reading techniques

4 Reading Techniques To Help You Read More in Less Time

We learn reading techniques early on in life without even noticing it. As kids, we would open our fairytale books and to our surprise, recognize some of the words we’ve heard repeatedly read to us. Before we knew it, we were jumping to the exciting parts of the books.

Growing up, we learn different techniques on how to read better. Most of us love leisure reading because we can take our time with the words. However, speed reading is also important for other aspects of life, such as schoolwork.

Like other skills (e.g. listening, public speaking, etc.), it requires mastery so you can utilize it effectively. If you know WHEN to use the different reading techniques in everyday scenarios, you’ll be able to save time AND effort. Avoid reading intensively when you can skim, or don’t get in trouble for scanning when you should’ve read more carefully.

Here are the four reading techniques – and the best situations to use them.

4 Reading Techniques To Help You Read More in Less Time

1) Scanning.

You probably use this reading method more times in a day than the other techniques. Scanning involves looking ONLY for specific information (such as keywords, numbers, names, etc.) while omitting other details. There are three things you need to process in your mind before scanning a material:

  • Objective what am I supposed to be looking for?
  • Type of material to be scanned – where can I get the information I need?
  • The layout – How is this info in this material arranged?

Phonebooks, menu boards, and email inboxes all have familiar layouts to us, so these are the easiest to scan. In-depth articles and full novels on the other hand, are the trickiest – especially if they are made up of walls of texts.

Scan content when:

  • checking your inbox. Scanning is a great method as it allows you to quickly sift through the most urgent messages. Read the subject line and determine if it deserves your immediate attention or not.
  • buying from book or grocery stores. The human eyes are great at spotting patterns. Instead of going through every title or item, scan shelves for your target purchase. Use your fingers as a guide. In a matter of seconds, you should spot what you need.
  • choosing meals. If a restaurant or fast food joint has more than 10 options and you only have 15 minutes to spare, use the power of scanning to your advantage. Once your eyes focus on a familiar pattern (like the words ‘lunch set’ or ‘meat entrees’), you can read only what’s in that category.

In general, scanning is most effective for material with a set layout, such as newspapers and phonebooks. This is the best technique to use when you need specific information – fast.

2) Skimming.

Skimming involves reading more in less time. Unlike scanning, you first need to get the main idea of the material before looking for certain details that back it up. This works best for non-fiction works.

Similar to other reading techniques, you need to establish the following before skimming can be called successful:

  • Objective – what do I need from this material?
  • Main Idea – what is the main message or thought of this piece?
  • Supporting Data – how can I prove that this is the main idea of the material?

Please note that you might not be able to get the entire thought using this method. Use ONLY when needed. Skimming crucial material, such as contracts, novels, or research papers, is NOT advised because you could miss vital details (and regret it later).

Skim content when:  

  • reading reviews. Need a third party opinion before buying something? Skim reviews to get the overall impression of the product or service. Many testimonials these days have four parts, which are perfect for skimming: review title, pros, cons, and recommendation.
  • impromptu presentations. Need to give a speech in an hour? As long as you have a script (and you’re more or less familiar with the topic), you can skim through the important parts and add your own improvisation. The important thing is that you understand the main message you want to impart to your audiences.
  • quick research. Say you need to write a piece on when blogging first became popular. Skimming is great for when you need to cover the basics. Collect your resources, read a couple of paragraphs, then take the main ideas of each. You should have something interesting in a couple of hours.
  • reviewing for exams. Skimming also comes in handy if you want to review what you’ve learned. Do note that this only works if you’re already familiar with your subject. A quick skim of a several sentences should refresh your memory on the topics you’ve studied by now.

Need a LOT of information in the shortest amount of time possible? Skimming could be your best friend. Remember: in some special cases, it’s more effective to skip on some parts while reading to save time. Don’t dwell on unnecessary data.

3) Intensive Reading.

Intensive reading is the most time-consuming of all the reading techniques. The main goal here is to retain information for the long-term.

This method is recommended especially for language students, as it helps them truly grasp the meaning of the words in context. But it’s also great for analyzing reports and detailed research. Used in conjunction with skimming and scanning, intensive reading can widen your horizons and help you keep important information longer.

Read intensively when:

  • you get new contracts, business proposals, or memos. Avoid simply skimming or scanning the contents of these papers. It may seem bothersome, particular as these use technical English, but you don’t want to sign anything that you don’t fully understand.
  • using the company chatroom or replying to emails. How many times has it happened that you quickly replied to a coworker or your boss – only to lead to a misunderstanding?

If the content seems to have different interpretations, it’s best to read it intensively, or even ask the source for confirmation. One of the hard lessons learned in life is that many arguments can be avoided if one just learned to pause first and read everything.

Need to power-up this reading technique? Use note-taking every time you need to read something in detail. Post-It notes make it easy, as you can stick it to pages without ruining them. For those who want more in-depth analysis of what they’ve just read, notebooks may work better than small Post-Its.


4) Extensive Reading.

Extensive reading focuses on reading for pleasure. You choose your own material, your pace, as well as how you’ll interpret the content of what you’ve just read. This strategy is great not only for fiction works, but also if you want to improve your writing, and expand your vocabulary. It helps develop a reader’s:

  • Independence – when people read for pleasure, they’ll be surprised at how pleasurable the activity really is. In time, they will grow their own book collection and pick up reading habits.
  • Comprehension – when you have the freedom to choose what you read, you can learn comfortably at your own pace.
  • General Knowledge – with extensive reading, you’ll feel free to discover new things everyday. As there’s no pressure at all, you unconsciously open yourself up to the world and its vast share of knowledge

Read extensively when:

  • you have free time. There’s NOT set rule or trick to this one because you’re just reading for fun. Read what you want, when you want to, and at your own speed. Select from various materials like novels, magazines, blogs, or even street signs.

Reader Action Steps

Sometimes, one method can evolve into another based on the person’s learning style. For instance: while skimming, you discover that you actually like the content and so you read intensively to get the gist of each word. When it comes to reading, the rules aren’t absolute.

These are good skill to have, especially in our dynamic, connected world today. Try these strategies for yourself and see how it feels:

  • Try scanning your inbox for newsletters you’d like to read first thing in the morning. Not a digital person in the AM? You can do the same with newspapers or magazines during your commute.
  • Got a lot of blogs to go through? Skim through the main thoughts of each instead of reading the entire thing. This allows you to have more time for each of your favorites.
  • Read your reports intensively instead of simply skimming them. You might be surprised to see some discrepancies (if there are any).
  • Bored or got more free time than you expected? A book or ebook should keep you preoccupied. Try extensive reading and see the hours just slip away.

Knowing the best situations to use these reading techniques will allow you to maximize your efforts AND get the information you need in the time allotted. If you’ve become so accustomed to one method, have faith that you can always master the other three.

Believe in yourself – after all, it’s never too late to learn something new today.

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