The Advantages of Slow Reading and Slow Writing

"Read slowly, deeply, looking cautiously before and aft, with reservations"

slow reading
In his book Slow Reading in a Hurried Age (2013), David Mikics says, "Slow reading is as rigorous as it is full of unexpected delight.". (Steve Hix/Fuse/Getty Images)

Whether it's food and travel we're talking about or reading and writing, faster isn't always better.

There's a time to skim. And a time to read.

A time to tweet. And a time to write.

What matters is knowing the appropriate time to speed up or slow down.

Slow Reading

In his preface to Daybreak (1887), German philosopher and philologist Friedrich Nietzsche recommended the practice of slow reading:

It is not for nothing that I have been a philologist, . . . that is to say, a teacher of slow reading; in the end I also write slowly. Nowadays it is not only my habit, it is also to my tastea malicious taste, perhaps?no longer to write anything which does not reduce to despair every sort of man who is "in a hurry." For philology is that venerable art which demands of its votaries one thing above all: to go aside, to take time, to become still, to become slow . . ..

But for precisely this reason it is more necessary than ever today . . . in the midst of an age of "work," that is to say, of hurry, of indecent and perspiring haste, which wants to "get everything done" at once, including every old or new book: this art does not so easily get anything done, it teaches to read
well, that is to say, to read slowly, deeply, looking cautiously before and aft, with reservations, with doors left open, with delicate eyes and fingers.
(Daybreak: Thoughts on the Prejudices of Morality, translated by R.J. Hollingdale. Cambridge University Press, 1997)

To get the highlights of an article, the gist of a report, an overview of a book, skim. But to engage with a text—to understand it, quarrel with it, enjoy it—set aside time to read. Slowly.

Slow Writing

As Nietzsche suggests, we're more apt to read with care what has been written without haste. And good, slow writing demands that we occasionally unhitch ourselves from our hyperconnected world. That's an argument Professor Naomi S. Baron makes in her study of the ways we use online and mobile technologies:

Fast writing is fine for putting together a "to do" list, dashing off an IM to a colleague, or jotting down the outline (or even first draft) of an argument. But slow writing—perhaps even handwritten, perhaps composed at a keyboard, but definitely revised and edited—must remain the gold standard for writing text that enables us to formulate and convey meaningful analysis to others and to ourselves. The problem with contemporary writing technologies is not [that] they enable us to write quickly but that they threaten to overwhelm slow writing. The challenge is that the convenience of email, IM, and texting tempts us to sacrifice intellect and elegance for immediacy.
(Always On: Language in an Online and Mobile World, Oxford University Press, 2010)


In his book Understanding Research, M.I. Franklin condenses "two millennia or more of discussions around the best way to do philosophy per se, to two main principles: 'slow reading' and 'slow writing.'" Though we may not be philosophers, we're all thinkers, and at one time or another we all conduct research.

Therefore it's worth keeping Franklin's key observations in mind:

  • These are "slow" because the aim is not to collect but to consider, and then to present the outcomes as an argument.
  • "Slow reading" is another way of saying "close reading," i.e. taking time to consider a written text one step at a time, sometimes word by word, paragraph by paragraph. Here the quality of thought is not judged by how much literature is consumed.
  • "Slow writing" follows because the aim of the exercise is to get "under the skin" of ideas, concepts, and assumptions in themselves rather than treat them as means to empirical data-gathering ends.

(M. I. Franklin, Understanding Research: Coping With the Quantitative-Qualitative Divide. Routledge, 2013)

So when the occasion demands good, thoughtful reading and writing, close your browser and shut off your phone. It's time to take time to think.

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