What Is Skimming – Definition – Explanation

Written by Waseem Raza

What is Skimming
Skimming is a method of rapid reading which helps you understand the overall theme or general meaning of the text.

Skimming is a rapid reading technique that prepares the reader for detailed reading. As the main objective of skimming is to understand the central and the main points of the text, the reader needs to use a reading strategy that involves fast reading and quick analysis. 

One of the most important purposes of reading for academic and professional purposes is obtaining information for various purposes. This involves not only the ability to recognize the main ideas and supporting details but also the ability to identify different writing patterns used to develop these ideas. Also check uses of library

Skimming is essential for a better understanding of a text. Skimming should answer the following questions about a text:

  1. What is the overall purpose of the text?
  2.  What is the central idea or theme?
  3.  What is the logical organization? (general to specific, specific to general, chronological, more important to less important, less important to more important, and so on).
  4.  What does the author intend to do? (describe, instruct, report, narrate, explain, argue, persuade, illustrate, and so on).
  5.  What are the main points of the text?


How to Skim?

The first step of skimming is to Identify the central idea. Every essay, article, passage, or textbook chapter deals with a theme or central idea. All the other ideas, points, examples, and illustrations in the text support and expand this central idea. This central idea is also called a thesis. The thesis answers the following three questions:

i) What is the subject?

li) What does the author want to say about the subject?

iii) Author’s point of view?

Procedure for Skimming / Steps in Skimming

  1. Read titles, headings, subheadings, and any other typographical indicators of important ideas (such as words in italics or in darken print). Look for highlighted or bold type, headings, and topic sentences.
  2. Look at illustrations and read captions under pictures.
  3. Note numbers, dates and words that seem to stand out.
  4. Read the opening paragraph. Does the first paragraph include a previous or an organizational structure for the information that is to follow? If it does, read it.
  5. Read the first sentences of paragraphs. A text usually consists of a number of paragraphs. Each paragraph contains one main idea or topic. Search for the topic sentence which is often the first or the last in the paragraph.
  6. Note any organizational or structural clue words such as first, second, in addition and finally.
  7. Read the last paragraph. The opening and the last paragraphs generally sum up the subject and the author’s point of view.

When is Skimming Useful?

Use skimming to preview, review and locate information.


Pre-reading: Before making a thorough reading of a text, skimming can give an accurate picture of the text to read later.

Reviewing: Skimming is useful in order to review the text which you have already read.

Reading: Skimming is useful for quickly reading material that does not need detailed attention for certain reasons. 

Skimming means allowing your eyes to move rapidly across the text, ignoring minor details such as punctuation, etc., but letting your eyes focus on larger words and phrases which are related to the theme of the text. When you read the newspaper, you are probably not reading it word-by-word, you are actually skimming. Skimming technique is used to obtain the gist or the overall sense of a text. So skimming is a reading technique that can help you to:

1. Read more quickly to obtain the gist or general idea of a text.

2. Decide if the text is interesting and whether you should read it in more detail.


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