The Art of Skimming

“One trouble with developing speed reading skills is that by the time you realize a book is boring you’ve already finished it.”

– Franklin P. Jones


Skimming means reading a text quickly to get a general idea of the content. It can help you make decisions about where to place maximum focus especially when there is limited time for reading. You do not read every word, but just what is essential according to the purpose.

While reading, your perceptions of the text are deepened through familiarity. Skimming is an effective way to get started with the kind of reading required for academic work before beginning to read it in detail. It helps to get a sense of the flow of progression in the matter.


So, what do you read and what do you leave out? Here are some guidelines that can help while skimming a text. You may choose to modify it to cater to your reading style.

  1. Read the first the passage – the introduction, to know what the topic is about.
  2. Then, read the first one or two sentences of the following paragraphs as well as the concluding sentence too.
  3. Try to gauge the direction of the explanation or arguments.
  4. While you are it, resist the temptation to stop to read the details you don’t need.
  5. Think about the purpose and what you need to retain from it.
  6. The aim is to pick up the broader concepts and significance of the text.
  7. If some unfamiliar terms or words repeat several times, only then look up those terms.
  8. The last paragraph contains a conclusion or summary. There is no need to skim it – you should read it carefully to understand the author’s overall purpose.


Skimming can help you to source relevant information in texts and articles quickly. It helps save time too. Knowingly or unknowingly we may have skimmed through a newspaper when there was too little time to read the entire article. As students, it is an excellent technique to use when you have to review a lot of practice material for an upcoming test or competitive exam.

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