Speed reading was studied by Evelyn Wood (Reading Dynamics) in the 1950s and popularized worldwide beginning in the 1960s. How best to learn speed reading is still controversial among the various schools of thought, with some authors teaching basic techniques such as avoidance of backspacing, subvocalization, eye span expansion, use of line sweeps, or meter, but other authors warning of associated reading disorders that readers may suffer when using such speed reading techniques.
Most concepts of surface reading, moreover, assume that the human brain is capable of processing whole word surfaces, with the individual words being combined by the brain in some way to form a meaningful whole. Above all, the inner speaking along during reading – which is still important when learning to read – should be switched off and the text should be taken in purely visually. Newer speed-reading methods promise up to a hundred times higher reading speed (borrowed from the computer world also called “scanning”), which can be safely ignored as a marketing measure. As with many cognitive skills, however, reading and reading speed can undoubtedly be optimized to a certain extent through practice. Controlled psychological experiments confirm the possibility of purposeful avoidance of subvocalization, but with inconsistent results on error detection in prose texts.
However, when a speed-reading technique is used, the text is demonstrably recorded less accurately, because no information is extracted from areas of text where fixation does not occur. Therefore, it is impossible to capture an entire line of text or even a few words with only a single fixation in the middle of the line. However, speed reading training usually involves much more concentration than normal reading, so that a positive effect on information absorption can be observed here, but this is not related to the advertised technique. These effects generally always occur when people try something new and try something unfamiliar, which also works with learning methods or memory methods that are sold by memory world champions in seminars. However, this initial effect disappears over time, as follow-up surveys of participants in such events will easily confirm – the transfer to everyday life usually does not take place. Complicated and nested sentences, such as in scientific texts, require time-consuming reflection to decipher their structure, so that regressions occur during normal reading for this reason alone and due to concentration problems. Forgoing these required regressions may mean that there is not enough time to think about a sentence and fully understand it. Also, the line of reasoning that fast reading leads to more content being absorbed per unit of time, which leads to more recallable knowledge, falls short. However, more quantity in reading is not always purposeful.