The Active Skim: Efficient Reading as a Moral Challenge in Postgraduate Education

Hannah Wohl, Gary Alan Fine*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

2 Scopus citations


Faculty and students recognize that to succeed in graduate school, the ability to read efficiently and with comprehension is crucial. Students must be able to process information newly presented to them, even when that information seems overwhelming. Comprehending, discussing, and utilizing relevant texts are central to the production of scholars. But what constitutes appropriate techniques of reading, when does one employ various strategies, and for what purposes? In a world in which more is assigned than can reasonably be processed, what constitutes a legitimate practice? In this conversation essay, we discuss the role of skimming, building upon an interview study of 36 social science graduate students in history, economics, and sociology. We ask what students believe about the necessity and appropriateness of skimming, how they honed their skills, and what constitutes normative standards. We treat skimming as a form of “legitimate deviance,” necessary for occupational survival but a strategy that is potentially a challenge to an academic self-image. Students learn techniques that allow them to read rapidly and recall information for later use, but the appropriate use of these techniques is rarely discussed openly in graduate training.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)220-227
Number of pages8
JournalTeaching Sociology
Issue number3
StatePublished - Jul 1 2017


  • classroom-based exercises
  • critical thinking (skills)
  • professionalization of students
  • reading
  • sociology curriculum

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Education
  • Sociology and Political Science

Fingerprint Dive into the research topics of 'The Active Skim: Efficient Reading as a Moral Challenge in Postgraduate Education'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

  • Cite this