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Skimming Get the gist

In academic contexts you will have much to read, and you will need to use various reading skills to help you read more quickly. Skimming a text is one example of such a skill (scanning and surveying a text are two others). This page explains what skimming is and what parts of the text are needed.

What is skimming?

Skimming a text means reading it quickly in order to get the main idea or gist of the text. Skimming and another quick reading skill, scanning, are often confused, though they are quite different. Skimming is concerned with finding general information, namely the main ideas, while scanning involves looking for specific information.

What parts of the text should I look at?

When you are skimming a text, you will want to focus on the parts which are more likely to contain the main ideas, while ignoring the details. These include the title, which is often a summary of the whole text. The first paragraph may also useful, as this will usually be the introduction which could contain an overview of the whole text. Likewise the final paragraph may be helpful, as it may be a conclusion and so will often contain a summary of the main points. You should also try to read the first sentence in each paragraph, as this is very often the topic sentence, and the last sentence in each paragraph, which may be a concluding sentence. Also look out for repeated words, as these may give an indication of the main points. Other aspects, such as an abstract for a technical article, or section headings, can also help. In short, you will need to focus on the following (note that not all texts contain all of these, e.g. many texts do not have abstracts or section headings).

  • Title and sub-title
  • Abstract
  • First paragraph
  • Last paragraph
  • Repeated words
  • Section headings
  • First sentence of each paragraph
  • Last sentence of each paragraph



Below is a checklist for skimming a text. Use it to check your understanding.

Area OK? Notes/comment
I understand what skimming is.
I know which aspects of the text are useful when skimming.
I know why these aspects are important (e.g. first sentence is often the topic sentence).


Center For New Discoveries In Learning, Inc. (2016) Skimming And Scanning: Two Important Strategies For Speeding Up Your Reading. Available at (Access Date 16 February, 2016).

McGovern, D., Matthews, M. and Mackay, S.E. (1994) Reading. Harlow: Pearson Education Limited.

Slaght, J. and Harben, P. (2009) Reading. Reading: Garnet Publishing Ltd.

Wallace, M.J. (2004) Study Skills in English. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Next section

Find out about another speed reading skill, scanning, in the next section.

Previous section

Go back to the previous section about skills to improve reading speed.


Author: Sheldon Smith. Last modified: 17 September 2016.


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