Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Text Skimming: The Process and Effectiveness of Foraging Through Text Under Time Pressure

In the article Geoffrey Duggan and Stephen Payne conducted a series of experiments where test subject were given a text to read.  The goal of the experiment was to determine if skimming under time pressure improved memory of the facts of the text and improved comprehension.

The authors conducted two experiments.  In the first experiment all participants received either the first or second half of a 3,000 word text and were asked to read through at their normal reading speed.  The time available was set to an underestimate of the time required to read half the text at normal rates.  The goal was to not give the readers any spare time.   The authors found that readers correctly recognized more of the important sentences after skimming the text than after reading linearly through the text at a normal pace.  However, skimming, relative, to reading at normal speed, did not improve the understanding unimportant sentences from the text.  This likely suggests that skimmers successfully skipped over less important parts of the text.

In the second experiment readers were given access to either the first half or the second half of every paragraph in the text.  Because they read paragraphs in halves the readers in these conditions will likely lose some of the text’s coherence cues.  This experiment also used eye tracking to record finer grain information about the readers’ strategies.  This experiment found no support for the idea that reading the first halves of paragraphs would be more effective than reading the second halves.  Instead, in both half paragraph conditions, memory for meaning was not significantly worse.
The outcome of Duggan and Payne’s research indicates when readers have a limited amount of time, they are indeed able to gain a greater understanding of a text by skimming rather than by reading linearly through an imposed half of the text.  Skimming did not reliably aid memory for less important details, nor did it facilitate inferences about information from the text.  However, skimming did allow improved memory for the text’s most important ideas, relative to reading parts of texts.

Duggan, G., & Payne, S. (2009). Text skimming: The process and effectiveness of foraging through text under time pressure. Journal of Experimental Psychology: Applied, 15(3), 228-242. doi: Accession Number: xap-15-3-228


  1. I think the element of time pressure is highly applicable to our field. With the amount of material we must forage through for specific bits of information, we as analysts are under a constant time pressure.

  2. I agree with Shawn about this topics ability to apply to our field as well as academia with the amount of required reading.