In one of my reading posts, I have mentioned that you don’t really have to read a book or a newspaper article word by word. Purposeful readers use the techniques of skimming and scanning, which allow them to get a quick idea of what the writer is talking (writing) about and to wrest out the key points of the text.
Let us now examine the major differences between skimming and scanning.
What is Skimming?
I skim through mounds of text whenever I am researching for articles that clients want real fast. My eyes move from the first paragraph to the last, looking for the most important points. I don’t understand the entire text when I skim, and I don’t have to as I am looking for only specific information for my articles.
How to Skim
While skimming, you have to keep the following points in mind.
Understand that all good writers tell you exactly what they are going to write about in the very first paragraph. So read that really well to get an idea of what the article is all about. In case of a book, you might have to read the first one or two chapters. You don’t have to continue with the book or article if the first chapter or paragraph clearly tells you that it doesn’t contain the information you are looking for.
Now is the time to skim through the paragraphs. Read the first sentence of the paragraph properly as it gives you a summary of the entire paragraph. Now just glance through the rest of the paragraph and grab hold of information, phrases, words, and points that might be of help to you.
So Why Should You Skim?
Aren’t you being … er … lazy? Shouldn’t you read all that word by word to get a “thorough” understanding?
Imagine you are a college student who has been asked to present a report on Topic A in the next couple of days. You rush to the library and find several newspaper and magazine articles and books on Topic A. You can’t possibly read all that in two days. It could take you months or years. This is where skimming can save your life and your grades.
Don’t read all that, skim through it. Wrest out the important points from the text by moving your eyes systematically over it, without actually reading every word, but without really leaving anything unseen either.
This is the secret of all those whiz kids who prepare for their exams really fast.
And what is Scanning?
When you are scanning, you are looking for a small bit of information. For example, I scan whenever I want to know the date of launch of a particular casino. I just input the phrase “Casino XXX launched on” in the Google search field and scan through the first few search results. I look for a date and click open only the search result that displays a date. I don’t bother with the rest.
A person who wants to scan should know what exactly s/he wants to know, the method of locating the information, and knowledge of how the information is structured.
For example, if you are looking for a word in the dictionary, you should know that all the words in there are arranged in alphabetic order. If you want to know the timings of a particular train, you should know how the train time table is structured. If you are looking for an item in an online store, the knowledge that it is arranged in categories will be of great help to you. In some cases, that little bit of information you are looking for will be hidden away in a paragraph in the Wikipedia or some other encyclopaedia.
When you scan, you run your finger down a list of words, numbers, titles, or blocks of text. The best human scanners also use their peripheral vision to absorb the information above, below, and on the sides of their finger as it rapidly moves down the mass of text.
Hey, you can’t possibly read it all and you don’t need to read it all. You can get hold the exact information you are looking by skimming and scanning if only you know exactly what you want to know and are determined to get hold of it really fast.