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Speed reading and proofreading

We may live in an age where we can access more written material than at any other time in history, but this doesn’t mean we’re necessarily any better equipped to take advantage of it. This is true for one very simple reason: it takes time to read, and time is a precious commodity today. This is what makes the art of speed reading such a useful tool today. Having the skill to read and process written information more quickly could be invaluable in today’s information age, particularly when we consider how much of our lives revolve around reading. So, here are a few tips on how to perfect the art of speed reading and proofreading.

Speed reading

1. Stop mental vocalisation

What is mental vocalisation? You’re probably aware that as you read you have the tendency to articulate the word, albeit mentally. This is mental vocalisation and, of course, it takes up time. For most of us, this is an ingrained habit connected to the belief that vocalising the word internally is what reading is. But this is not the case. It is the idea within the word that is important. Firstly, focus on the fact that you have this habit and just be mindful of it. Secondly, simply command yourself not to do it. This is easier said than done, but it can be mastered with practise.

2. Decide in advance what you want from the text

If you know in advance what you’re looking for within the text, you will be more able to locate the important points more quickly. You can then focus on the core words and dismiss the filler waffle.

3. Pre read the text

Skim the text once before your main read. Look for words that repeat themselves throughout and anything in bold type. This will give you a good idea of the gist of the text so that when you read it for real, your brain will register the most important ideas.

4. Read groups of words

Try to avoid the habit of reading one word at a time. This is generally the way we learn to read as children but it’s important to progress beyond this. Not only does this severely slow you down, but it impedes your ability to comprehend the thought behind the text. Practice registering groups of words at a time. Some find that holding the text a little further from the eyes is helpful. Reading blocks of words will also make it easier to eliminate mental vocalisation.

5. Be conscious of eye motion

If you have been used to reading one word at a time, then part of the problem has probably been that you have been training your eyes to focus on individual words. The eye is capable of perceiving a wider area than that occupied by just a single word and ought to be capable of spanning around 1.5 inches, which should usually take up about three of four words. Try relaxing your face muscles and allow your eyes to simply skim across the text.

6. Don’t back read

One bad habit that slows reading down is the tendency to go back over what you’ve already read. If concentration levels are high and you haven’t got any unnecessary distractions like the TV blaring away in the background, then it should be unnecessary to backtrack. If this habit is ingrained, then try using a piece of card to cover over the material you’ve already read. Of course, when the habit has been eradicated, then you can discard the card.

7. Time yourself

One way to keep you motivated is to time yourself. Having a way of gauging your progress will give you something to work with. You could do this either with a stopwatch or take an online speed reading test.

8. Start small

Start with simple texts before moving on to more complex pieces. Don’t expect too much too soon.

9. Selectivity

Know which words to pass over quickly. Not every single word in a text is vital to convey the overall meaning. Definite and indefinite articles, (‘a’ and ‘the’) aren’t necessarily crucial (although sometimes they may be) so allow your eyes to skip over those words and just extract the meaning.

10. Keep timing yourself

As mentioned earlier, timing is crucial to motivation. So keep a record of your reading speed for a given number of words and keep working on it until it improves in a measurable way.

It’s worth bearing in mind that speed reading isn’t necessarily appropriate for all reading material. You will probably want to dwell on certain texts such as poetry. The sounds and rhythms of the words are a large part of the enjoyment. Or, maybe you have a heavy legal document to read requiring you to linger on the text. If, on the other hand, it is a light newspaper article, then perhaps you want to skim through the text to arrive at the main point. Used judiciously, learning the art of speed reading could enhance your life in many ways, but it should never take the joy out of reading.

Developing Proofreading Skills

A skill that requires you slow down when reading is the ability to proofread. Proofreading partly involves checking the text for correct spelling and grammar. Whether it is checking an email that you have just written, or you are trying to sell yourself on a job application, proofreading could make all the difference. Here are 10 tips to help develop your proofreading skills.

1. Cut out distractions

One very obvious key to successfully proofreading a document applies to speed reading too, namely working without any distractions around. It is much easier to concentrate without the television in the background. So find yourself somewhere quiet where you can be alone with your thoughts.

2. Ignore content

When proofreading a text, don’t focus on the content. Focus entirely on the words, the spelling, the grammar, and punctuation.

3. Check one aspect at a time

Read the text through looking for one type of error at a time. Maybe you will check for punctuation first, then move on to spelling. Just focus on one aspect of the text at a time.

4. Don’t rely 100% on spell checkers

This is well publicised but still catches people out. While using a spell checker is a great idea and can highlight obvious spelling errors, don’t rely totally on the software. Even the best programmes won’t detect common typos such as the difference between affect and effect.

5. Give yourself time

If you are proofreading a text you have just written, then it may be best to set the piece aside for a while and do something else. Give your eyes a rest. If you separate yourself from the text by a few hours, or even a day if you can, then you are more likely to read what you have actually written and not just what you think you have written.

6. Check facts and dates

This is obvious really, but getting your facts right will really enhance your credibility. Double check all facts, and consult several reliable sources when it comes to getting dates right.

7. Work with a hard copy

Some people like to print out a copy of the text they are proofreading, as reviewing it in another medium rather than simply onscreen all the time can keep your mind fresh.

8. Know your weaknesses

List the mistakes that you commonly make, whether it is a tendency to misspell a word or something else, then look out for those errors.

9. Leave formatting until the end

Don’t worry too much about formatting the material into paragraphs, applying column alignment and so on, until the end. You’ll be tweaking as you go, so wait until you’ve attended to the content first.

10. Read aloud

Reading aloud can greatly improve your chances of spotting errors and is also a good way to feel how the text flows.