Gist is the overall meaning, the core idea, of a spoken or written discourse. When taking a quick look at a written text to establish its genre and the main message its writer means to get across, we’re reading for gist. This is also known as skimming.
A text can provide readers with lots of clues that help readers quickly establish what it’s about. These needn’t be just the words. A quick glance at the arrangement – densely written columns, for example – can tell us we’re looking at a newspaper article, even when it’s been reproduced in an exam paper. We also look for visuals or any other discrete discourse features to help us make informed predictions.
Reading for gist is all about getting the ideas of the text by skimming it rapidly and ignoring the grammatical words.
Another reading skill often mentioned alongside skimming is scanning. Scanning is our quest for more specific information, such as numbers, names or other easily identifiable data within a text. We do this when, for example, we consult a bus timetable for a specific time or destination.
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