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Slow reading refers to practices that deliberately reduce the rate of reading to increase comprehension or pleasure. The concept appears to have originated in the study of philosophy and literature as a technique to more fully comprehend and appreciate a complex text. More recently, there has been increased interest in slow reading as result of the slow movement and its focus on decelerating the pace of modern life.

Related terms[]

The use of slow reading in literary criticism is sometimes referred to as close reading. Of less common usage is the term, "deep reading" (Birkerts, 1994). Slow reading is contrasted with speed reading which involves techniques to increase the rate of reading without adversely affecting comprehension, and contrasted with skimming which employs visual page cues to increase reading speed.

Philosophy and literature[]

The earliest reference to slow reading appears to be in Nietzsche's (1887) preface to Daybreak: "It is not for nothing that one has been a philologist, perhaps one is a philologist still, that is to say, a teacher of slow reading."[1]

Birkerts (1994) stated "Reading, because we control it, is adaptable to our needs and rhythms. We are free to indulge our subjective associative impulse; the term I coin for this is deep reading: the slow and meditative possession of a book." His statement speaks to the idea that slow reading is not merely about slowing down, but about controlling the pace of reading. Slow readers may speed up at times, and then slow down for the more difficult or pleasurable portions of a text.

The importance of personal control over the speed of reading is echoed by Pullman (2004) who argued that slow reading is needed to reinforce democracy in America. Part of its democratic nature is that the manner of reading is not determined by someone else: "we can skim, or we can read it slowly". A similar view was stated by Postman (1985) who noted the character of the ordinary citizen of the 19th century, a mind that could listen for hours on end to political orations clearly shaped by a culture favouring text. Postman warns that reading books is important for developing rational thinking and political astuteness.

Lindsday Waters, Executive Editor for the Humanities at Harvard University Press, declared a worldwide reading crisis resulting from our global push toward productivity. She asserts that young children are learning to read faster, skipping phonetics and diagramming sentences, and concludes that these children will not grow up to read Milton. She foresees the end of graduate English literature programs. "There is something similar between a reading method that focuses primarily on the bottom-line meaning of a story in a novel and the economic emphasis on the bottom line that makes automobile manufacturers speed up assembly lines." She advised re-introducing time into reading, "The mighty imperative is to speed everything up, but there might be some advantage in slowing things down. People are trying slow eating. Why not slow reading?" (2007).


A number of research studies exist on the problematic aspects of involuntary slow reading. For example, Wimmer (1996) found that a slow reading rate in children indicates a lack of fluency and is a predictor of dyslexia. A few studies demonstrate the positive value of voluntary slow reading, the type of reading defined in this entry. Nell (1988) showed that there is substantial rate variability during natural reading, with most-liked pages being read significantly slower. Sherry Jr. and Schouten (2002) suggested that close reading could have commercial application as a research method for the use of poetry in marketing. Contrary to the claims of advocates of speed-reading, there is evidence that subvocalization has no observable negative effect on the reading process, and may in fact aid comprehension (Carver, 1990).

There is a fair body of literature in the area of bibliotherapy, a practice involving the selection of materials for therapeutic purposes. The process often involves emotional identification with reading material, and thoughtful discussion with a professional; as such it is a type of slow reading.

See also[]



  1. "Man ist nicht umsonst Philologe gewesen, man ist es vielleicht noch, das will sagen, ein Lehrer des langsamen Lesens: — endlich schreibt man auch langsam." - Friedrich Nietzsche, Morgenröte: Gedanken über die moralischen Vorurteile (1881)


  • Birkerts, Sven. (1994). The Gutenberg Elegies: The Fate of Reading in an Electronic Age. Boston: Faber and Faber. Selected passages [1]
  • Carver, Ronald, P. (1990). Reading Rate: A Review of Research and Theory. San Diego: Academic Press.
  • Honoré, Carl (2004). In Praise of Slow: How a Worldwide Movement is Changing the Cult of Speed. Vintage Canada. About the book [2]
  • Jennings, Lane (2005). Slow Is Beautiful: Living as If Life Really Mattered. Futurist, 39(2) (Mar/Apr 2005): p. 12-13.
  • Nell, V. (1988). The Psychology of Reading for Pleasure: Needs and Gratifications. Reading Research Quarterly, Vol. 23, No. 1 (Winter, 1988), pp. 6-50.
  • Nietzsche, Friedrich (1887). Daybreak: Thoughts on the Prejudices of Morality. 2nd Edition.
  • Postman, Neil (1985). Amusing Ourselves to Death: Public Discourse in the Age of Show Business. NY: Penguin.
  • Pullman, P. (2004). The War on Words. Guardian Review, November 6, 2004. On-line [3]
  • Sherry, John F, Jr. and Schouten John W. (2002). A Role for Poetry in Consumer Research. Journal of Consumer Research, 29(2), 218-234.
  • Sire, James (1978). How to Read Slowly. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.
  • Waters, Lindsay (2007), Time for Reading, Chronicle of Higher Education, 53(23). On-line [4]
  • Wimmer, Heinz (1996). The Early Manifestation of Developmental Dyslexia: Evidence from German children. Reading and Writing, 8(2).

External links[]

  • Bibliotherapy Definition and Links [5]
  • Deep Thinking and Deep Reading in an Age of Info-Glut, Info-Garbage, Info-Glitz and Info-Glimmer. From Now On: The Educational Technology Journal [6]
  • The Free Lance Academy: Home of Slow Reading [7]
  • | Slow Reading. Writings on the subject by John Miedema [8]
  • The Special Joys of Super-Slow Reading: A Reader's Digest article by Sydney Piddington [9]