Do you feel the need for speed … in reading, that is? Many of us can remember the advertisements for the Evelyn Wood Reading Dynamics “speed-reading” courses going back to our college days. And these days, there are plenty of advertisements for other speed-reading courses on TV and the Internet. These courses promote different techniques, such as using a finger or other pointer to move at a steady pace under each line of text—but their common promise is to have you reading everything quickly.
Personally, I don’t want to read everything at the same rate. Ideally, shouldn’t we be able to read some documents rapidly, while taking our time and reading other kinds of documents more slowly? This is the concept that motivated Lee Johnson, CEO of MindTalent Inc.,
to create a family of speed-reading products called HeadCram
As summed up on the vendor’s Web site, “HeadCram’s interface was designed with the latest in human factors and usability research in mind. In addition to control of the presentation speed, you create your own optimal experience by choosing display settings that enhance your eyes’ ability to quickly scan a page.” HeadCram comes in several versions, including ones for students, enterprises and MS Outlook—and one specifically for lawyers.
HeadCram Legal uses different modes to display the text on the user’s computer screen, including Rapid Serial Visual Presentation (RSVP), which displays one word at a time in rapid sequence, as well as a column view, in which a cursor highlights key text as the user scrolls down the page. (Users should read ahead of the cursor.)
In either mode, the user can control the pace of text at speeds of up to 1,500 words per minute. You can also switch between modes to conform to your particular work flow using the HeadCram application called PUL (which stands for “Pleasure, Utility or Learning”). According to the company, “From quick skimming (case overview) to thorough reading (privilege review, issue classification), HeadCram Legal’s PUL application seamlessly adjusts the reading speed and text display depending on the specific needs of the user.”
The program also allows using both RSVP and the column view simultaneously, placing the RSVP view on the top of the screen and the column view on the bottom. This dual-view is designed to minimize the reading fatigue that can be caused by using just one reading method alone, since it allows users to easily move their eyes between one view and the other.
HeadCram Legal is specifically designed to work with LexisNexis’s Concordance version 8.02 or higher, so it brings the advantage of increased reading and comprehension speeds to electronic discovery and electronic document management. Users can review documents and text from Concordance in HeadCram and also add user-created Concordance Tags by using a right-mouse click and selecting from the context menu that opens. You simply choose the appropriate tag and resume reading. MindTalent claims that you can read and tag up to five times faster than you can by just reading the text on your monitor. HeadCram Legal also works with plain-text documents, and PDF capability is under development for a future release.
Also of interest to lawyers may be the HeadCram for Outlook version (currently in beta), which is unique in that it doesn’t activate for every message as users open their mail. Instead, the software activates only for those messages that are long enough to benefit from speed-reading. The default setting for activation is 500 words, but users can adjust that number through HeadCram’s preferences setting. Also by default, HeadCram for Outlook opens in the dual-mode of RSVP and columniation—this mode, as well as reading speed, can be adjusted via the Message Add-Ins tab.
After using HeadCram over a several-month period to review a number of different document types and e-mails, I’ve found myself reading faster while still maintaining good comprehension. I would like to see the program work with MS Word and WordPerfect documents, or see the PUL’s application brought into Word and Internet Explorer in future versions. Still, in its current form, HeadCram is easier and less expensive than buying and completing one of those Internet speed-reading courses.