Reading is the complex cognitive process of decoding symbols to derive meaning. It is a form of language processing. Success in this process is measured as reading comprehension. Reading is a means for language acquisition, communication, and sharing information and ideas. The symbols are typically visual (written or printed) but may be tactile (Braille). Like all languages, it is a complex interaction between text and reader, shaped by prior knowledge, experiences, attitude, and the language community—which is culturally and socially situated. Readers use a variety of reading strategies to decode (to translate symbols into sounds or visual representations of speech) and comprehend. Readers may use context clues to identify the meaning of unknown words. Readers integrate the words they have read into their existing framework of knowledge or schema.
Many studies show that increasing reading speed improves comprehension. Reading speed requires a long time to reach adult levels. The table to the right shows how reading-rate varies with age, regardless of the period (1965 to 2005) and the language (English, French, German). The Taylor values probably are higher, for disregarding students who failed the comprehension test. The reading test by the French psychologist Pierre Lefavrais (“L’alouette”, published in 1967) tested reading aloud, with a penalty for errors, and could, therefore, not be a rate greater than 150 wpm. According to Carver (1990), children’s reading speed increases throughout the school years. On average, from grade 2 to college, reading rate increases 14 standard-length words per minute each year (where one standard-length word is defined as six characters in text, including punctuation and spaces). Note that the data from Taylor (English) and Landerl (German) are based on texts of increasing difficulty; other data were obtained when all age groups were reading the same text. Rates of reading include reading for memorization (fewer than 100 words per minute ; reading for learning (100–200 wpm); reading for comprehension (200–400 wpm); and skimming (400–700 wpm). Reading for comprehension is the essence of the daily reading of most people. Skimming is for superficially processing large quantities of text at a low level of comprehension (below 50%).
Advice for choosing the appropriate reading-rate includes reading flexibly, slowing when concepts are closely presented and when the material is new, and increasing when the material is familiar and of thin concept. Speed reading courses and books often encourage the reader to continually accelerate; comprehension tests lead the reader to believe his or her comprehension is continually improving; yet, competence-in-reading requires knowing that skimming is dangerous, as a default habit. Scientific studies have demonstrated that reading—defined here as capturing and decoding all the words on every page—faster than 900 wpm is not feasible given the limits set by the anatomy of the eye. Reading speed has been used as a measure in research to determine the effect of interventions on human vision. A Cochrane Systematic Review used reading speed in words per minute as the primary outcome in comparing different reading aids for adults with low vision.