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The technique of skim reading

Updated on February 28, 2014

By Michelle Liew Tsui-Lin

As part of our daily routines, we often have dozens of documents we have to read. And we're challenged to do so quickly.

Whether it is a book, newspaper, or as writers, dozens of blogs and articles, we have to read all of them and do so well.

One of the speed reading techniques many would be interested in is skim reading.

What is this extremely useful technique? How exactly do we skim read and pass this much needed skill to our children?


What is skim reading?

For those who are less familiar with the concept,skim reading is a speed reading technique that bloggers and writers will welcome. Those of us who write know what it's like to be overwhelmed by volumes of text.

Skim reading involves a reader visually searching a passage for clues to the message, or salient points, the author is trying to convey.

For some, this is an innate skill. Others may struggle a little more with reading quickly. Adults, who've obviously many more years of experience reading, will have more practice with this reading skill.

Benefits of skim reading

Skim reading can be useful when you are previewing material to be read in more detail later. It's useful when we just want to grasp the gist of a text.

When doing research, skimming usually tells us when an article will be useful to us for further reading.

If you are in a profession that involves a lot of writing, you'll likely have to do a lot of reading as well. Skimming is a skill that can help us to cope with rushed time.

How to skim read

Disadvantages of skim reading

Skim reading must NEVER take the place of actual reading. The little details within a text will be left out if you merely skim without spending time gleaning details from each line.

It's not a useful skill to employ for exams, which will usually test you on smaller, lesser known details.

If the text you're reading involves a lot of statistics, it isn't advisable to merely skim.

Reading fiction or poetry usually requires an intimate knowledge of detail. Some non fiction texts, too, require a lot more attention than a mere skim. Skimming will leave minor but important details out.


How to skim read

  • Take note of the title and subtitle of each paragraph.
  • Look at headings or subheadings.
  • Look for the topic sentence of each paragraph.
  • Think like the author of the article.
  • Skip examples.

How to skim read effectively

Still, it is a useful skill to employ when the need really arises. So what are the steps to take to skim read effectively?

Take note of the title and subtitle of each paragraph.

This will give us an idea of what the article is about.

Look at headings or subheadings.

These will tell you a little more about the details in each section of the text. .

Look for the topic sentence of each paragraph.

A topic sentence is usually the main idea of each paragraph, and is usually its first sentence. Occasionally, it may be the last sentence of the paragraph, if the writer is attempting to draw readers to its main point for better emphasis.

The topic sentence usually gives us the main ideas of each paragraph.

Think like the author of the article.

Further put yourself in the author's place.This helps us to anticipate the message the writer is trying to convey in his article. Look at how the author is laying out his material, It better helps you to understand his arguments and line of thinking.

Skip examples.

Examples, on a skim read, can be left aside for when you're ready to explore the article in further depth.

Skim Reading Activities

Which of these would you like to try with your child?

See results

Teaching children to skim read

Skim reading is a skill that can be brought to children in engaging ways. Remind them that these must never take the place of actual reading and should only be used before reading the text in detail.

I Spy Skimming

In a modified version of I Spy, children can be taught to locate words that are related to the text quickly.Have a stopwatch ready and preselect words that are related to the passage.

The fun lies in seeing how many words the child can pick out within a given time frame.

Follow this up by asking the child general questions about what the text could be about. Ensure that the text is not something he could have read earlier.

This technique is good for introducing children to new vocabulary as well.

Story Webs

As an early introduction to mind mapping, children can be taught to create story webs. These help them to determine the main ideas of texts and their supporting details.

Have the child locate the main idea of the text, then the supporting ideas that have to do with it. Write the main idea in the center of a blank sheet of paper, then, as a spider does, 'grow' the web with extensions of collocating ideas that have to do with it.

Story Boards

WIth the help of pictures, illustrate what the text is about. Use stick drawings if necessary, The idea is not to be an artist.

Lay these like a montage on hard bored or, in this digital age, use photo editing software like Adobe or Fotor to create a story board board montage. Remember lay them out in the same order as the circumstances of the text.

Show the story board to the child before letting him read the text. Let him relate what happens.

Then follow up with actual reading for detail.

Use this to stretch the budding artists out there. Children can draw or create their own storyboards.

Scavenger Hunt

Again, preselect words that you want the child to find.These words lead to a "treasure", the main idea of what the text is.

Ask the child to "hunt" for these words within the text within a given time frame. If there are two or more children, this can be turned into a fun challenge.



While it should never take the place of reading for detail, skim reading is also a necessary skill that assists greatly in the understanding of a text.

Original work by Michelle Liew Tsui-Lin All Rights Reserved


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    • midget38 profile imageAUTHOR

      Michelle Liew 

      6 years ago from Singapore

      Thanks, Eddy!

    • Eiddwen profile image


      6 years ago from Wales

      Interesting and very useful Michelle.

      Voted up and shared.


    • midget38 profile imageAUTHOR

      Michelle Liew 

      6 years ago from Singapore

      Reading can be tough to teach to those who didn't have a great language foundation....difficult hurdle for them, Joelle.

    • midget38 profile imageAUTHOR

      Michelle Liew 

      6 years ago from Singapore

      Thanks, Mary.

    • midget38 profile imageAUTHOR

      Michelle Liew 

      6 years ago from Singapore

      Yup, sometimes we've got to adapt to the volume!

    • midget38 profile imageAUTHOR

      Michelle Liew 

      6 years ago from Singapore

      Thanks, Paul!

    • mary615 profile image

      Mary Hyatt 

      6 years ago from Florida

      I agree skim reading is necessary for us busy folks, but should be done with caution. I took a speed reading class years ago, and that has helped me to be able to read very fast.

      Voted UP, etc.

    • dahoglund profile image

      Don A. Hoglund 

      6 years ago from Wisconsin Rapids

      This brings me back to college days, about 1960. I took a course called "Efficient Reading" which was a bit different from the "Speed reading" that was popular at the time. One technique involved searching for particular items or words. It was a method using a psychological principle where the mind would focus on that information and scree out everything else.

      The idea behind the course was to adjust reading speed to the needs of the project, much like your article says.

    • Tom Schumacher profile image

      Tom Schumacher 

      6 years ago from Huntington Beach, CA

      Excellent hub! Personally, I skim read often and employ the technique of focusing on titles, subheadings, and larger words that comprise the body of each sentence as I move through the article, book, etc. But, when studying my approach is quite different and normally involves highlighters, notes in margins, and a very quite and controlled environment. - Voted up.

    • Paul Kuehn profile image

      Paul Richard Kuehn 

      6 years ago from Udorn City, Thailand

      Michelle, This is a very interesting and useful hub. Am I correct in equating skim reading to speed reading. For a blogger, it is a necessity. Thanks for sharing. I am sharing this with followers and on Facebook.

    • midget38 profile imageAUTHOR

      Michelle Liew 

      6 years ago from Singapore

      That's why we should only use it when it's really Shouldn't replace real reading. Thanks, Martie!

    • kidscrafts profile image


      6 years ago from Ottawa, Canada

      I agree with you Michelle. It should never replace real reading, especially because we want to encourage kids to read as much as possible. It's hard enough to encourage some of them! I was lucky that my kids loved reading and still do :-) But I had students who really hated to read. I always tried to encourage them with subject that interested them.

      I used the techniques of story web and story boards with my students but never heard of spy skimming before I read your hub. I am always learning new things :-) I always like the way you cover every subject your develop :-)

      Have a nice day :-)

    • midget38 profile imageAUTHOR

      Michelle Liew 

      6 years ago from Singapore

      Yes, it is. I guess it comes it useful when there is too much material...but it should never, never replace real reading. It's just to get a basic idea of what things are about.

    • midget38 profile imageAUTHOR

      Michelle Liew 

      6 years ago from Singapore

      Thanks, Ebonny.

    • midget38 profile imageAUTHOR

      Michelle Liew 

      6 years ago from Singapore

      Thanks, Audrey.

    • midget38 profile imageAUTHOR

      Michelle Liew 

      6 years ago from Singapore

      Thanks, Kaerlund!

    • carter06 profile image


      6 years ago from Cronulla NSW

      An important skill to have midget as most of us take in a lot of information each interesting read..cheers

    • MartieCoetser profile image

      Martie Coetser 

      6 years ago from South Africa

      Skim reading at the right time and for a specific reason may have more pros than cons, but for me the mere 'con' that I miss important information cancels all 'pros'....

      Oh, and I do spot skimmers of my work via their comments, and I am never sure if my embarrassment is bigger than theirs.

      Excellent hub, midget... as always :)

    • janetwrites profile image

      Janet Giessl 

      6 years ago from Georgia country

      Skim reading is surely a useful skill especially when you have to read a lot. Thank you for sharing this very useful hub.

    • kidscrafts profile image


      6 years ago from Ottawa, Canada

      What an interesting about skim reading, Michelle!

      I like the techniques you propose to teach kids about skim reading but also I like that you mentionned that it should never replace the actual reading. I think it's a great way also to teach kids who have allergies for example to find the ingredient(s) they might react to on packages; they have to find "the word".

      Thank you for sharing and enjoy your weekend :-)

    • aviannovice profile image

      Deb Hirt 

      6 years ago from Stillwater, OK

      Michelle, you are sure right about this being a useful skill. For the is reason, I pick up very few people to follow now, as I really don't want to skim someone's material, especially a poet's. After all, that is what a poem is for--leisurely reading in order to understand. Some people write very deep poetry too, so it would be a disaster to try to skim it.

    • Ebonny profile image


      6 years ago from UK

      Skim reading is indeed a useful skill. Good that you pointed out the disadvantages too. Voted up +

    • AudreyHowitt profile image

      Audrey Howitt 

      6 years ago from California

      There is a skill involved here--i skim if I need the info but don't need depth in the info!

    • midget38 profile imageAUTHOR

      Michelle Liew 

      6 years ago from Singapore

      Thanks, Sheri!

    • midget38 profile imageAUTHOR

      Michelle Liew 

      6 years ago from Singapore

      Thanks, DDE! Yes, it can be frustrating to read thoroughly when we've got lots to read.

    • midget38 profile imageAUTHOR

      Michelle Liew 

      6 years ago from Singapore

      Thanks, Bill!

    • DDE profile image

      Devika Primić 

      6 years ago from Dubrovnik, Croatia

      Skim reading does require a skill and it is a way out to learn of the specific details, you have a well informed hub on skim reading. I skim read when I have loads of emails.

    • Sheri Faye profile image

      Sheri Dusseault 

      6 years ago from Chemainus. BC, Canada

      Great ideas. I skim read all the time as I get sooo many emails. I think we live in a information overload society.

    • billybuc profile image

      Bill Holland 

      6 years ago from Olympia, WA

      Cool exercise. I like the scavenger hunt.

    • kerlund74 profile image


      6 years ago from Sweden

      A great knowledge when you read a lot, like I do:)


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