Skills Hub


Skimming and scanning


Scanning the text and skim reading help you get an overview of the text and decide whether it is relevant.


Scanning text

You scan text if you are searching for particular information or checking to see whether a passage is relevant.


• Look for relevant key words in the contents and index pages.
• Run your finger down the page or use the Find function online to search for key words.


Skim reading

This is useful when you want to quickly gain an overview of a text to understand the structure for later note-making.


• Read summaries, headings and subheadings
• Look at tables, diagrams, illustrations etc.
• Read the topic sentence - usually the first sentence - of each paragraph to see what it is about.



Imagine you have been given the essay title below. Decide if the suggested reading is relevant for your essay and, if so, which sections you should read in detail. 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)

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

Next page - Understanding difficult texts