Skimming and scanning
Skimming is like snorkeling
Skimming is reading rapidly in order to get a general overview of the material. Scanning is reading rapidly in order to find specific facts. While skimming tells you what general information is within a section, scanning helps you locate a particular fact. Skimming is like snorkeling, and scanning is more like pearl diving.
Use skimming in:
- previewing (reading before you read),
- reviewing (reading after you read).
To skim, prepare yourself to move rapidly through the pages. You will not read every word. Pay special attention to typographical cues -headings, boldface and italic type, indenting, bulleted and numbered lists. You will be alert for key words and phrases, the names of people and places, dates, nouns, and unfamiliar words.
In general follow these steps:
- Glance through the main headings in each chapter just to see a word or two. Read the headings of charts and tables.
- Read the entire introductory paragraph and then the first and last sentence only of each following paragraph. For each paragraph, read only the first few words of each sentence or to locate the main idea.
- Stop and quickly read the sentences containing keywords indicated in boldface or italics.
- When you think you have found something significant, stop to read the entire sentence to make sure. Then go on the same way. Resist the temptation to stop to read details you don’t need.
- Read chapter summaries when provided.
Good skimmers do not skim everything at the same rate or give equal attention to everything. While skimming is always faster than your normal reading speed, you should slow down in:
- introductory and concluding paragraphs;
- topic sentences;
- unfamiliar word;
- very complicated material.
Scanning is like pearl diving
Scanning, too, uses keywords and organizational cues. But while the goal of skimming is a bird’s-eye view of the material, the goal of scanning is to locate and swoop down on particular facts.
Facts may be buried within long text passages that have relatively little else to do with your topic or claim.
Go ahead and scan:
- Know what you’re looking for. Decide on a few key words or phrases –search terms. You will be a flesh-and-blood search engine.
- Look for only one keyword at a time. If you use multiple keywords, do multiple scans.
- Let your eyes float rapidly down the page until you find the word or phrase you want.
- When your eye catches one of your keywords, read the surrounding material carefully.
If you are scanning for facts to answer a specific question, one step is already done for you: the question itself supplies the keywords. Follow these steps:
- Read each question completely before starting to scan. Choose your keywords from the question itself.
- Look for answers to only one question at a time. Scan separately for each question.
- When you locate a keyword, read the surrounding text carefully to see if it is relevant.
- Re-read the question to determine if the answer you found answers this question.
Scanning is a technique that requires concentration and can be surprisingly tiring. You may have to practice at not allowing your attention to wander. Choose a time and place that you know works for you and dive in.