9 Tips for Speed Reading

In 2004 I started a Law degree at the University of Hull. I quickly realised this wasn’t the best idea since I didn’t feel the passion for law that I did for literature, and switched to an English degree. That was one of the best decisions of my life, and I don’t regret it for a moment.

That said, when I made the switch I was faced with a practical problem: I had a lot of catching up to do. That meant reading numerous (admittedly wonderful) novels in a short time. To do this, I read a few articles online and taught myself to speed read. It’s a skill I used throughout my degree and beyond, and it is extremely useful. It meant I had time to continue reading for pleasure while also keeping up with my course reading, and when combined with effective note taking I’ve found it to be a very helpful tool when doing research or (particularly) when marking.

In fact, I would say it’s easily one of the most useful skills I have. Thinking that it might also be helpful for others, I thought I’d jot down some instructions/tips/techniques I use. I make no claims to scientifically-based experimental research to back this up, and I’m not saying this will work for everyone, but it does work for me and it may work for you. So without further ado, here are my notes on speed reading:

1.     Speed reading is not skim reading. Skim reading involves scanning pages quickly to get a sense of their meaning, but skipping most of the content in favour of picking up on keywords that give you the gist. I’m not criticising that, it has its place, but it’s not what speed reading is. Speed reading involves reading every word and looking to understand texts fully, but doing so quickly.

2.     Speed reading is largely about overcoming a psychological barrier. Most of us learn to read by having stories read aloud to us, then reading stories aloud, and then internalising the voice (i.e. reading in our heads). While this is effective for learning to read, your eyes can process information a lot faster that your brain (or mouth) can say that information. Think about how quickly you recognise road signs – you often know what they say without having to “speak” the words and numbers in your head. If you can overcome the need to “hear” the words you’re reading in your head, you can learn to speed read. This just takes practice and concentration.

3.     Speed reading is highly focused and pretty intense. The actual practice of speed reading simply involves moving your eyes over the text you’re looking at, at a high speed, and recognising the words you’re reading without hearing them. To do it though, you need to concentrate properly and not get distracted. It takes energy and is difficult to do while tired, so it’s a much more active form of reading than you may be used to.

4.     Developing your ability to speed read takes time. Although the process is fairly simple, getting to the point that you can actually do speed reading for long periods takes a while. Build yourself up bit by bit so you have the stamina and concentration – don’t get frustrated if you can’t read hundreds of pages a day straight off the bat.

5.     You need a guide. The psychological trick to speed reading is to stop hearing the words in your head. The physical trick is to use a pointer, such as a pen, to guide your eyes over the page. Whereas in conventional reading you might glance around the page, look at the shape of the paragraphs, look at the opposite page and so on, in speed reading you are only really looking at the word you’re currently reading and maybe one or two words around it. Put a pen underneath the word you’re reading and run it along the line (moving your eyes with it) as you read.

6.     Style matters. I’ve found it possible to speed read most prose, but I will generally speed up as I get further into a text because I’m more familiar with the writer’s style and tone of voice.

7.     You can’t speed read everything. This may vary with individuals but I personally find it very difficult to speed read texts involving numbers because they just end up getting mixed up in my head, so where I know there’s going to be a lot of stats or financial data I’ll generally take it slowly. This may just be me.

8.     If you find yourself drifting off, stop and reset. Just like meditation, it can be easy to lose focus and drift off while speed reading. If you realise that you’re just moving your pen across the page without taking in any meaning, stop, take a moment to focus, and then start again from where you got lost.

9.     Long term recall (might) be the weakness of speed reading. I’ve heard different opinions on this. Some people say that speed reading is great for short-term recall but going so quickly means that you don’t absorb the information as well as slower reading, so it’s difficult to recall what you’ve read in the longer term. Other people say that because speed reading requires a much higher level of concentration than conventional reading your recall is likely to be greater because you’re paying more attention than you ordinarily would. Personally I can remember books that I speed read more than a decade ago, and I can think of books I barely remember despite having read them slowly and recently. That said, it’s possible that I remember the older books because I also did work around them (making notes, writing essays etc.). If detailed recall is important I would highly recommend making notes (but that’s a general recommendation whether speed reading or not).

So, to recap:

·      Recognise words with your eyes, don’t hear them in your head.

·      Use something (e.g. a pen) to guide your eyes.

·      Concentrate. If you lose focus, stop and reset.

That’s it! I hope these tips are useful to some of you. Let me know in the comments if you give it a try and get the hang of it, or if you have experiences with speed reading you’d like to share. Speed reading is one of my most useful skills – does it work for you?

New Article: 'A Defining Problem'

I have a new article out in a collection called Comics & Politik - Comics & Politics, edited by Stephan Packard. My article, entitled 'A Defining Problem', looks at the ways in which we define comics, and expands on a talk I gave at the 2012 ComFor conference (details of the conference can be found on the Comics Forum website here). Some of the content crosses over with my chapter on definitions in Comics and the Senses, but as the article was due slightly later than the book manuscript I did have the opportunity to address Bart Beaty's work on institutional definitions in his excellent book Comics Versus Art, so there is a bit of new content for those who've already read Comics and the Senses.

Here's the abstract:

Attempts to define comics have frequently involved the identification of specific visual elements, often a sequence of images, as essential characteristics of the medium. Other definitions have focused upon the social contexts in which comics have been produced and received. This article outlines three different categories of definition: elemental, knowingly incomplete, and social. It argues that while elemental and knowingly incomplete definitions (which tend to emphasise image sequences as critical components of comics) have formed the basis for our understanding of how comics work, it is perhaps the social mode that is the most useful because it enables us to go outside a limited set of specific characteristics and consider a wide range of elements from the cultural contexts in which comics sit, to the non-visual elements of the medium.

It's a fantastic and substantial (495 page!) collection with some great contributors, and articles in both English and German.

The publisher's webpage for the book is here, and you can order the book here.



ISBN 978-3-941030-29-9

€ 39,90



Politisches im Comic und Comics in der Politik

Konsens und Dissens im Bande Dessinée

Die Geste des Comics

A Defining Problem

Johannes von MÜLLER
»Im Antlitz der menschlichen Kreatur«
Eine parallele Lektüre der Werke von
Honoré Daumier und Carl Barks

Between Propaganda and Entertainment:
Nordic Comics 1930s–1950s

Das »Empört Euch!«-Credo von Hergé bis Baru
Über das Widerständige des Politischen in
der frankobelgischen Bande Dessinée

Spanish Comics and Politics
From Propaganda and Censorship through
Political Activism to Cultural Reflections

Comics und Propaganda: Der »Kamerad« Corto Maltese

Blutige Bilder und der Abstand vom Bild

»The Justice Society of America Pursues Victory for America and Democracy«
Der amerikanische Superhelden-Comic als Propagandamedium im Spannungsfeld von Antisemitismus und amerikanischer Außenpolitik 1940–45

Florian HESSEL
Comic, Information, Propaganda: Milton Caniffs How to Spot a Jap in der Kulturindustrie 

The Situationist International, Cold War,
Comics, and the »Youth Question«

Comic-Visionen im Umbruch
Politische und gesellschaftliche Wandlungsprozesse in der portugiesischen Comicproduktion der 1970er Jahre

Pathos rules – über propagandistische
Aspekte der Solidarnosc-Comics

On affame bien les rats!
oder: Ein ästhetischer Bericht über
die Unterdrückung in den 70er Jahren

Michael FREUND
Von distanzierter Sozialsatire zur realistischen Berichterstattung – der Vietnam- und der Irakkrieg in Trudeaus Doonesbury-Strip

Les rats noirs
Rechtsextreme Selbstdarstellung durch Comic-Figuren

Kristin ECKSTEIN und Felix GIESA
Strategien der visuell-narrativen Kritik
am repressiven Schulsystem Japans

Matthias HARBECK
Beyond the Nazi?
The »New« Germany in American Mainstream
Comic Books since 1989

Chantal Catherine MICHEL
Schikane, Schüsse, Sprengstoffgürtel:
Politische Gewalt in Nahostkonflikt-Comics

Hans-Joachim BACKE
Brian K. Vaughans Meta-Politik

Macht der Bilder
Die politisch-poetische Parabel Im Land der verlorenen Erinnerung (Stéphane Poulin, 2011)

Conference Papers & Talks

Coming up: Close Your Eyes: Multisensory Approaches to "Visual Culture"

Tomorrow I'll be giving a talk entitled 'Close Your Eyes: Multisensory Approaches to "Visual Culture"' at the University of Bradford's Visual Methods Research Group. The talk is based on material from Comics and the Senses, but will expand on that to consider the broader implications of multisensory analysis and thought in relation to media more generally (while also discussing comics and graphic novels of course). Here's the abstract:

Although we often speak of “visual culture” in reference to literature, art and film, it is important to remember that these forms also appeal to senses other than sight as well. In some cases, such as film and videogames, this is fairly obvious, and the incorporation of aural and tactile aspects is a subject of some discussion. In others, such as literary studies, the multisensory elements of media are less obvious and have only begun to gain attention relatively recently as part of a broader shift towards sensory theory in the humanities. When books go digital, for example, people often speak about losing the sensory pleasures of the printed book: the smell of the paper and the texture of the cover. In this talk, Dr Ian Hague will use examples from comic strips and graphic novels, forms that have long been understood to be exclusively visual in nature, to consider what sensory aspects of the media can tell us about the communication systems that authors and producers employ, and how understanding the non-visual aspects of “visual culture” can improve our awareness of the contexts of reception as well.

I've attended one other session of the Visual Methods Research Group, Charlie Meecham's talk about his project on the visual representations of the Dodo (Dodoquest) and it was a fascinating and lively discussion! It's a great group and I'm very much looking forward to presenting and getting feedback on my research.

The talk will take place from 1500-1630 in the university's Gallery II, directions to which can be found here.


Comics and the Senses: In Print

Comics and the Senses Cover.jpg

Hello and welcome to www.ianhague.com!

I'll be blogging here about my news and events, along with any other things that spring to mind.

Today I'm excited to announce that my first book, Comics and the Senses is now in print from Routledge. Here's the blurb:

Attempts to define what comics are and explain how they work have not always been successful because they are premised upon the idea that comic strips, comic books and graphic novels are inherently and almost exclusively visual. This book challenges that premise, and asserts that comics is not just a visual medium. The book outlines the multisensory aspects of comics: the visual, audible, tactile, olfactory and gustatory elements of the medium. It rejects a synaesthetic approach (by which all the senses are engaged through visual stimuli) and instead argues for a truly multisensory model by which the direct stimulation of the reader’s physical senses can be understood. A wide range of examples demonstrates how multisensory communication systems work in both commercial and more experimental contexts. The book concludes with a case study that looks at the works of Alan Moore and indicates areas of interest that multisensory analysis can draw out, but which are overlooked by more conventional approaches. 

I've been working on the book for a long time and presented lots of snippets at conferences and other events, and it's very gratifying to know that people will soon be able to read it in full! If you'd like to know more about the book (including abstracts for each chapter) there's extra information on the books page of this site. I'll also be adding some free teaching resources to download from there in the near future (I'll post about them here when I do).

If you'd like to review the book please fill in this request form and Routledge will arrange to have a review copy sent to you. Let me know where your review is and I'll add a link to the books page on this site.

You can buy Comics and the Senses at various retailers, including: Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Book Depository, Powell's Books, Saxo, and Waterstones.

I'd be very happy to hear from you if you have thoughts on the book or would like to talk to me about comics and the senses. You can get in touch by email, or by commenting on the blog.

Happy reading!