Reading strategies – surveying, skimming and scanning

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This article discusses reading strategies that students at university should be aware of.

As far as reading at university is concerned, the most important thing is for you to be aware of different strategies that are available to you and to use the correct one in the correct situation. It is a bad habit to start to read an academic text by going right to the beginning and continuing to read every sentence one after the other, looking up every word you don’t know in a dictionary.

Firstly you need to make sure that the text is something you want to read! Imagine you want to move to a new house, or you want to buy a new car and you go to see this new house/car to see if you want it. What is the first thing you do? Well, I think the first thing you do is look at it from the outside to see if it is what you want. Don’t you stand back and look at it from different angles to see if it meets your needs? If it looks OK, then you go inside and start to investigate it carefully. Similarly with an academic text you have to make sure that it is what you want before you go inside it – that is, before you start reading it carefully. The ‘stand back and look at it from different angles’ is essential. This is when you look at the title, the author, when it was written (what we sometimes calling ’surveying’ the text) and you skim and scan it.

When you scan a text you are looking through it quickly to find key words or information. After scanning a text you should know if it has references to things you want to know about. Skimming is looking quickly through a text to gain a general impression of what it is about. You can often do this by reading only the title and sub-titles of a text, and the first sentence of each paragraph. You can do all this type of reading without using a dictionary! Remember the house – you haven’t stepped inside it yet, you are still looking at it from the outside. Surveying the text (title, author, date, etc) and skimming and scanning are essential academic reading skills for you and for native English speakers too who also need to develop these skills. The trick is to have the confidence to jump through a text ignoring whole bits of it. It may seem strange to you to do this. It may even feel like you are cheating! But it is an essential element to being an ACTIVE reader.

Read more about surveying a text, skimming and scanning and improve these skills at Andy Gillett’s University of Hertfordshire website.

Find more reading resources on English for University. Com here.