Reading Survey: Self-Experimentation


The Second Edition of the Oxford English Dictionary contains full entries for 171,476 words in current use, and 47,156 obsolete words. To this may be added around 9,500 derivative words included as subentries… This suggests that there are, at the very least, a quarter of a million distinct English words.

I used to read a lot. Usually it would be fiction, but the occasional nonfiction found its way into my bookshelf. Recently I picked up a novel that I’d been itching to read. I flew through it in 2-3 days. During that time, I hardly read anything else (news, research, etc.). That’s when I started to wonder how much reading I really do in a day. So, in the interest of science, I performed an experimental reading survey. Yeah, I’m creative like that.

During the course of a single day, I copied everything I read into a word document. I excluded emails and other social

Reading is a great, cheap way to be amazingly successful.

Reading is a great, cheap way to be amazingly successful.

media communication, because those are much more difficult to track. I did include a chat with a friend, because we were brainstorming, and there was a good bit of info passed back and forth.

I did my best to keep things at a normal level. There’s always the chance of somehow subconsciously influencing the results, and I tried to reenact the same, generic day I’ve lived dozens of times before. At the end of the day, I was a bit anxious. Was I falling behind? Had I stopped growing intellectually?

Was my lack of reading physical books a foreshadowing of my impending idiocy?

Actually, no.

The reading survey pointed out an astonishing fact. In an average day, I read approximately 15,237 words. Yeah. You got it. And even if that number is 50% wrong, I still top the 10,000 mark. Assuming I read 10,000 words per day, and there are 250,000 words in the dictionary, that means I read a dictionary of information every month.

"Official" word count

"Official" word count

So, the next question about my reading survey that must be asked is this:

What was I reading?

Because if I read a bunch of junk, then I really just wasted my time. But if I read things that were informative, educational, and positive, then my time was more of an investment than a waste. Here are three of the main topics from this particular day:

Reading. Still great. Haven't you been reading this post?

Reading. It's still great. Haven't you been reading this post?

  • HR consulting (~4,000 words)
  • Blog stragety (~5,800)
  • Brainstorming session with Chris Ferdinandi (~3,000)

This experiment and post was enhanced by a tweet from Nora Burns earlier this week. In an interesting twist, Ashley Andrus gave me a book for Smile Week. I’m working on something that will hopefully pay that kindness forward exponentially.

I encourage you to test yourself. Put on your own reading survey and do a few experiments to see how you’re investing your reading time. Stanford University performed a study that determined that if you read 30-60 minutes per day about your field, you will become a national authority in 4-5 years. I’m already well on my way. Are you?