Scanning and Skimming

The two powerful rapid-reading strategies you can use are scanning and skimming. By using them in appropriate situations, you can get your information efficiently and effectively.


Why use it?

Scanning is a strategy that you can use when you need to get specific information. You go back and forth through the different parts or sections of the material in order to find the necessary information.

When to use it?

Scanning is an important tool when you need to research for topics, ideas, and titles of reading materials in libraries and bookshops. You don’t want to waste your time going from one bookshelf to another when you have already a general idea of what to look for. In the same manner, you want to make sure that the book you want to borrow contains the specific information you need.

Scanning is also useful when a teacher gives a set of questions to answer. While you may want to read the whole chapter to have an idea of the lesson, if the immediate task calls for you to answer the questions, then your priority is to get the needed information first. You can just read the whole chapter when you have extra time.

Using scanning in test is also effective. You need to realize that reading during tests is different from other reading situations. In reality, you need both scanning and skimming skills during reading tests. The function of scanning is to quickly identify what is being asked. Once you know the questions, you can already start looking for answers. You don’t even have to read the passage from the start.

How to use it?

  1. Identify what you need to look for. Read carefully the instructions, questions, or details you need before you start scanning. Make sure the information you need to scan is clear and complete.
  2. Quickly check clues that can lead you to your answer. Look for similar words or ideas or headings that can be associated to what you are looking for.
  3. Move back and forth through the material. Your objective is to read quickly but don’t hesitate to slow down a bit if you think you need to read some parts to find what you are looking for.




Why use it?

Skimming is a strategy that you can use when you need to get the main idea. It is a super-speed technique that you can use to read selected parts of the texts.


When to use it?

Skimming is effective when you want to preview an unknown book or materials in the library or bookshop. Unlike when you know what you are looking for, skimming helps you asses a material even if you don’t have a specific idea or purpose in mind. You can predict the content using this strategy by reading the synopsis or the table of contents. Afterwards, you can decide if you want it or not.

In reading tests, skimming is also valuable. You usually should skim through instructions, questions and passages in order to get a preview of what to expect. Together with scanning, you can save a lot of time.


How to use it?

  1. Preview the text by reading the title and the introduction. Usually, the introduction has a stated thesis statement.
  2. Check if there are headings and sub-headings.
  3. Read the first paragraph and the first sentence of each succeeding paragraphs.
  4. Quickly check key words in the paragraph. Sometimes they are highlighted or underlined.
  5. Read the last paragraph. This usually summarizes the main points.
  6. If you feel that the paragraph contains important that answers what, why, when, how and who, read it entirely.



These two techniques also have their own limitations. They are exactly useful when you want to go in-depth in a text or when you want to read for pleasure. But they are initial tools you can use to become more efficient in your reading.