Thursday, August 16, 2007

How you (speed) read

Tyler Cowen linked to an interesting article on reading speed the other day. Considering the medium, I was surprised that the post got so little reaction. Surely everyone online reads a bit faster than average? Wouldn't you want to know why?

The study teased out the effects of three skills we use to read: sentence context, whole-word recognition, and letter-by-letter decoding.
To knock out sentence context, they changed word order (e.g. “Contribute others. The of Reading measured”). To knock out whole word recognition, they alternated capital and lower case (e.g. “ThIs tExT AlTeRnAtEs iN CaSe”). And to knock out letter-by-letter decoding, they substituted letters in such a way that word shape was maintained (e.g. “Reading” becomes “Pcedirg”).
Letter decoding accounted for 62% of reading speed, whole word recognition 16%, and sentence context 22%. Sentence context was more important for faster readers than for slower ones.

I note that the test passages were from a Mary Higgins Clark novel. Could using a formulaic mystery have catered to those who rely heavily on predicting what happens next for their speed? Additionally, it's harder to use word recognition in works with archaic or unusual diction. I'd like to see the breakdowns for a sample of Beowulf or Ulysses.

Incidentally, I read graphic novels incredibly quickly; my eyes leap to the text in each cell very rapidly. It's necessary to force myself to slow down and look at the pictures.
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