Brain Hack: Speed Reading

by Dave Farrow

Speed Reading on a Computer or with Footnotes

A customer named Gregory asked the following questions:
  • How do you speed read on a computer screen?
  • How do you speed read with footnotes?
  • How do you speed read with footnotes on a computer screen?
It is not impossible to speed-read on a computer, or to speed-read a text with footnotes but it is definitely more difficult. A technique I teach in my course on speed reading is “text tracking.” I tell students to move their fingers across the text as they read line by line. Text tracking pulls your vision across the page and makes reading much more comfortable on your eyes.
You can do the same thing on a computer using the curser or mouse. (Although sometimes hovering over a word can make a whole window pop out so be sure to deactivate pop ups to help avoid this annoyance.)
Whether it is done with your hands or your curser, text tracking is meant to train your eyes to sweep across the page in a fluid motion. It eliminates eye strain and fatigue as the muscles learn to stop fighting each other and start working together. Once your eyes are trained, you can speed read without tracking. I actually discovered this when I was reading in the window on 5th Ave for Sony.
(Check it out at )
The same tracking method can be used for footnotes although this is no doubt more difficult. I usually flip to the footnote once I see the reference in the book then flip back to where I was reading. Of course constantly flipping slows down the reading process but it is the only way to truly take in the information. Someone once asked me if it would be beneficial to speed read the footnotes on their own. I don’t recommend this because reading without context is terrible for comprehension. Without context, it is impossible to properly activate schema, make connections to the text, or do any of the techniques needed for good comprehension. Comprehension is a crucial part of speed reading. After all, what is the point of reading quickly if you don’t understand the material? Without comprehension, reading is simply decoding. They call this “word calling” in the literacy education world.
Speed reading a text with footnotes on the computer is the most difficult. I recommend opening two windows, one with the document and one with the footnotes.


In conclusion, text tracking is the best hack for speed reading and it works best with printed text but it is definitely possible to do on a computer or another device.
If anyone knows other hacks for speed reading with footnotes please speak up I would love to hear them! 
Dave Farrow

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Gregory October 19, 2009 - 6:44 pm

Dave, thanks very much for answering my questions. I truly find your answers most helpful.

Gregory October 19, 2009 - 7:06 pm

Dave, in all honesty, of all the speed reading methods that I have tried including the photoreading nonsense I find yours to be the most realistic, most reliable and most sensible method out there. And it is very, very easy to master as well in no time. I recommend it to everyone.

King October 8, 2012 - 10:57 am

Thanks for writing such an easy-to-understand atrcile on this topic.

revoke April 10, 2013 - 3:26 am

I have not checked in here for some time since I thought it was getting boring, but the last few posts are good quality so I guess I will add you back to my everyday bloglist. You deserve it friend 🙂


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