Steps to Follow in Skimming for the Main Ideas

1. First, read the title of the chapter or selection carefully.  Determine what clues it gives you as to what the selection is about.  Watch for key words like "causes," "results," "effects," etc., and do not overlook signal words such as those suggesting controversy (e.g. "versus," "pros and cons"), which indicate that the author is planning to present both sides of an argument.

2. Look carefully at the headings and other organizational clues. These tip you off to the main points that the author wants you to learn.  You may be accustomed to overlooking boldface headings and titles which are the obvious clues to the most important ideas.  If you concentrate on the details and ignore the main ideas, you will have much more difficulty retaining the information you read.

3. Remember that authors of college textbooks want you to recognize the important concepts.  They use:

  1. Major headings and subheadings to convey major points.
  2. Italicized words and phrases so that crucial new terms and definitions will stand out.
  3. Lists of points set off by numbers or paragraphs that begin with the phrases such as "The three most important factors . . . " etc.
  4. Redundancy or repetition.  By stating and restating the facts and ideas, the author ensures that you will be exposed in different ways to the concepts she feels are the most crucial for you to understand.  She hopes that on at least one of these exposures you will absorb the idea.  Therefore, it is vital that you recognize when an important concept is being restated in slightly different words and when you have completely mastered the idea.
                                                                                                                                                        -Martha Maxwell

©Academic Skills Center - Dartmouth College 2001

Non-Fiction Strategies: 21 Tips for Reading Textbooks (Niagara University)

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