reading speed

Glossary of Grammatical and Rhetorical Terms

"I am not a speed reader," said Isaac Asimov. "I am a speed understander.". (Alberto Ruggieri/Getty Images)


Reading speed is the rate at which a person reads written text (printed or electronic) in a specific unit of time. Reading speed is generally calculated by the number of words read per minute.

Reading speed is determined by a number of factors, including a reader's purpose and level of expertise as well as the relative difficulty of the text.

Stanley D. Frank has estimated that a "rate close to .

. . 250 words-per-minute [is the average] reading speed of most people, including junior high and high school students" (Remember Everything You Read, 1990).

See Examples and Observations below. Also see:

Examples and Observations

  • Four Basic Reading Speeds
    - "Some books are fast and some are slow, but no book can be understood if it is taken at the wrong speed."
    (Mark Van Doren, quoted by Bill Bradfield in Books and Reading. Dover, 2002)

    - "Experienced readers pace themselves according to their purpose, taking advantage of four basic reading speeds.
    - Very fast: Readers scan a text very quickly if they are looking only for a specific piece of information.
    - Fast: Readers skim a text rapidly if they are trying to get just the general gist without worrying about details.
    - Slow to moderate: Readers read carefully in order to get complete understanding of an article. The more difficult the text, the slower they read. Often difficult texts require rereading.
    - Very slow: Experienced readers read very slowly if their purpose is to analyze a text. They take elaborate marginal notes and often pause to ponder over the construction of a paragraph or the meaning of an image or metaphor. Sometimes they reread the text dozens of times."
    (John C. Bean, Virginia Chappell, and Alice M. Gillam, Reading Rhetorically. Pearson Education, 2004)
  • Speed Reading and Comprehension
    "Speed reading is not just reading fast all the time. The technical content of the material, the print size, your familiarity with the subject and, particularly, your purpose in reading can affect the speed at which you read. The key to speed reading is having the choice to read as fast or as slow as you wish. . . .

    "No matter how fast your reading speed, unless you remember what you read you will have wasted your time."
    (Tina Konstant, Speed Reading. Hodder & Stoughton, 2003)
  • Increasing Reading Speed
    "[T]he mind, unlike the eye, does not need to 'read' only a word or short phrase at a time. The mind, that astounding instrument, can grasp a sentence or even a paragraph at a 'glance'--if only the eyes will provide it with the information it needs. Thus the primary task--recognized as such by all speed reading courses--is to correct the fixations and regressions that slow so many readers down. Fortunately, this can be done quite easily. Once it is done, the student can read as fast as his mind will let him, not as slow as his eyes make him.

    "There are various devices for breaking the eye fixations, some of them complicated and expensive. Usually, however, it is not necessary to employ any device more sophisticated than your own hand, which you can train yourself to follow as it moves more and more quickly across and down the page. You can do this yourself. Place your thumb and first two fingers together. Sweep the 'pointer' across a line of type, a little faster than it is comfortable for your eye to move. Force yourself to keep up with your hand. Keep practicing this, and keep increasing the speed at which your hand moves, and before you know it you will have doubled or trebled your reading speed."
    (Mortimer J. Adler and Charles Van Doren, How to Read a Book, rev. ed. Simon and Schuster, 1972)
  • The Lighter Side of Speed Reading
    - "I took a speed-reading course and read War and Peace in 20 minutes. It involves Russia."
    (Woody Allen)

    - "I just got out of the hospital. I was in a speed-reading accident. I hit a bookmark."
    (Steven Wright)