Learn English skills

Reading skills

What things do we read?

Newspapers, advertisements (ads, adverts), books, reports, timetables, web pages, e-mails and many other things. When we are reading books, such as Harry Potter, we are reading for pleasure or enjoyment. If you are not reading for pleasure reading skills are very important especially if you don’t have much time. Whether you are reading a very long sales report, but are only looking for the sales of one product, reading for a university assignment, or looking for the train departure time from a specific station on a timetable, the information you read leads to a result or fulfils the reason for reading it.

Skimming and scanning

Carefully reading every word in a text could take a long time. To find the information we are looking for quickly we can use a techniques called skimming and scanning. Skimming is reading a text quickly, but not trying to understand every word. The first thing to do is ask a question to be answered by the text. A question for reading a sales report might be, ‘How many red Toyota cars were sold between 2007 and 2009?’. Asking a question helps you to find what you want.

Many texts help you by introducing the topic for each paragraph. These are called topic sentences. Topic sentences are useful, because you can read them and decide whether the paragraph matches what you are looking for. You can also look for key words, words you think you will help to answer your question. For our question about Toyota cars, above, some key words might be: red, Toyota, year(s), sold, sales, cars. These keywords are colours, manufacturers, dates, numbers and objects (things).

When you find the paragraph or key word(s) that match your question, you can scan that part of the text to find the specific details. Scanning is reading for specific information, the information we need. When we scan, we do want to understand everything.

So, we skim the text to find where the information we want might be in a text and then scan that part of the text to check.


It might help you to make predictions about what will be in a text before you read it. You could get an old magazine or newspaper, read the headline to the story or look at the picture and think about what the story or topic might be. After that you can make a list of key words that might be in the text. Read the text to check if your predictions were right.

Reading a report Reading a newspaper Reading for pleasure

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