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Starting with law
Starting with law

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Reading for specific information

In a way, reading for specific information is also a form of skim reading, in that you will be scanning a text to find this specific information. This is how my colleague read her letter from the Inland Revenue as she was looking particularly for the date by which she had to respond. However, once you have found the information, you need to read the text very carefully. Legal materials have a precise meaning and missing or misreading even one or two words can make a significant difference to the meaning.

Activity 5 Spot the difference

Timing: Allow about 5 minutes

What is the difference between a law on dangerous dogs that says ‘dogs which bite twice must be destroyed’ and one which says ‘dogs which bite twice may be destroyed’?


The difference between them is one word: must in the first and may in the second. There is no room for debate or mercy in the first law – any dog which bites twice has to be destroyed. In the second law, someone (probably a court) has power to order the destruction of the dog, but can choose not to do so. The difference of one word makes a significant difference to the meaning and operation of the law.

Now you will try an activity where you will read a longer piece for specific information.

Activity 6 Reading for specific information

Timing: Allow about 20 minutes

For this activity you should read Reading 1 [Tip: hold Ctrl and click a link to open it in a new tab. (Hide tip)] , which is an extract from an article called ‘Butts out’, and then answer the questions that follow. To do this you should first read for gist, reading the whole extract through quickly to get a general idea of its content. Then read the questions.

Next, read the article again and highlight the sections of the text that provide the answers. You can then write your answers to the questions. Write each answer as a short sentence rather than a one-word response.


  1. How many people have to use somewhere as a place of work for the ban to apply?
  2. Why is smoking in porches and lobbies banned?
  3. Ben and Simon share a van for their sandwich delivery business and each drive it on different days of the week. Is Simon allowed to smoke in the van?
  4. Sally employs three people in her dressmaking workshop. Does she need to display a no smoking sign? If so, what size should the sign be?
  5. If a person is caught smoking in a smoke-free place and issued with a fixed penalty notice, how much will they have to pay if they pay within five days from the issue of the notice?
  6. Who is responsible for enforcing the smoking ban?
  7. What effect does the government hope the enforcement of the ban will have?


The article is about the impact of the ban on smoking in all enclosed public places, which came into force in England in July 2007.

Our answers to the questions were:

  1. More than one person must use the premises as a place of work for the ban to apply.
  2. Smoking in porches and lobbies is banned because they are areas that are ‘substantially enclosed’.
  3. Simon is not allowed to smoke in the van, because the van is used for work by two people, even though they use it on different days.
  4. As Sally’s workshop is used as a place of work by more than one person, she must display a sign of at least A5 size.
  5. The person would have to pay £30.
  6. Local authorities are responsible for enforcing the ban.
  7. The government hopes that enforcement will raise awareness of the smoking ban.

In this activity, although you were reading to find specific information, you were also interpreting the text. Interpretation is a particularly important legal skill that you would develop over time if you undertook further legal study. In answering Questions 3 and 4 about the sandwich delivery business and the dressmaking workshop, you were interpreting the text to work out an answer.