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English: skills for learning
English: skills for learning

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3.1 Skimming the text

This reading strategy consists of reading the text quickly in order to find out what it is about and how it is organised. This can be done by reading its introduction as this is likely to briefly say what the text will be about. Titles, headings and subheadings also need to be read because they introduce the text and its sections and subsections. Visual representations of the content, such as images, diagrams and tables, can be used for the same purpose.

Finally, it is also very useful to read the first sentence of each paragraph. This sentence, which is called the topic sentence, is normally the first sentence of each paragraph and announces its topic.

Therefore, to quickly obtain information about the text, you can:

  • read the title, the introduction, any headings and subheadings, and the conclusion
  • read the first sentence of each paragraph (the topic sentence)
  • read the concluding sentence of each paragraph
  • read the words highlighted in bold
  • look at illustrations (pictures, diagrams, tables).

As texts differ, you may not be able to follow all these strategies all of the time when skimming a text. For example, not all texts have illustrations or headings, and some short texts and extracts may not end with a conclusion.

To practise skim reading you are going to read a text taken from the Open University course KG004 Improving health and wellbeing. Download [Tip: hold Ctrl and click a link to open it in a new tab. (Hide tip)]   the text now.

Activity 7

Timing: Allow approximately 10 minutes

Read only the introductory paragraph, the headings and the topic sentence of each paragraph. Then answer the questions that follow. I recommend printing out this text as you will refer to it again while working through the next few activities.

Question 1

Having skim read the text you should now have an overview of the information it contains. To see if you have, try to match the following statements to the paragraphs in which they were mentioned.

Using the following two lists, match each numbered item with the correct letter.

  1. Paragraph 5

  2. Paragraph 2

  3. Paragraph 6

  4. Paragraph 7

  5. Paragraph 3

  6. Paragraph 4

  • a.Under-nutrition in rich and poor countries

  • b.Definition of type 2 diabetes

  • c.Over-nutrition in rich and poor countries

  • d.Negative effects of eating highly nutritious foods

  • e.Causes of under-nutrition

  • f.Effects of low calorie diets in children

The correct answers are:
  • 1 = c
  • 2 = a
  • 3 = d
  • 4 = b
  • 5 = f
  • 6 = e

Question 2

Having skim read the text, which of the following headings best describes the topic of the whole text?

  1. Health issues in developing countries
  2. Forms of malnutrition
  3. Solutions to malnutrition


The correct answer is 2. Forms of malnutrition. The text is about the two forms of malnutrition: under-nutrition and over-nutrition.

Incorrect answers

  1. Health issues in developing countries.

    The text is not about health issues in general, but more specifically about nutrition. It considers malnutrition in both developing and developed countries.

  1. Solutions to malnutrition.

    None of the headings or the topic sentences mentions solutions. The introduction mentions the two forms of malnutrition and their effects.

Through skim reading you have learned a quick way to discover what the text is about and how it is organised. This information will help you decide what to read: all the text or only some sections. You will also be able to decide how you want to read the text.