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Skimming for Main Ideas

Skimming for Main Ideas

Author: Sydney Bauer

This lesson explains how to scan a question for the main idea.

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Skimming Passage and Questions for Main Ideas


Skimming for Main Ideas

When you are skimming questions and passages for main ideas, you’ll be on the hunt for specific words that will help you understand the passage and answering the questions. Remember to focus on nouns and verbs when you are skimming.


When you’re skimming questions you’ll be looking for two types of words: content and process words.

  • Content words tell you what you’re looking for.
    • For example, the content words are highlighted in bold in the following question: According to the reading passage, why was Giovanni avoiding Baglioni?
    • You’ll then want to skim through the reading passage looking for any mention of Giovanni avoiding Baglioni.
  • Process words tell you what you’ll need to do with the content.
    • For example, the process words are italicized in the following question: According to the reading passage, why was Giovanni avoiding Baglioni?
    • You’ll want to think about Giovanni’s interactions with Baglioni and then explain why Giovanni is avoiding him.
  • Ask yourself “what does this question want me to do?”



Before you skim the reading passage looking for the main ideas

  • You’ll want to first look at the title of the reading passage because titles can often be a clue as to the overall topic of a piece of writing (knowing the topic will help locate any related words or concepts)
  • You’ll also want to read any introductory information that is included: it might tell you where the reading passage is from (a novel, textbook, article from a magazine or newspaper), or it might give you information about the author
    • This information will help guide you as you skim the passage



As you skim the passage

  • Focus on the nouns and verbs that are related to the main topic of the passage
  • Look for transitional words that connect the main ideas
  • It might be helpful to read the first and last sentences of each paragraph. The first sentence is usually the topic sentence, and the final sentence usually acts as a transition between paragraphs and ideas. 

skimming passages and questions for main ideas