Research into reading in the United States has identified fourteen characteristics of ‘the mature reader’. And we are going to discuss these characteristics. We’ll begin by looking at mechanical or physiological differences


The biggest problem that the inefficient or slow reader (the two are usually synonymous) has is that he or she regresses, that is, goes back to read things again. Most of us believe that these regressions are necessary because we do not understand the first time what we are being told. The evidence is, however, that this is normally not the case.

We go back for many other reasons. There is nothing to stop us going back, though when we are listening to information being given to us we rarely do it. When was the last time you asked a speaker to repeat the last few minutes of what they were saying? We regress to check that we have the information we need or should be getting. We regress out of lack of confidence. We regress out of habit. Yet the evidence is that, if you put people in a position in which they cannot regress, the loss of comprehension is on average no more than 3% to 7% and even this is recovered with a little bit of practice.

Vocalising and inner speech

Many people vocalise or subvocalise as they read. Vocalising is simply a technical term for reading aloud. Some are unable to read silently. More subvocalise, that is, they read aloud silently. It is often called inner speech and is most noticeable if you are reading something written by someone you know well or by a well-known personality. It is as if you can ‘hear’ their voice as you read and it used to be regarded as a fault which had to be cured.

It is now not so seriously regarded for two reasons. No one has yet identified a cure for it and if you cannot cure a problem you simply have to live with it. More usefully, the Medical Research Council’s Applied Psychology Unit at Cambridge University in England, which has done quite a lot of research into reading over the years, discovered that it was possible for people to read aloud at up to 475 words per minute and still understand what they were reading. I don’t say people listening could understand, but the readers could understand. Presumably silent reading would permit even higher speeds because you would no longer be restricted by how quickly you could move your mouth muscles.

Most authorities put the limit on silent reading speed at about 800 words per
minute (w.p.m.), though it may take some time to achieve this. The best advice to give if you feel subvocalisation is a problem is to try to forget about it. It becomes less and less noticeable once you can achieve speeds in excess of 300 w.p.m.

Fixation time

Speed of perception or fixation time is a difference between slow and fast readers. There is not much you can do about this because you cannot control what you do in terms of fractions of seconds. It tends to become faster anyway with higher speeds, so it is another problem which takes care of itself.

Eye span

The same is true of eye span, which we mentioned earlier. Once you are operating at speeds above 300 w.p.m. you tend quite naturally to take in information in terms of groups of words rather than single words.


The slow reader, for fairly obvious reasons if much regression is taking place, lacks rhythm in reading. The faster reader has rhythmic, confident eye movements. The only backward movement is at the end of a line when moving to the beginning of the next line.

Flexible speeds

The slow reader also tends to read slowly all the time, no matter what he or she is reading. That is simply because he or she has no choice. The faster reader has a choice and can be flexible, reading easy materials quickly and demanding material relatively slowly, after skimming first.



Many slow readers experience tension when reading under pressure, for instance, when time is short. The efficient reader remains relaxed, even when reading against the clock.


Slow readers often have difficulty in anticipating the nature of subsequent material and tend to forget what they have read at the top of a page before they get to the bottom. This is because they are going so slowly that the impression made by earlier information fades before it can be related to what follows. Faster readers use anticipatory scanning techniques looking ahead in the material to predict the nature of material they have not yet read.


Slow readers often lack concentration except for short periods. Efficient readers concentrate well by excluding distractions, reading at times of day when they know from experience they can concentrate better and reading in environments conducive to good concentration.


Inefficient readers are frequently unable to retain information for very long after reading. Faster readers tend to have good retention of information over longer periods.


Slow readers are unsure about their purposes in reading which means they have no clear goals to aim for when they read. Faster readers make sure that they have a clear knowledge of their purpose and expectations before they begin to read something.

I hope this post helped many of you 🙂