What is Bionic Reading?

According to the website:

Bionic Reading is a new method facilitating the reading process by guiding the eyes through text with artificial fixation points. As a result, the reader is only focusing on the highlighter initial letters and lets the brain center complete the word. In a digital world dominated by shallow forms of reading, Bionic Reading aims to encourage a more in-depth reading and understanding of written content. (Casutt 2021b)

From an overly simplistic point of view, Bionic Reading «only» bolds the first few characters of words and outputs a document in either PDF of EPUB formats. Their claim is that text put through their service is easier to read because it’s formatted to a specific style beyond merely having bold text distributed to serve as fixation points.1

Now, whenever a new thing comes out and cites nothing about how or why it does what it does it raises some concerns in my head. Granted, sometimes this is merely a matter of keeping an industrial secret and there’s nothing particularly shady about it. But making grand claims about a new thing making dramatic changes in such a «plain» way is brow-raising at the minimum. Is it really that merely selectively bolding parts of a word makes them easier to read? The site mentions nothing of the sort, no basis on scientific or empirical data to back up their claims. But they do have something others don’t: a patent.

The patent awarded to Renato Casutt (Casutt, 2021a) certainly doesn’t seem like a wild thing coming out of nowhere. There are indeed many articles and papers dedicated to vision science, accessibility and design to aid comprehension.2 A service that just wanted to make a quick buck would hardly spend years filing patents in several countries only to wait years to even see a rejection or admission notice. Filing for patents is hard work, and it’s certainly too much if one wanted to sell something based on hype and conjectures. So I’m ready to believe this is not merely a whim.

If we’re to believe Casutt’s statement, this is the product of ~6 years of development and at least one small test. In his words:

Now it is 6 years that I have been working on Bionic Reading. This spring I was allowed to do a small preliminary study with a Swiss University. The Swiss Institute InnoSuisse supported me and donated an amount for this preliminary study. Again, many thanks to both of them.

The preliminary study consisted of 12 probands who did not know Bionic Reading. It was tested whether reading on the screen is better with Bionic Reading or not. There was a text without BR and a text with a fixed setting (1 variant) with Bionic Reading. The experiment was independent and carried out by the Swiss University. The results are not clear. But it can be said that the majority had a positive effect. But of course there were also probands who found the effect disturbing. It has not been explicitly tested whether it is helpful for people with dyslexia or not. (Casutt, 2021b)

So even the author is careful with the claims of his product.

It… works?

And I must say, for some reason it works for me.

Granted, I haven’t done any serious reading (id est a 1-hour session or similar) with it. But short snippets of text indeed seem better for reading and allow me to read faster than usual. BR also seems to eliminate a problem of other speed-reading software (like Spritz) which is that it eliminates the need to focus on only one part of the screen without blinking.

Let me restate that: speed-reading software usually flashes one or a few words at a time in a single place on the screen. If I want to read at high speed, I must keep my eyes focused on that cluster for at least half a minute if I want to make some improvement.3 If you try to focus your gaze on a single part of a screen for extended periods of time, it gets tiring very quick. I don’t even speed-read that fast4 but if I’m to gain any time at all, I need to keep my gaze without blinking or else I risk losing precious words and context.5

Out of the blue, BR-enhanced text eliminates both of those discomforts, which explains why it’s not as tiresome to read. But it still doesn’t explain why it still feels easier or faster than plain text.

So, just to try it out, I’ll enhance this text through BR and post it as-is.6 You be the judge as to whether this is better or not. If you come across any studies on this specific product, please let me know about them to add to this writeup.


While I do find this generally easier to read, after pasting this text back into E2, it has a few caveats.

First, this works mostly with a «narrow» column of text. My desktop is currently 1920 by 1080 pixels, and e2's default theme was never thought for such a wide resolution, so it shows an unnaturally long column width. I counter this through zooming in to about 150% (or more) so that I have fewer words per line, but the disadvantage is that the font size explodes as well. If I try BR with my native settings, it's a complete mess. When it's blown up to have a narrow column, it's great.

Second, the effects of BR, as mentioned, come from not just bold text, but subtler adjustments impossible to replicate with HTML like line height, font spacing and text opacity. Of course, these can all be achieved with an appropriate CSS theme (after all, BR produces an EPUB document, which is still XHTML at its core) but e2 allows only a subset of HTML, so these changes cannot be really seen here.

Third, even if this was the panacea of reading, I wouldn't recommend it for wider use on e2 mostly because it's meant to be an edited text. If you were to paste a BR-enhanced text to e2 (as I did above) you still need to add links, and let me tell you: it's damn near impossible to do unless you resort to using the WYSIWYG editor (and even then, you need to be aware of adding pipe links outside the strong tags so that the link isn't fucked up)

Use it if it pleases you (it certainly pleases me) but be aware of the limitations. And please don't use it here. You can find the BR-enhanced version of this writeup at my public draft titled Bionic Reading (not for public consumption)

References and Bibliography

  1. Even though they have a preset style, it allows for variations. Variables are fixation (how much of a certain word is bolded), saccade (how many fixation points per line), opacity (the gray-scale level of the text), column width, line height, letter spacing, font size and the choice between serif and sans-serif fonts.

  2. See the related documents at of Casutt’s rejected patent in the USA (2017) for a good sample.

  3. Of course, this could be avoided by taking short rests or reading only smaller chunks of text. But speed-reading very short passages defeats the purpose, which is to gain time when reading long documents.

  4. For me, it’s ~450 wpm or more depending on my familiarity with the subject and general level of interest.

  5. A specialist from the University College London cites that the average human blink lasts 100 to 150 milliseconds (UCL, 2005), while professor Eric Chudler (n.d.) cites that it lasts between 100 and 400 milliseconds. Reading at 450 words per minute means a blink lasts for somewhere between 0.75 and 3 words being displayed.

  6. Specifically, I will write this in Pandoc Markdown and convert it to EPUB, which is among the preferred input formats of BR. Then, I’ll download the output EPUB and Pandoc-convert it to HTML.

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