One of the ways that you can increase reading speed is by training your eyes and your brain to recognize words as single units, rather than individual letters in a row. If you’re able to recognize words by their shape, you’ll be taking advantage of the fact that humans generally process images more quickly than text.
When we talk about a word’s “shape” we mean the pattern of above- and below-the-line letter parts as well as the shape of the individual letters. For example, the word obey has the same general shape as the word atop in that there’s a roundish vowel, a letter with a bit that sticks up, another roundish vowel, and a letter with a bit that hangs down below the line of text. Of course, the words themselves have completely different definitions, so just knowing the shape of a word won’t help you understand what you’re reading. However, if you can train your eye to recognize, identify, and skip over relatively unimportant words like the and and, you’ll save time without losing any contextual meaning.
Because we tend to first see shape rather than meaning, it’s important that when you’re practicing your speed reading techniques you use text that’s printed in both upper and lower case (as appropriate, of course). Studies have shown that when you’re reading in all upper case, all lower case, or an incorrect mix of the two, your reading speed slows considerably. Look at these examples:
helen’s not sure if the letter made it to spain. send it via us mail instead.
Helen’s not sure if the letter made it to Spain. Send it via US mail instead.
hEleN’s nOT sURe if The leTTeR mAdE iT TO sPaIn. seND It ViA uS maIL inStEaD.
HELEN’S NOT SURE IF THE LETTER MADE IT TO SPAIN. SEND IT VIA US MAIL INSTEAD.
Which is the easiest to read and understand, and which is the hardest? When you’re focused on improving your reading speed, choose text that’s clearly written with a clean typeface that makes letter-shape recognition easy. And when you’re writing e-mails to people, think about the examples above, and use capitalization wisely – remember, there’s no need to shout! You can make it easier for others to read what you write as you practice writing about what you’ve read.
Fisher, D.F. Reading and visual search. Memory and Cognition (1975).
Reicher, G.M. Perceptual recognition as a function of meaningfulness of stimulus material. Journal of Experimental Psychology (1969).