Skimming is the process of reading key parts of a text in order to get an overview of what the content is all about and the main ideas. When skimming, you move your eyes vertically as much as you move your eyes horizontally. In other words, you move your eyes down the page as much as you move them from side to side.

Thus, Skimming is a strategic, selective reading method in which you focus on the main ideas of a text. Well-written texts such as essays, articles, and book chapters are generally formatted in similar ways:

  • Introduction: provides the main idea/thesis as well as an overview of the text’s structure
  • Body: provides claims, arguments, evidence, support and so on to support a thesis
  • Conclusion: provides connections to larger contexts, suggests implications, ask questions, and revisit the main ideas

Ideally, the main ideas will be presented in the introduction, elaborated on in detail in the body, and reviewed in the conclusion. Further, many sources will contain headings or subheadings to organize points and examples, and well-written paragraphs generally have clear topic sentences or sentences that provide the main idea(s) discussed in the paragraph.

All of these aspects will help you skim while developing a sense of the argument and main ideas.
When you skim a source, consider the following process:

  1. Read the introduction (this could be a few paragraphs long).
  2. Scan the document for headings. In a shorter article, there may not be any headings or there may be only a couple.
  3. Whenever you see a new heading, be sure to read at least the first few sentences under the heading and the final few sentences of the section.
  4. Chapter/section summaries
  5. The first and last sentences
  6. Bold words
  7. Charts, graphs, or pictures
  8. Read the conclusion.


Example: Skimming A Book Effectively

When we encounter a text for the first time, it’s a good idea to skim through it to see if we need to take a further look at it in our research. One method for doing this is referred to as the First Sentence Technique, which entails reading the introduction, the first sentence of each paragraph, and the conclusion. This approach can be useful for taking notes and creating summaries of sources.

A slightly more in-depth approach can deepen your understanding of the text and help you identify particular sections or even other resources that might be helpful:

  • Scan the preface, acknowledgements, and table of contents. (This identifies the methods and framework for the book.)
  • Scan the notes at the end of chapters to better understand the author’s research.
  • Scan the index to see if the book covers the information you need.
  • Read the introductory paragraphs for each chapter. (This can help you better understand the structure and arguments of the book.)

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