Types of reading – part 1


There are many myths about reading, they include:

  • Word for word reading always helps comprehension
  • You should always try to remember 100% of what you have read
  • Reading with a pointer (like your finger) is an unsophisticated technique and invariably slows you down or shows you are poor at reading
  • Reading slowly is the only way to fully understand.

None of these are true – in fact, the opposite is true in all cases.

There are many techniques that you can use to develop your reading style and the way you read should be chosen to suit the task. Let us take a look at some types of reading.

Rapid survey

This is also known as “previewing”. You begin by checking what you are reading – a rapid glance is all that it entails. You give yourself quick answers to the following questions:

  • Is it what I need? 
  • Is it up to date? 
  • Is it right for the task? 
  • Are all the contents relevant – or only some? 


Sampling requires you to examine the contents of what you are reading in slightly more depth than rapid survey. So typically, you would look at the introduction and headings of the material, skim over the content of each and establish in your mind the:

  • Relevance of the content
  • Usefulness of the content
  • Suitability of the content

Skim reading

This technique is used to gain a general overview of a subject. The idea of skim reading is to end up with a high-level picture of what the materials are all about. It requires you to glance over the content, get a feel or a flavour for it and extract key points.


In contrast to skim reading, which is about acquiring a general idea of a subject, scanning is a means of obtaining information about a specific subject. This technique is very much about being single-minded. It is best illustrated by using an example.

Let us imagine you are tracing your family tree and you need to find the name of your great grandparents on the census reports. You will look first for the relevant date period and then the relevant district. You will then scroll through the various lists of names until you see your own family name.

You have eliminated all the other information on the census page because it is not relevant to you. You have homed in on the entry you need.

If you had been skim reading the census report, you would, by contrast, have been aiming to get a general feel for the way the report is structured and recorded, the different street names and family names, rather than simply your own.