Fast and slow rhetorics

The readings this week introduced ideas that I am familiar with from my work managing the library website. The article, What is reading?, discusses how skilled readers adapt to read for different purposes. How you read depends on your purpose, the nature of the material, and what you already know about a topic. When people read to find information online, they often follow an F-Shaped Pattern scanning across the top of the page, looking down and then scanning across the page again. This has implications for people who write content online, as they need to put the most important content at the top of the page and make use of headings, to avoid a “wall of text” that will not be read. In contrast, Lower literacy users often read text online word for word, as scanning is a reading skill. So, writing for the web is different than writing to be read on a printed page and is a skill that needs to be taught.

In the conclusion to the book, Chasing literacy, Keller discusses how readers are required to constantly switch back and forth between fast and slow forms of reading and the corresponding hyper and deep forms of attention. Keller asks, “How can faster rhetorics be harnessed in effective and ethical ways?” (p. 165). He suggests “fast rhetoric” can be used to challenge misinformation spread by other “fast rhetoric” or to point readers to “slow rhetorics” with more complete information. This could mean learning how to write a tweet to direct readers to an in-depth article about a topic or how to write a Facebook post to advertise an event such as a lecture where a topic will receive in-depth discussion.

In the article, Is Google making us stupid?, Carr argues for the power of the printed word to sustain the slow form of reading and deep form of attention described by Keller. Carr explains, “The kind of deep reading that a sequence of printed pages promotes is valuable not just for the knowledge we acquire from the author’s words but for the intellectual vibrations those words set up within our own minds.” When students are in the library getting help at the Reference Desk, they often get overwhelmed by searching online. I suggest that after searching for a period of time, they should print the articles they find and sit in a quiet place to read the articles. Often, they realize that they have more information than they thought and through this slow, quiet contemplation, they can start to understand their research topic/question and what they need to find more information about. Then, students can return to “fast reading,” searching online for articles by browsing article titles and abstracts to find what they are looking for.

Carr’s article points out the tendency we have to be pessimistic about the impact of new technologies. Carr explains that Socrates predicted that the written word would lead to a decline in the ability of people to remember things without written text. Squarciafico worried that the wide availability of books after the Gutenberg printing press would lead to “intellectual laziness.” We should not criticize “fast reading” and “hyper attention” as inferior, but instead help students become aware of when they are engaging in fast and slow forms of reading and attention. We can teach lower literacy readers to scan a webpage for information by reading headings, rather than plowing through every word on the page. “Fast reading” is preferable when looking for specific information on a webpage. It is also preferable when you are scanning article titles and abstracts searching for articles for a research paper online. However, at some point students must slow down and read some articles with deep attention. We can help students be successful and teach reading strategies by talking about the types of tasks which are better accomplished with specific types of reading and attention.


Anderson, R. C., Hiebert, E. H., Scott, J. A., & Wilkinson, I. A. G. (1985). What is reading? Becoming a nation of readers: The report on the commission on reading.  Washington D.C.: National Institute of Education. Retrieved from

Carr, N. (2008, July/August). Is Google making us stupid? The Atlantic. Retrieved from

Keller, D. (2014). Chasing literacy: Reading and writing in age of acceleration. Logan, UT: Utah State University Press.

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