How To... Develop your Reading Skills

Methods of reading

We all use several reading approaches depending on what we want to know.
Here’s a note of some reading methods.

Reading method   What is it? What is the purpose?
Detailed reading Reading the whole text
carefully and thoughtfully –
but not necessarily slowly
Reading for enjoyment

Reading at whatever pace suits you

Skimming Finding out what a chapter
or a book is mainly about
General impression
Scanning Looking for specific detail
by running your eye down
the page quickly
Fact finding
Detecting bias Some written work is
aiming to be persuasive
e.g., adverts, political
leaflets etc. – you need to
separate fact from opinion
Make up your own
Critical reading Slower reading to assess
the content of a document,
or for taking notes
Analyse information or
for note taking

Skimming is a method of reading where you skim a page or chapter of a book
or magazine to get an idea of what it’s about.
You don’t read every word on the page, just:

  • Title of the book/magazine and any sub-headings
  • First sentence from each paragraph or the first paragraph of the chapter
  • Last sentence from each paragraph or the last paragraph of the chapter
  • If the chapter has a summary, read it first
  • Have a look at any diagrams, graphs, or charts – a picture has instant
  • Look out for words in bold or italics – this often indicates important
    keywords or ideas, so read the paragraph around these words

Scanning is a method of quickly reading a page to find a specific piece of
information you need. You don’t need to read every word; just run your eye
over the page looking for your keyword. Once you’ve spotted it, read that
paragraph closely to get the information you need.
You will use a combination of skimming and scanning when researching for
essays and course work.

Speed Reading

It takes practice to get faster in reading. One way to do this is by making your
eyes move forward, allowing them to stop only four, three or two times, as you
get faster along each line. Do not allow your eyes to go back to words you
have read.
Another way to increase your speed in reading is to vary the speed. Like
driving a car, which is in different gears, read slowly and speed up, then slow
again. It stimulates your mind so that you are more attentive.
You could also try using a pencil or finger and hold it over the page. You then
let your eye follow the pencil or finger as you move it down the middle of the
page. Your eye will “chunk” the information either side of the “point” as you
move downwards. This expands the amount of text you see as opposed to
when you are reading in the standard fashion from left to right. The effect is to
give you the gist of what’s on the page, quickly.

SQ3R (Survey, Question, Read, Recall, Review)

This is a 5-stage active reading technique which can help you get the best
out of your reading and improve the quality of your study time. Following
the 5 stages will help you to separate important information from irrelevant

Survey This combines skimming and scanning a document. Survey
the document: scan the contents, introduction, chapter
introductions and summaries etc. Decide if this will give you
the information you want – if not, don’t spend any more time
on this.
Question Once you’ve carried out your survey, make a note of any
questions on the subject. Setting questions will help you to
structure the information in your own mind.

Read through the useful sections, taking care to understand
all the relevant points. Take your time as it is important to December 2022 understand the information – it may help to take notes at this

Recall Once you have read the relevant sections, think it over and try to identify the core facts or the essential information
behind the subject.
Review You can review the information by rereading the document, by expanding your notes, or by discussing the material with others.
Reading Critically

Whenever you read a text, you should always be asking yourself if it provides
the answers to your questions – Who? Why? What? Where?
You must also ask questions about the content:

  • Does the author supply evidence to back their views?
  • Is there any information missing in the argument?
  • Is the information up to date?
  • Is the focus too narrow or too broad?
  • Is the author certain of their facts, or do they use words such as could,
    might or most?
  • Are the author’s views contradicted in other sources? And if so, is this
    expected or from lack of information?
Key Points
  • Adjust your reading speed depending on the kind of text or your purpose
    for reading.
  • Keep a dictionary nearby to look up terms you don’t understand as you go
  • If you don’t have a dictionary to hand, look for clues in the earlier part of
    the text or later to see if this helps make an idea or term clearer.
  • Don’t worry if you can’t remember everything; write some things down to
    remind you.
  • The more you read – whether it’s a book or just a poster on a bus – the
    more it will help improve your reading skills.
    When reading for study, always remember the essay question and look for
    answers to the ‘Who? Why? What? Where?’ questions to answer your