Reading skills: Employing skimming and scanning

A young man employing skimming and scanning while reading
Tochi Juliet


Skimming and scanning are reading techniques that use rapid eye movement and keywords to move quickly through text for slightly different purposes.

Skimming is reading rapidly in order to get a general overview of the material. Scanning is reading rapidly in to find specific facts.

When scanning, the person is looking for a specific piece of information, be it key terms, dates, or times.

When it comes to reading, skimming can save you hours of laborious reading. However, it is not always the most appropriate way to read.

The abilities to skim and scan actually require significant reading skills because of what readers are tasked with accomplishing. To engage in both, the reader must be fluent.

Non-fluent readers will not be able to accomplish this task effectively because they typically struggle with comprehension on some level and cannot read at speeds fast enough to determine essential versus nonessential information.

Needs for Skimming and Scanning

There are several reasons why we skim and scan. These include:

To save time

Skimming can save you hours of laborious reading. However, it is not always the most appropriate way to read. It is instrumental as a preview to a more detailed reading or when reviewing a selection massive in content.

Quick content review

Skimming is useful when you want to survey a text to get a general idea of what it is about.

In skimming, you ignore the details and look for the main ideas. The main ideas are usually found in the first sentences of each paragraph and in the first and last paragraphs. It is also useful to pay attention to the organization of the text when looking for a particular word or phrase.

Let's assume you are looking for a friend's phone number in a telephone book; you need scanning to pick out the specific one you are searching for.

Or when you're in a new restaurant knowing they have your favorite dish but not sure the price is reasonable, you also need to scan along the menu to see it with the price.

Increase reading speed

Reading every word can limit our reading skills. Many situations of spending long hours of laborious reading can't do anything well.

Making best choices

In a situation whereby one has to read multiple choices to choose one answer in a very short time, employing skimming and scanning will help one make the best choice and choose the right answer as it will enable one glance through the options in a short time.

Reading and writing goes hand in hand, image shows a reader with tab and jotting notes

How to Skim

To skim, prepare yourself to move rapidly through the pages. You will not read every word; you will pay special attention to typographical cues: headings, boldface and italic types, indenting, bulleted, and numbered lists.

When skimming, you move your eyes vertically as much as you move your eyes horizontally. In other words, you roll your eyes down the page as much as you move them from side to side.

Examine an article before you read it, you can pinpoint the parts of the article that require your undivided attention and the parts that you can skip.

  1. Read the table of contents or chapter overview to learn the main divisions of ideas.
  2. Glance through the main headings in each chapter just to see a word or two. Read the headings of charts and tables.
  3. 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.
  4. Stop and quickly read the sentences containing keywords indicated in boldface or italics.
  5. 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.
  6. Read chapter summaries when provided.

Note that 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 the following situations:

  • When you skim introductory and concluding paragraphs
  • When you skim topic sentences
  • When you find an unfamiliar word
  • When the material is very 

A young lady engaging in skimming and scanning

How to Scan

Establishing your purpose, locating the appropriate material, and knowing how the information is structured before you start scanning is essential.

Scanning, too, uses keywords and organizational cues. You can now leave out all the rest of the text as you're in search of some specific question-related information.

  1. Know what you're looking for. Decide on a few keywords or phrases–search terms, if you will. You will be a flesh-and-blood search engine.
  2. Look for only one keyword at a time. If you use multiple keywords, do multiple scans.
  3. Let your eyes float rapidly down the page until you find the word or phrase you want.
  4. When your eye catches one of your keywords, read the surrounding material carefully.
  5. Use your fingers when scanning as it will help you in locating specific information.

Scanning looking for a particular point, can involve text highlighting

Skimming and Scanning at the Tertiary level

Skimming and Scanning have been adopted by several universities as a course at the university. The essentiality of this skill has made many school authorities to take it as a full course to enable the students to master the art of speed reading and save time.

At the tertiary level, students are expected to read extensively and to read a vast amount of texts ranging from textbooks, journal articles, Web pages, novels, textbooks, manuals, magazines, newspapers, and the mastering of this skill is of enormous benefit.

Skimming and Scanning will be one of the courses required for first-year students as a general course (GS).

It doesn't depend on the department or field off study as it requires all should master this skill.

Brown (1994) talks about the development and use of different reading strategies for efficient comprehension; he highlights skimming and scanning as being the most valuable for learners.

For Ding, both skimming and Scanning are important for doing well in college English tests, for studies in general and Internet reading.

Cheng (1996) says that skimming and efficient reading for main ideas are important to study skills for learners in the EAP context.

In conclusion, scanning is is a technique that requires concentration and can be surprisingly tiring. You may have to practice at not allowing your attention to wander.

To finally master the techniques of skimming and scanning, you have to speed your time practising again and again.

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