Most people believe that when they are reading their eyes move smoothly along a line of print, but this is not the case. If you stand at a window overlooking a busy road and watch a car pass you from left to right, your eyes appear to move
smoothly because they are focused on the car. In fact, they move in a very rapid
series of small jerks, or saccades as they are called.

If you try to watch an imaginary car as it passes, anyone who watches your eyes will tell you that these saccades are larger and therefore visible. Watch someone’s eyes over the top of a book or newspaper and you will see them clearly, but do pick someone you know, not strangers in pubs, for obvious reasons.

This is how the eyes move when you are reading. It is in the pauses or fixations
between saccades that the reading is done. Research has shown that there is a
mechanism in the brain which switches vision off 40 milliseconds before the eyes move and does not switch it completely back on again until 40 milliseconds after they have stopped moving. The amount you read at each fixation depends upon your span of perception or eye span.

Using your eye span

What all this means in practical terms is that, in order to increase your reading
speed, you have to learn to space these fixations out more. Most slow readers read every word and yet you only have to look at a word to realise that you see more than one word at a time. Try it now. Focus on the dot above the i in the last
sentence. Without moving your eyes, you will usually be able to see not just the
word ‘it’, but also the word to the left and the word to the right. You will also be
able to see the words above and below. You may even be able to see more than
this. Whatever you can see without moving your eyes is your available eye span.
Clearly, reading one word at a time is a wasteful use of resources.