Speed Reading

Megan McArdle is a natural speed reader. She explains her technique:

I skip things. This may seem obvious, but I actually had to catch myself doing it; it is not a conscious process, and if I think about it, I can’t do it. Somehow, my brain selects chunks of text that it thinks won’t convey new information, and avoids them. Perhaps this is not optimal, but it works well enough for me to have made A’s in most of my college lit classes. I can still read faster than most people while reading completely, and I do for some things, like textbooks, but it takes effort and I don’t enjoy it as much.

I do pretty much the same thing although mostly with non-fiction; I tend to read novels completely. If I’m making an effort to read a book for its own sake, I’m not particularly fast. If, however, I’m doing research and reading to answer specific questions or to inform myself on narrow topics, I can go through several books and articles, picking out just what I need, very quickly.

The same holds true online, especially things I’m reading when searching for things to write about on my blogs. I have a sense of what is “blogworthy” and can quickly skim articles and blog posts to see whether there’s an interesting (to me) hook.

FILED UNDER: Blogosphere, Education,
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm veteran. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. Wickedpinto says:

    I do the same thing. Whenever I read non fiction or news, the filler is generaly so obvious that you can skip about a third of most articles, internet posts and “non-fiction” books.

    But with novels, I don’t just read thoroughly, I read a portion of the beginning of the book, to familiarize myself with the environment and the starting characters, and then I go back to the beginning for a thorough reading, only this time being much more comfortable with the environment and characters.

    But Im a big SFF dork.

  2. I must be old school. When researching I used things like an index or a table of contents. Headings and subtitles are good too. 😉

    [I think this could turn into the dullest weblog thread in history.]