THE LATE NORA Ephron famously felt badly about her neck, but that’s minor compared to how people feel about their reading. We think everyone else reads faster than we do, that we should be able to speed up, and that it would be a huge advantage if we could. You could read as much as a book critic for the New York Times. You could finish Infinite Jest. You could read all of Wikipedia. So, how fast can people read?
Reading speed is obviously going to depend on factors such as readers’ skills and goals and whether they are reading Richard Feynman’s lectures on physics or TMZ.com. But let’s just do some cold, hard calculations based on facts about the properties of eyes and texts.
About 7 to 8 letters are read clearly on each fixation.
Fixation durations average around 200 to 250 milliseconds (4 to 5 per second).
Words in most texts are about five letters long on average. 4 fixations per second = 240 fixations per minute
240 fixations × 7 letters per fixation = 1,680 letters per minute
1,680 letters/6 (five letters per word plus a space) = 280 words per minute