Are bad reading habits really bad?

I recently read a novel by Haruki Murakami and got totally lost in the story. I didn’t care about the time I spent reading nor did I wanted to know how many words I read per minute. I often read a sentence twice or was adding imaginary details to what had happened in the story; my mind was constantly wandering around. Does this sound like bad reading habits? Not to me, I pretty much enjoyed this style of reading.

In a few days, however, I want to read five or six essays about current trends in urban planning and how technology actually impacts the way we use urban space. There’s a fair amount of information to process and memorise. I also want to put the best ideas into one mind map to review it again. I plan to preview and speed read those articles first, and then dip into interesting details to complete missing links. I want to finish this project quickly, so reading for enjoyment isn’t a priority here. The same reading style I used for novel reading would now actually hinder me to read fast.

In terms of speed reading, the reading style we learned in school is often referred to bad reading habits. Why bad? Because, if we’d changed them, we could read faster and probably retain more information at all. Bad reading habits simply stand for less efficient reading techniques. Some will be easy to change; some require more training and time.

Common bad reading habits are:

  • One word at a time. Reading word by word resulting in too many focus stops
  • Vocalisation. Moving lips or pronouncing words while reading
  • Subvocalisation. Silent speech or pronouncing words in your head
  • Skipping back. Re-reading of passages without need
  • Skipping preparation steps such as previewing to get the main idea
  • Lack of comprehension, e.g. little knowledge about the topic
  • Loss of attention. Wandering mind, reading with little attention and concentration
  • Environment. Reading when tired, in stressful or low light environments
  • Individual Behaviour. Sceptical attitude against fast reading

Bad reading habits that need little effort to change

1. Attitude. Develop a positive attitude towards speed reading. I regularly use positive affirmations or simply visualise to read very fast. I visualise skimming material, reading chunks of words or transforming words into pictures. I visualise all the techniques and tell my mind on what to focus.

2. Convenient environment. A work space or room with bright light conditions will benefit your reading experience and also protect your eyes. You can speed read everywhere, however, noises and any kind of distraction tend to decrease your reading efficiency. Keep distractions on a manageable level.

3. Attention and concentration. I still experience my mind wandering off and thinking about subjects that have just sparked my interest. You probably know this kind of stuff when you had to prepare for exams. Concentration is just about discipline unless you are very tired. If I lose attention I will simply refocus and go back to the task or reading. If I lose attention again I will refocus again.

Bad reading habits that need some effort to change

4. Word group reading. These habits may require some time to break them. For example, you will need to invest some time to learn reading in groups of words. Once your brain has managed to do so, you’ll actually have learned a powerful speed reading technique. Single words barley can hold an idea; four, five or six words can carry a lot more of information. This technique will improve reading speeds, decrease focus stops per line and also save your eyes from tiring.

5. Previewing. One of the first steps of speed reading is to preview material. It’s a useful technique, because as a reader you want to know specifically what the main topic is about. Find relevant information before reading page by page; determine whether the text is of value or should go back on to the shelf. Previewing techniques include first sentence reading, name, number or overview scans. Places to look at are the content page, the back page, graphs, images, diagrams or headlines. To extract information quickly ask yourself six simple questions: Who, What, Where, When, Why and How.

6. Subvocalisation. Do you speak the word in your head as you read it. This is called subvocalisation and (almost) everyone does it. Unfortunately, it slows down your reading speed as you cannot read faster than you are able to speak. You can lessen this process by learning how to read groups of words. Another method is to conceptualise words as objects so that when you read them, the associated meaning will instantly come into mind without having to vocalise it.

7. Skipping back. I already have mentioned a sceptical attitude towards reading techniques as a way to slow down reading speeds. You may have also experienced going back in text, because you think you have missed something. Skipping back in text along with unconscious re-focusing are probably the most common habits that keep readers from performing faster. Note: This is simply discipline. Stop going back! If you do so get aware of it and simply continue reading. It is the same method as with refocusing when losing attention. Stop it! Over the time you will realise you actually have not missed anything and even if skip back occasionally you will get on track in the next paragraph.


Bad reading habits are not as bad as the words may imply. They actually point out where to improve your fast reading skills. Get started with an introduction about speed reading. Learn techniques such as skimming, previewing, word group reading or using a pointer and you will actively turn these “bad” habits into good reading skills. Enjoy!

Are there any habits missing? Let me know in the comment box below!

Keep reading: Does Speed Reading Really Work | Articles Speed Reading | Videos Speed Reading

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