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Starting with law
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Reading for gist or substance

In reading for gist, you are reading to understand what a text is about in general and to discover the central idea or theme of the text. Here you will quickly skim read the text to find out what it is about. You may not read or understand every word.

Activity 4 Reading for gist

Timing: Allow about 20 minutes

To practise reading for gist, skim read the following two pieces of text to see how quickly you can understand what each text is about.

Troubled Brits keep stiff upper lip

The British are over four times more likely to first turn to their family, friends, acquaintances or nobody to discuss financial or debt worries than they are to seek professional advice, a survey reveals.

The study from Community Legal Service Direct shows that the British stiff upper lip is alive and well, with only 18% with cash worries saying they would first turn to professionals for advice.

The main reasons revealed in the research for not turning to professionals for advice on financial or debt matters was that it costs too much (42%), that they are strangers (41%), while 40% of respondents felt they couldn’t be trusted.

Most people (69%) would rather deal with a financial problem themselves than turn to others. When they do, over half of those with financial worries (54%) ask family, friends or acquaintances for advice first. One in five (18%) have turned to their hairdresser, pub landlord, taxi driver or religious leader to discuss their money problems.

Of those polled, only 47% of those who sought financial advice – including from acquaintances – felt that they were given some good tips. Almost one in five (19%) said their source of advice on financial or debt worries was unhelpful.

With Britain’s personal debt increasing by £1m every four minutes and 330 people being made insolvent in the UK every day, John Sirodcar, head of Community Legal Service Direct, says it’s worrying that people, especially the most vulnerable, are not getting the financial and legal advice they need.

‘While it’s natural for people to look to those they know to give them advice, well intentioned as it may be, this is clearly not always going to be the best advice,’ he says.

(Booth, 2007c, p. 1211)

Cowboy builders in for rough ride

Plans to crack down on cowboy builders by boosting powers for local authorities to tackle illegal or botched construction have been announced by the government.

Under the Building Act 1984, s35, authorities only have six months from completion of non-compliant work to bring a prosecution for breaches of building regulations – proposals in the consultation paper would increase this to two years. Within this period, a prosecution can be brought within six months of discovery of sufficient evidence to prosecute.

Authorities say the extra time is needed to make enforcement more effective, given that defects may not become immediately apparent.

Iain Wright, communities and local government minister, says: ‘It is not right that those committing serious breaches and avoiding justified enforcement action are putting themselves and others at health and safety risk.’

The consultation paper stresses that prosecution is aimed at flagrant, wilful or repeated non-compliance, not one-off minor failures. No additional burdens or risk of prosecution will be imposed on those who comply with building regulation requirements, the government says.

The consultation, Longer Time Limits for Prosecution of Breaches of Building Regulations, can be found at and runs until 23 October 2007.

(Booth, 2007b, p. 1130)


Although both of these texts might have included terms or phrases that you did not understand, we hope that you have understood what they are both about. Even though both contain detailed information, with the first, in particular, containing figures and percentages, when reading for gist you would not be concerned with this detail. You just need to uncover the main ideas. We summarised these as:

  1. ‘Troubled Brits keep stiff upper lip’ is about how people seek advice for financial problems from friends and family and expresses concern that this might not always provide the best advice.
  2. ‘Cowboy builders in for rough ride’ is about plans to give local authorities greater powers to deal with illegal or badly constructed buildings.