IN TODAY’S fast-paced, information-based business world, successful results often depend on our ability to read and process information quickly.

We are all faced with overflowing inboxes full of e-mails, enquiries, reports and proposals. Then there are faxes, letters, minutes and other documents. It is easy to feel overwhelmed by the huge volume of material we need to read and process.

Speed reading can help you to read and understand written information more quickly, making it an essential skill in today’s business environment.

Many people seem to have many misconceptions about speed reading. Here are the three most frequently asked questions:

1. Is it really possible to read faster?

The answer is yes! The average reading speed of most people is only about 200 to 250 words per minute (wpm). If you use effective speed reading techniques, it is possible to double or even triple your reading speed to 500 to 700 wpm.

In 2007, the six-time World Champion Speed Reader Anne Jones read Harry Potter And The Deathly Hallows in a record-breaking 47 minutes and one second — or 4,251 words per minute. It is possible to double your reading speed in just one day.

2. Does speed reading spoil the enjoyment of reading?

If anything, speed reading enhances the enjoyment of reading because you will be able to concentrate for longer periods and you will have fewer problems that are usually caused by bad reading habits.

3. If I read faster, does my comprehension go down?

If you eliminate bad reading habits, it is possible to maintain your comprehension — and even comprehend better — while you read faster.

What are the bad reading habits you should be aware of?

* Reading one word at a time. We have always been taught to read word by word to understand the information better. However, this is exactly the reason why people read slowly. Speed readers train their eyes to view more words at a single glance, thereby increasing their “eye span”.

* Re-reading what you have just read. This is called “regression”. Many people either consciously or sub-consciously re-read what they have just read, just to make sure if they read it correctly! This is a huge waste of time and energy.

There are other bad reading habits, too, like sub-vocalisation and eye-fixations.

Now that we have cleared up the misconceptions about speed reading, let’s see what can be done to improve your reading speed and maintain your comprehension. Here are some action points:

* Measure your current reading speed. Most people don’t have a clue about their current reading speed. If you want to increase your reading speed, you should know your current speed. Take any article. Count the number of words. Time yourself. Divide the number of words with your time (in seconds). Multiply this with 60 to get your speed in words per minute.

* Read widely. Most of us tend to read similar types of reading material all the time. If you want to improve your reading speed, you must be comfortable with reading any kind of material: fiction, non-fiction, journals, novels, and so on.

* Increase your eye span. Draw four parallel vertical lines on the article you are reading, so that you have around three to four words (one chunk) between two lines. Try to focus and read the whole chunk at one glance, instead of reading word by word.

Once you are comfortable with this, draw three parallel lines to increase the size of the chunk. This way you will slowly increase your eye span. Remember that you don’t have to draw lines forever. You have to do this initially to train your eyes to increase their span.

* Avoid distractions. Once you are distracted, you don’t usually start from where you left off. You tend to re-read a few sentences (or sometimes a few paragraphs) to remind yourself of the context. Try to read during those times when the chances of distraction are minimal. And yes, you can turn off the e-mail alert sounds on your computer!

* Read with an objective. Setting your objectives at the beginning of the reading session maximises your time and effort. Are you reading to fish out particular information? Are you reading to prepare for an exam? Are you reading for pleasure?

Depending on the objective, you may have to either read something slowly or skim through it. Frame questions starting with “why, who, what, where, when and how” to set your objectives. This will save a lot of time and help you increase your reading speed.