There's a general discussion of speed reading methods on Wikipedia, but let's look at some specific articles and see what they say about reading speed and comprehension.
Bell's review of the reading speed and comprehension literature
In Bell's (2001) review of the empirical literature, he makes a number of points, which seem reasonable to me:
- A few studies have shown that you can increase reading speed with various "speed reading techniques" (e.g., Hill, 1981, Richard, 1982).
- However, "techniques ... employed on speed reading courses ... tend to cause readers to suffer lower levels of reading comprehension..." This is a within-person phenomena. People who read particularly slowly often have low comprehension, but this is not relevant to the question of whether an individual should increase or slow down their reading speed.
- Several authors recommend reading at the right speed, neither too fast nor too slow (e.g., Coady, 1979).
- Part of being a skilled reader is about adapting reading strategies, particularly with regards to the speed / comprehension trade-off, to the nature of the text and the reading goals in the situation.
Discussion of reading expertise
There is a massive literature on reading comprehension.
For example, take Pearson et al's (1992) list that states that expert readers:
- Search for connections between what they know and the new information they encounter
- Monitor the adequacy of their models of text meaning
- Take steps to repair faulty comprehension once they realize they have failed to understand something
- Learn early on to distinguish important from less important ideas in text they read
- Are adept at synthesising information within and across texts and reading experiences
- Draw inferences during and after reading to achieve a full, integrated understanding of what they read
- Sometimes consciously, and almost always unconsciously, ask questions of themselves, the authors they encounter, and the texts
The key feature of this list is that expert readers employ strategies related to constructing meaning. They don't pertain to exact strategies for moving the eyes over the page and the process of visualising text, and so on.
Implications for increasing reading speed
On the basis of the above, I don't think trying to integrate whole blocks of text visually would be a useful training exercise for helping a person achieve his or her reading goals.
When it comes to reading, I think it's more important to think about your goals than to focus on reading speed. Why do you need to read the text? What are you hoping to get out of the text? How will this information be used?
- Bell, T. (2001). Extensive reading: Speed and comprehension. The Reading
Matrix, 1(1). PDF
Coady, J. (1979). A psycholinguistic model of the ESL reader. In R. Mackay, B. Barkman, & R.R.
Jordon (Eds), Reading in a second language (pp 5-12). Rowley, MA: Newbury House.
- Hill, J.K. (1981). Effective reading in a foreign language. English Language Teaching Journal, 35,
- Pearson, P., Roehler, L., Dole, J., and Duffy, G. (1992). Developing
expertise in reading comprehension. What research has to say about
reading instruction, 2:145-199. PDF
- Richard, W. (1982). Improving Reading Speed in Readers of English as a Second Language. JALT Journal, 4, (pp 89-95).