Skills Hub

Skimming and scanning

General Principles:

This is a vital initial step to help you get an overview of the text and decide whether it is relevant. Try scanning the text and skim reading, it should only take a few minutes and will allow you to quickly discard any texts that are not relevant:

Scanning text is what you do when you are searching for particular information, or checking to see whether a passage is relevant. To decide if a text is relevant you would use scanning to look for relevant key words in the contents and index pages.

  • Run your finger down the page to keep your eyes focusing on the search for key words.

Skim reading is useful when you want to quickly gain an overview or familiarise yourself with a chapter or an article to understand the structure for later note-making.

  • Do read summaries, heading and subheadings.
  • Look at tables, diagrams, illustrations, etc.
  • Read first sentences of paragraphs to see what they are about.
  • Don't read every word.

Skim reading is useful when you want to get an overview of a text. However if you want to learn what is in the text, you need to follow the argument and that requires slowing down and taking it bit by bit.


This activity will help you practise skim reading and scanning. Imagine you have been given the essay title below. You need to decide if the suggested reading is relevant for your essay and if so which sections you would need to read in more detail. You can use the scanned in pages from the book to help you decide.

Essay title: Is capitalism the cause of or solution to environmental problems?

Suggested reading: Ecology and Society: An Introduction [pdf 19.4 MB] by Luke Martell (Professor of Political Sociology at the University of Sussex)

This text is available in pdf format, to be read via Adobe's Acrobat Reader. If this does not download automatically, please download Acrobat Reader free of charge.

Take a look at our example of using skimming and scanning

This book could be a useful text to read to answer the question. Take a look at how we identified this text using skimming and scanning.

We looked for key words in the contents and index (e.g. in the index you will find: 'capitalism' and 'compatibility with solving environmental problems'). In this case you will see that most entries are single pages. The longest section is 10 pages from 62-72.

Sample index section with capitalism highlighted

We briefly skim read the first two single entry pages, which were in the introduction. Doing this we identified the relevant section shown below. This guided us to chapter two, which was also identified in the index (pages 62-72)

Highlighted section from the introduction of the book indicating the chapter of interest

Having been guided there by the introduction, and the index we quickly looked at chapter 2. We looked at the headings and subheadings.

Highlighted section headings in the identified chapter

Highlighted section headings in the identified chapter

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