Skimming—How to Get Started?

by Shelley Bowers

Studying can be a pain, right? All those books, articles, and research papers to read through can become overwhelming, especially if you spend hours reading something, only to find that it’s not relevant to what you’re studying! So, what can you do to make it easier on yourself? Well, you can learn to skim. reading long stuff

What is Skimming?

Skimming is a quick, efficient, and easy technique that allows you to identify which texts require further reading and which can be thrown on to the ‘useless’ pile. In short, skimming helps you understand the general gist of a document without having to spend hours reading it all.

How to Get Started

It’s a simple process really. Before you start reading, decide on what parts of the text is relevant to your study. For example, if you’re writing an essay on the causes of heart disease and you need to read through research papers, you may want to look for words or short phrases, such as smoking, alcohol, cholesterol, diet, exercise, and so on.

Once you’ve decided on your terms, start to look at the words of the text. Notice I said look at them, not read them. The aim here is to find the words you’ve chosen, not to read the text in the normal way. This can be tricky if you haven’t done it before, as your eyes naturally want to start reading left to right and from the top to bottom. So, here’s a really easy technique—read the words vertically. Yes, it’s that simple.

When you come across one of the words you’ve chosen, read the whole sentence to make sure it is being used in the right context. If it is, that’s great. Make a note of it and carry on. When you get to the end of the text, if you have a nice long list of the number of times your terms occurred, you should add it to your ‘read again’ pile. If not, you know what to do!

And, don’t worry if you take a while the first couple of times you try it—the more you skim read the better you’ll get at it, so practice is the key. It really is an invaluable studying tool, so why not give it a go?skim


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