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Reading and note taking – preparation for study
Reading and note taking – preparation for study

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2.2 Reading techniques: skimming

You might want to find information about the effectiveness of the child curfew scheme in Hamilton but be less interested in some of the other issues that are raised in The Scotsman piece. One way of extracting this kind of specific information is to skim the article for key words – such as ‘research’ – and statistics which may give you evidence of the effectiveness or otherwise of the scheme. This method is also especially useful when you are searching for something particular that you have previously read but cannot remember exactly where it is located.

Activity 3

Have a go at skimming The Scotsman article for key words such as ‘research’ and any statistical evidence that may be presented. You will find our feedback and comments noted in the "Now read the discussion" link beneath the article. Try not to read these until you have completed the activity.

Hamilton child safety curfew to be extended

Calls for scheme to go national, despite rise in crime on estates where trial held

Jim Wilson

The expansion of the so-called child curfew in Hamilton was announced yesterday as the Government called for the controversial scheme to be copied across Scotland.

The operation will now cover the whole of the Lanarkshire town, despite official research suggesting that crime rose in the three housing estates where it was launched a year ago.

The extension of the initiative, in which children out after dark are taken home, was announced as Strathclyde Police and the Scottish Office released analysis suggesting the community patrols have overwhelming support in the town.

Opinion polls in Hamilton, including one run by a local newspaper, revealed more than 90 per cent backing for the curfew, although more than half of all children thought police did not understand youngsters and stopped them for no reason.

Yesterday, the Scottish Office urged the other seven Scottish forces to copy the curfew, despite critics claiming the operation is unnecessary and heavy-handed.

No other Scottish force has voiced any interest in adopting a similar strategy but Henry McLeish, the Scottish Office home affairs minister, said every town and city could benefit. He said chief constables must decide their own operational strategies, but the success of the initiative in Hamilton could not be questioned and promised to send the new analysis to every force and police board.

‘I would be delighted to see this initiative copied and developed elsewhere,’ he said.

‘This should be the start of a huge debate about how best to reclaim our communities for decent, ordinary people.’

Research, commissioned by the Government and carried out by Stirling University, looked at the first six months of the operation, October 1997 to April 1998, and revealed that reported crime in the chosen estates fell by 23 per cent compared with the previous six months.

However, researchers concede seasonal trends meant more crimes are committed in summer and, when compared with the same six months of the year before, reported crime actually rose on the estates of White-hill, Hillhouse, and Fairhill, by 17 per cent.

In addition, a survey in Hillhouse revealed that, while 44 per cent of people felt safer since the curfew was launched, a rising number of residents, 84 per cent, would not now enter certain areas of the estate.

Critics claim police should already be protecting very young children and Save the Children in Scotland fears the rights of young people could be violated. Yesterday, the charity's director, Alison Davies, said the research demanded careful scrutiny. ‘The figures and factors underpinning the research must be studied closely’.

The Government is keen for the Hamilton scheme to be a template for adoption by forces across Britain, but John Orr, the Strathclyde chief constable, conceded the research was not wholly supportive.

He stressed, however, that complaints to the police had fallen by 20 per cent in the pilot areas while the initiative, which will be continued as a pilot project for another year, had won backing from parents, children, and traders.

He said the scheme had been misrepresented as a curfew intended to reduce crime, but had instead been driven by the need to protect vulnerable children and encourage their parents to take more responsibility.

He said: ‘The suggestion that officers are going around like dog-catchers snatching children off the streets is simply wrong. There has not been a single complaint about the initiative and it has clearly been given the community's seal of approval.’

Mr Orr said the number of community officers involved in the expanded initiative would have to be doubled, possibly trebled, from the two teams of six currently involved.

A total of 280 children have been returned home over the past year. Five were charged with offences. Seventy per cent were boys, 14 per cent were aged under eight years old, and almost ten per cent were drunk. Sixty-one children have been taken home in the last six months compared with 221 in the first half of the trial, and officers believe the reduction indicates that more parents are taking responsibility for their children.

Allan Miller, the director of the Scottish Centre for Human Rights, said there was legitimate scepticism concerning crime figures and claimed the research proved only that treating all youngsters as potential criminals is not the answer. He said ‘The statistics on crime complaints and safety perceptions are mixed if looked at on the whole. For the police, the lesson should be to listen to and understand young people and to recognise their needs and rights.’

Mr Miller said 77 per cent of the children taken home by police were aged 12 to 15 and had done nothing wrong. He said it was significant the scheme had been renamed since being launched to include the protection of youngsters.

Meanwhile, South Lanarkshire Council yesterday announced the opening of a new £3 million centre for young people as part of the increased provision of youth facilities.

Source: The Scotsman, 16 October 1998


In skimming the article for this more specific information using the word ‘research’, we identified one or two particularly informative sections, each with a rather different focus:

  • The section on the Stirling University study (paragraphs 9–11)

  • The section on research which sought to illustrate the false thrust of the schemes approach (3rd paragraph from the end)

Skimming for figures or statistics generated a couple more relevant sections, though these had a different focus again:

  • The section on local public support (paragraph 4)

  • The section on police complaints (paragraph 14)

Again, you might have pinpointed different sections of the article, but the main thing is that you were able to use this technique in order to identify more specific information than had been possible using the scanning approach.

Both skimming and scanning generate different kinds of information and can thus be used when you have rather different purposes in mind. However, what they have in common is that they do help you to get an in-depth, more detailed understanding of the article as a whole. A third technique – focused reading – is more useful for this purpose. This is a slower method of reading as it takes the material bit by bit and allows time for active thinking, whereby you begin to process the information presented, and perhaps even jotting down a few notes or questions raised by the material. It enables you to follow the argument more closely and really get to grips with the key ideas and concepts as well as the evidence that is presented. Focused reading is therefore a more intensive approach than either skimming or scanning. As such, it is more fruitful to engage in short bursts of it, when your levels of concentration are high. Indeed, one useful method you might try involves combining the three techniques, perhaps scanning the text first and maybe even skimming for more detailed, focused information which you can mark for future use, before going on to re-read the piece in a more focused way later.