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Reading is the process of retrieving and comprehending some form of stored information or ideas. These ideas are usually some sort of representation of language, such as symbols to be examined by sight, or by touch (for example Braille). Other types of reading may not be language-based, such as music notation or pictograms.


Reading a book

Reading by humans is mostly done from paper with ink: a book, magazine, newspaper, leaflet, or notebook. Hand written text may also consist of graphite from a pencil. More recently, text is read from computer displays, television, and other displays, such as mobile phones.

Short texts may be written or painted on an object. Often the text relates to the object, such as an address on an envelope, product info on packaging, or text on a traffic or street sign. A slogan may be painted on a wall. A text may also be produced by arranging stones of a different color in a wall or road. Short texts like these are sometimes referred to as environmental print.

Sometimes text or images are in relief, with or without using a color contrast. Words or images can be carved in stone, wood, or metal; instructions can be printed in relief on the plastic housing of an appliance, or a myriad of other examples.

Chalk on a blackboard is often used for classroom settings.

A requirement for reading is a good contrast between letters and background (depending on colors of letters and background, any pattern or image in the background, and lighting) and a suitable font size. In the case of a computer screen, not having to scroll horizontally is important.

Human reading appears to be performed as a series of word recognition steps with saccades between them. In normal reading, humans do not actually "read" every word, but rather scan many words, filling in many words by what would logically appear there in context. This is possible because human languages show certain predictable patterns.

The process of recording information to be read later is writing. In the case of computer and microfiche storage there is the separate step of displaying the written text. For humans, reading is usually faster and easier than writing.

Reading is typically an individual activity, although on occasion a person will read out loud for the benefit of other listeners. Reading aloud for one's own use, for better comprehension, is a form of intrapersonal communication. Reading to young children is a recommended way to instill language and expression, and to promote comprehension of text. Before the reintroduction of separated text in the late Middle Ages, the ability to read silently was considered rather remarkable. See Alberto Manguel (1996) A History of Reading. New York: Viking. The relevant chapter (2) is posted on line here.

Literacy is the ability to read and write; illiteracy is usually caused by not having had the opportunity to learn these concepts. Sufferers of dyslexia often have difficulty reading and/or writing.

See also: Reading education


Edouard Manet - Lecture

The human capacity to read is accurately explained and predicted by human eye physiology and psychology. The eye is capable of taking in a certain amount of text using the vision span while fixating on the text. The sensory memory is able to hang onto the items in the vision span for a period of around 300 milliseconds. The short term memory, or working memory, can hold less material (around 4 items at a time), but for longer periods (around 30 seconds). These 4 or so items could be words, headings, or sentences, depending on the prior knowledge of the reader and the rate of reading within the well defined limits of human vision span. If the material is repeated or appropriately and meaningfully associated, it will be passed into the long term memory, which is potentially unlimited in capacity and can remain there from 10 minutes to indefinitely depending on depth of processing and subsequent recall.

Weaver has identified three definitions for reading:

Definition 1: Learning to read means learning to pronounce words.

Definition 2: Learning to read means learning to identify words and get their meaning.

Definition 3: Learning to read means learning to bring meaning to a text in order to get meaning from it (1994, p. 15).

Weaver, C. (1994). Reading process and practice: From socio-psycholinguistics to whole language. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann.


Rates of reading include: Reading for memorization (under 100 words per minute (wpm)), reading for learning (100–200 wpm), reading for comprehension (200–400 wpm), skimming (400–700 wpm), and scanning (more than 700 wpm). Specifically, normal reading involves the rates of "rauding" (or normal reading), skimming, and scanning which should be understood as having very different purposes and consequences. Reading for comprehension is the most important reading process because it is the essence of most people’s daily reading. Skimming and scanning are sometimes useful for processing larger quantities of text superficially at a much lower level of comprehension (below 50%).

Main article: Reading speed

Speed reading

A number of techniques have been developed to help people increase their reading speed

Main article: Speed reading

Naive readers

There are cases of very young children learning to read without having been taught, such as described in the book Learning From Children Who Read at an Early Age by Rhona Stainthorp and Diana Hughes. [1]

Comprehension age

A common test for children and adults is to ask them to read texts or words of increasing difficulty until they become unable to read or understand the words presented to them. This is used to determine what is called their reading age. For example, the average child of 10 will have a reading age of 10. But a 10-year-old child advanced in reading for his or her age may have a reading age of 12 or 13, which means having the comprehension level of the average 12- or 13-year-old. In a class of 12-year-olds of mixed ability, reading ages will typically vary from about 8 to about 16. Reading age is not simply a function of intelligence; a variety of teaching methods and practice techniques have been shown to have immediate effects on reading age. Reading ability tends not to increase after cessation of full-time education. The reading level of tabloid newspapers, although they are directed at adults, is around 9-12.


Studies have shown that American children who learn to read by the third grade are less likely to end up in prison, drop out of school, or take drugs. Adults who read literature on a regular basis are nearly three times as likely to attend a performing arts event, almost four times as likely to visit an art museum, more than two-and-a-half times as likely to do volunteer or charity work, and over one-and-a-half times as likely to participate in sporting activities.[citation needed]


Reading requires more lighting than many other activities. Therefore the possibility of comfortable reading in cafés, restaurants, buses, at bus stops, or in parks greatly varies depending on available lighting and time of day. Starting in the 1950s, many offices and classrooms were over-illuminated, partially because many of the early textbooks were influenced by lighting manufacturers. Since about 1990, there has been a movement to create reading environments with appropriate lighting levels (approximately 600 to 800 lux).

The neuropsychology of reading

Main article: Neuropsychology of reading

See also


  • National Endowment for the Arts (June 2004). “Reading at Risk: A Survey of Literary Reading in America” (pdf)
  • Littlefield, Jamie (2006). "Promote Reading: Share Books" Retrieved Jun. 20, 2006.
  • Shaywitz, S. E. et al.: Evidence that dyslexia may represent the lower tail of a normal distribution of reading ability. The New England Journal of Medicine 326 (1992)145-150.
  • Farnham-Diggory, S, and Gregg, L.W. (1975)Short-term memory function in young readers, Journal of Experimental Child Psychology 19: 279-98.

External links

af:Reading ar:قراءة de:Lesen es:Leer fr:Lecture he:קריאה lt:Skaitymas nl:Lezen pt:Leitura simple:Reading zh:閱讀

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