absorb and comprehend text at a greater than average reading speed. If done correctly, it should have a beneficial effect on the reading process. However, skim reading is designed for extracting only the 'essential' elements from a piece of writing and is a tool employed during research to speed up the process. If a reader uses skim reading to approach a novel, then that reader will miss nuance and subtlety. If, however, a reader uses speedreading to read fiction, they are likely to have an enhanced experience. Different techniques for different purposes. But they shouldn't be mixed up!
    Thanks for a thoughtful post.

    1. Ah, right! The mists clear. Thanks for pointing this out, Stuart.