Speed reading: Summary report

Subject: Speed reading: Summary report
From: Earl Morton <WorkgWords -at- AOL -dot- COM>
Date: Sun, 4 May 1997 19:17:29 -0400

Hi, techwriters and indexers!

A few weeks ago I sent a message to both TECHWR-L and INDEX-L asking about
speed reading courses. (My original post is attached below for reference.)
This post is a summary of the responses.

Actually, I have to admit to being somewhat disappointed. I expected to hear
from several people who had taken such courses; only two had. One found that
speed reading teaches you to take in the concepts of the material quickly,
but you miss the specific words. Obviously, this is not good for editing or
indexing, because you need to pay strict attention to detail. I responded to
her suggesting that I assumed that when you needed to look at the details you
could "turn it off" and read as you normally would, but still use the speed
techniques for checking a long document for overall structure and
organization. It should also help in the research stage of a project. (One
other person who had not studied speed reading expressed the same concern
about losing too much detail.)

The other person who had taken a speed reading course had a definitely bad

>When I was in junior college I talked an instructor into letting me "audit"
>a speed-reading course. I really took the whole course with close
>instruction, but no grade ever got on my transcrpt.
>I don't remember the name of the course, but I do remember using a device
>that was supposed to force my eyes to scan quickly down a page. You were
>supposed to keep setting this device (which framed a page and covered from
>the top down at a specific speed) faster and faster to teach yourself to
>read faster and faster.
>I got fast, but comprehension and retention fell off the graph. Remember the
>Woody Allen joke about going to a speed reading course and finishing War and
>Peace in two hours? The punchline is, "It's about Russia." That was my
>experience. I read Hemingway's The Old Man and The Sea in about 20 minutes.
>It's about fishing.
>In summary, my speed-reading experience was a waste of time. Thank goodness,
>I hadn't spent a dime, so it was NOT a waste of money.

Every speed reading course I've seen advertised has promised to increase
comprehension, so I'm not sure what to make of this experience. Based on one
report I wouldn't say they are all just blowing smoke. Perhaps this one had a
poor instructor or was just not a good course. Maybe the effectiveness of
speed reading techniques depends on the individual. People learn and perceive
in different ways, and maybe speed reading just works for some people and not
others. (The advertisers wouldn't tell you that, of course!)

One person who responded to my question was just starting a book on her own,
and was "pretty impressed with it so far." One respondent echoed my original
request, and three asked me to post a summary. Another one quoted Woody
Allen's joke.

My conclusions? Well, none, so far. I have spent some time scouring the web
for information on the specific course I'm considering, but have found
nothing other than their own web site and promotion. I'm not sure what to
make of that either. Human nature being what it is, if many people had taken
that course and found it lacking, I would expect to find warnings and flames
on the web, but I didn't. People aren't nearly as quick to brag up their good
experiences, so I'm tempted to interpret the lack of comment as a plus for
the program. I intend to do a general web search on speed reading to see what
else I can learn, but haven't had the chance yet. If I find anything
significant, I'll post an update.

I can tell you now that the course I'm looking at is Subliminal Dynamics. You
can see what they promise from their web site:
http://www.subdyn.com/subdyn.html. I heard a very impressive presentation by
the creator of this program a few years ago. However, he admitted that before
he got into speed reading, he was a very successful insurance salesman, so
it's possible that the "impressive presentation" was just effective sales
technique. If any of you have any knowledge of this particular course, I'd be
very happy to hear from you.


Earl Morton
WorkgWords -at- aol -dot- com

Original post:

>I am sending this question to both the techwriting and indexing mail lists,
>so I apologize to those of you who receive two copies.
>I am considering taking a speed reading course. As you know, our work
>involves reading a great deal of technical material, and I believe that the
>improved efficiency and retention such courses promise would be very
>I'd appreciate any of you who have done this telling me about your
>Was it helpful? A waste of time? Was it a classroom course, or a self-study,
>book-and-cassette course? I'd like to hear both the good and bad stories,
>if you don't mind, the names of the courses. I know there is a fine line
>between bad-mouthing a company you feel has harmed or cheated you, and
>honestly expressing disappointment with poor service or performance. So I'll
>understand if you're not comfortable hanging out someone else's dirty
>laundry. I'm not interested in hurting anybody's business, but as a
>I have the right to evaluate both good and bad experiences of others.
>At this point I don't want to mention which course I am considering because
>don't want to prejudice the replies.
>Earl Morton
>WorkgWords -at- aol -dot- com

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