Search for Reading Speed
It was nearly 20 years ago when Johns Hopkins University
began to investigate the process of reading. The goal
of the research was to specifically identify the barriers
to reading speed and then find ways to enhance the reading
experience to overcome the inherent difficulties. The
not so simple question was, "why can't we read faster?".
For most of us, reading is something we do every single
day. We get a lot of practice, and like anything else
we practice, we should theoretically get faster and
better at it. Yet if you ask most people, they'll probably
tell you that they think they're slow readers. If you
asked them if they read significantly faster then they
did in junior high, they'd probably say not much. True,
the vocabulary is bigger, they know more techniques,
but what they're really saying is that it still seems
to take a lot of time and effort to get the information
they need from the written word into their brain. The
truth is that humans have been reading the same way
for more than 5,000 years. In all that time there has
been with very little advancement in our ability
to get more information in less time. At some point
with conventional reading methods, we hit a wall when
it comes to reading faster. There have been lots of
courses designed to overcome the speed limitations through
teaching reading discipline. They may be effective but
require diligence on the part of the reader. The truth
is that most "speed readers" don't keep it up in real
life. Because there's a significant trade-off involved;
you have to exert more labor for higher speed. RapidReader
is a computer application built upon the findings of
years of research designed to do the reading work for
you while accelerating your reading speed.
Limits Our Reading Speed
The Results From the
What are the factors that limit our reading speed?
After considerable experimental evidence, the researchers
concluded that the barriers to reading speed weren't
in the human ability to process information but rather,
in the mechanics of the method we use get the written
information from the "page" to our brains. Their solution?
By using technology, they simply altered the method
of displaying the text to accommodate their findings.
The result? The subjects were able to consistently read
1600 words per minute! That's nearly 8 times the average
reading speed. What was this new method? In effect they
made the text into a movie and projected on a screen.
By displaying the words one at a time in sequence, in
the center of the visual field at a very high rate of
speed, the subjects were able to accelerate their reading
speed to many times their previous average. They did
it without training of any sort. They simply sat back
and "watched" the words. Their brains did the rest.
This came to be called Rapid Serial Visual Presentation
(RSVP). What it showed, was that it didn't matter
how we get the
words to the brain, the brain would process the information
and comprehend it. The way we actually read
the word didn't matter. Reading speed was actually directly
related to how fast we we were able to see the words.
Even at 1600 words per minute, our brains have no trouble
keeping up and comprehending.
The Practical Application
of Clinical Research
RapidReader is the result of more than 10 years of
research and development at SoftOlogy IdeaWorks to adapt
these principles and create a software for enabling
the computer to assist the reading process. In fact,
the reading option that RapidReader offers couldn't
have existed before the advent of the computer. Until
recently, you really no choice in the reading process.
You were forced to read the way our ancestors did. The
RapidReader software gives you the option when you're
onscreen, of reading in the traditional document view
or of having the computer accelerate your reading
speed for you. The choice is yours. The goal of development
for the RapidReader software was simple. To create an
application to do what all computer applications do,
make an everyday task easier for you.
The Rhythm of Language
In addition to applying this research to everyday reading
tasks, RapidReader invented a breakthrough concept;
the patented "Speech Mimic" technology. This is a critical
advance in using the computer for accelerating reading
speed in daily use. As you use RapidReader you will
notice a cadence or rhythm of the display of the words.
This display is carefully modulated to "time" the words
so they are displayed in the rhythms of human
speech. This makes comprehension easy, comfortable and
natural even at very high speeds. As you'll see below,
humans are "hard-wired" from birth to understand speech.
And even before we understand words themselves, the
rhythm of language is highly significant to our understanding
of the context of what's being said.
Science Behind the Method
Why We Read at the Speed
Average reading speed on paper: Between 150-250 words
Average reading speed on a computer (with scrolling):
100-130 words per minute
Average reading speed on a hand held or mobile device:
40 words per minute
Barriers to Reading Speed
Eye Movement and Sounding
In the Hopkins research they discovered that there
were two primary factors slowing down your reading.
What are these barriers?
(1) The Mechanics of moving your eyes from word to word
across a page and
(2) "Sounding Out" the words in your head as you read.
(NOTE: When reading
on-screen, there is also another significant impediment
to high reading speed: losing your place while scrolling)
Movement and Scanning:
The Laborious Trek Across
The Mechanics of Reading: Eye Movement Step by Step.
Even though you may not be aware of it, when you read
across a page, here's what's really going on:
1) First you have to find the word you're looking for.
This means that the muscles of the eye have to move
the eye into the approximate position of the word.
2) The optic nerve shuts down. Because the eye is moving,
the optic nerve has to shut down momentarily (otherwise
we'd see the world as a continuous blur).
3) When we stop moving our eye at the desired place
and the optic nerve opens the path way to the visual
4) Then like a camera, we have to focus our eyes on
the word to read it.
5) Then the process starts all over again, we move our
eye to the next word, closing the optic nerve etc. and
on and on
If we looked at it in slow motion we'd see a constant
process of moving, adjusting, and focusing our eyes
for each word we read. Word after word after word. No
wonder reading is a laborious process. Much slower that
our brains ability to process the information. What
they discovered at Hopkins was that by placing words
in the center of the field of vision (the way we see
the rest of the world), reading speed was dramatically
accelerated because the tracking and focusing process
Sounding Out as We Read
Science has known for more than 50 years that humans
are "hard-wired" for speech. No one has to teach us
how to talk, it's easy for us and we learn it naturally.
In fact in a Study conducted at Dartmouth (Scientific
American, Aug. 2002) babies between the age of 5 and
12 mos. showed that babbling (versus non-babbling like
"ahh") is a deliberate activity, taking place in the
language centers of the brain and the baby is, even
at that early age, already on the path to speech. This
means that we have no difficulty learning to speak.
But reading is another matter altogether.
For most of us, we initially learn to read by matching
a spoken word to the symbol representing it on the page.
For instance a parent says "cat" and points to the word
in a book. After enough repetitions we recognize the
symbol for cat and associate it with a small furry thing
that purrs. Later, other words are added to our vocabulary
by learning to "sound out" the word. First we see the
symbol and then decode it phonologically to "hear it"
and then associate it with object it represents. In
other words reading is still intimately associated with
talking and listening. In the reading process, we are
going through two significant steps to get meaning from
the symbol. We see the symbol and then we associate
the symbol with a VERBAL representation of the object.
This "sounding out" is the other element that
dramatically slows down our reading. Because, long after
we're past the decoding stage of learning to read, we
still continue to "see and say" the words silently to
ourselves out of habit from childhood.
This two-stage process is unnecessary. Clearly, once
we know what the symbol looks like and what it means,
we no longer need to verbalize it to understand it.
For instance, when you approach a "STOP"
sign you don't need to say "STOP"
in your head. Hopefully you just put on the brakes.
In other words, once you can recognize a word and know
what it means then it's simply a visual symbol. Like
the octagon shape of the stop sign or the stick figure
on the rest room door, we process it instantly without
saying a word to ourselves. In fact we can recognize
and process visual symbols much, much faster than we
can speak. So, saying each word to yourself as you read
unnecessarily slows your reading down to the pace of
Physiology of Reading:
How the Brain Reads.
The recent developments in brain scanning machines
have provided an entirely new set of powerful tools
for mapping brain activity. Brain scans allowed researchers
to see the brain activity of subjects while they were
actually reading. This generated a wealth of valuable
information for the Hopkins researchers. The question
was how this "movie like" display of words seemed
to be so effective for accelerating reading speed. The
answer became visible with brain scans. It comes down
to where in the brain reading was processed. It
turned out that reading in the traditional manner was
processed in different regions of the brain than the
Reading is a complex activity involving a number of
components, activating different parts of the brain.
The two regions of the brain primarily responsible for
processing language and which have been intimately associated
with reading are called Broca's Area and Wernicke's
Area. Reading has been around only a relatively short
time and so our brains haven't evolved any special tricks
for dealing with it. We are however, highly evolved
for speech. In the architecture of the brain, Broca's
Area and Wernicke's Area are for the most part devoted
to using and understanding spoken language. When it
comes to reading, it's really not their job but they
serve "double duty" and do the best they can. Brain
scans show that conventional reading "lights up" these
areas as language goes from reading to self-verbalization
to meaning. (Our sounding out process). This makes
perfect sense because we're translating the written
word into spoken language in our heads. Speech is processed
through Broca and Wernicke. So in effect, "we're reading
with our ears".
However, when the high speed text was displayed in the
Hopkins study, brain scans showed that it was lighting
up a completely different area of the brain, one that
is ideally suited for processing visual stimulation.
It lit up the Visual Cortex. So now the subjects were
reading with their
eyes, passing information directly from the visual
world along the optic nerve to the brain for processing
without resorting to a "verbal middleman". We simply
need to see the symbol and we respond to that information
The Speech Mimic Technology
The Difference is in
In standard RSVP there is no cadence applied to the
display of the text. In effect, the duration of each
word and the pause between them is the same. The experience
is kind of like a machine gun rat-a-tatting words at
you. While this increases speed in the short run, it
is visually and mentally tiring and difficult to maintain.
For the promise of this powerful speed advantage to
be of practical use in the real world, the experience
had to become much more comfortable and natural. For
this, SoftOlogy IdeaWorks looked to the natural human
ability to process speech. What makes human speech fundamentally
different from the robotic? The answer is rhythm.
All human language employs cadence to add meaning, emphasis
and phrasing to the actual words. The duration of words
and the pauses between them become an important component
in communication. RapidReader adds to the display of
text on a screen the dimension of cadence with it's
patented Speech Mimic technology.
In a study published in The Proceedings of the
National Academy of Science in December of 2000.
It was reported that an area of the brain (plenum temporale)
originally thought to be exclusively used for processing
sound was active in profoundly deaf people. This led
to the conclusion that the cells in this region actually
are capable of responding to the patterns of natural
language in any form. In the case the deaf this included
the visual rhythm of sign language. In other words,
we evolved a specific area of the brain associated with
the rhythm of speech, no matter if it is auditory or
visual. That's how important the rhythm of language
is to our understanding of it.
It took SoftOlogy IdeaWorks more than two years of development
and refinement to arrive at a way for the content of
the material to actually control the cadence of the
words you were reading. In other words with RapidReader,
"what your are reading actually controls the rhythm
of how you're reading it". This adds a tremendous amount
of informational value so you can comprehend in a natural
fashion no matter how fast you're reading.
In an article in the LA Times it was stated that "...reading
is one of the most unnatural things we do on a daily
basis, it just doesn't fit the model of how our brain
works." For anyone who struggles with reading speed
that certainly seems to ring true.
The research at Johns Hopkins and other institutions
has shown that the barriers to reading speed aren't
in the processing of written language but in limitations
in how we receive the information. This determines
which part of our brain processes it. Our brain is organized
to treat visual stimuli differently than spoken language.
That's the way we've divided sensory experience over
the eons of our development. Traditional reading lies
somewhere in the middle and calls upon areas of the
brain that weren't really designed to process written
information. The data shows that when we process
written words as symbols in the visual cortex it is
far faster and more efficient. But it took the creation
of new display technology to make that a reality.
It's not surprising that RapidReader works so effectively
to multiply reading speed while maintaining comprehension.
The underlying reasons are evident in what we now know
about the architecture of the human brain. RapidReader
was created to be a practical application built upon
those findings. It took the advent of the computer to
finally make this kind of reading option a possibility
for everyday life. Now you have a choice about how and
how fast you want to read.
Excerpt from :
Reading paradigms: From lab to
Aaronsn, D. and Colet, E.,
Behavior Research Methods, Instruments and Computers,
29 (2), 250-255 (1997).
...One of the most promising methods is called Rapid
Serial Visual Presentation (RSVP). It was first used
in the mid-1960s for rapidly displaying individual words,
one at a time, in the center of a monitor's screen.
Each new word replaced the old word. Users set the rate
that the computer presented the words. This approach
has demonstrated a capacity to substantially improve
In the 1999 User Interface Update course (see below),
the RSVP method is used to illustrate how quickly reading
performance can be improved. In one class the average
reading speed from a paper document... had a range
from 143 to 540 words-per-minute. After determining
the basic reading rate, the class members read material
presented on the screen, one word at a time, at 600,
then 800, then 1,000, then 1,300, and finally at 1,600
words-per-minute. After each set of reading material,
the students answered multiple choice questions about
The top reading speeds were as follows for measured
comprehension scores of 75% or higher:
- 1,600 wpm --3 people
- 1,300 wpm --8 people
- 1,000 wpm --3 people
- 800 wpm --0 (nobody)
- 600 wpm --2 people
The average for the class was 1212 wpm, which is about
3.5 times faster than reading in the traditional way.
There is no question that the computer can help improve
reading performance; but it must be done in non-traditional
Reading paradigms: From lab to
cyberspace? Aaronsn, D. and Colet, E., Behavior
Research Methods, Instruments and Computers, 29 (2),