How to: Improve your reading skills – skimming and scanning



Reading is an essential skill to develop in English, particularly when you need to understand news articles, or long reports, without spending too much time. How can you ‘speed-up’ your reading and understand the general message or key information? Here is some advice to help you prepare and practice your skim and scan skills.

Start with the title/headline and sub-headings:

The text will usually have a title, which gives you information about the topic of the text, or even a very short summary. For example: An article headline: ‘When is the best time to start a new business? immediately informs you that the text will have information about business start-ups and the writer’s opinion on the time to do it. Now you can SKIM (quickly focus your eyes on) the rest of the article for any sub-headings, or for topic sentences at the beginning of each paragraph, which will give you additional information. For example, (Sub-heading) ‘Taking advantage of tax incentives’ and (topic sentence) ‘The reason why most businesses fail in the first year…’ both inform you of the information you will find out in that section/paragraph. You can then decide if it has information you want, or need, to know – and read this section more slowly – or you can move on to the next section. When you reach the end of the article, you will also have a ‘general’ idea of what the whole text is about.

Find key words or phrases that give you the information you want to know:

When you have found a section or paragraph you are interested in, you need to SCAN this section for key words, phrases (or numbers) that connect to the information you want or need to know. You don’t need to read every word in the paragraph! For the ‘business start up’ example: Words or phrases related to the cause of something (due to, because of, results in,), words or phrases related to time and place (days, months, years, specific or general locations), words related to strategies/recommendations (plan, prepare etc.)

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