Learning What Skimming and Scanning Are

Could you explain the difference between skimming and scanning? -- Confused Student

Answer: Skimming and scanning are two very different reading techniques. Both, however, are very important in being able to locate information quickly.

Skimming helps you get a general overview. When you are skimming material, you look quickly over the information on printed pages. You definitely do not read all of the material. This involves training yourself to look for headings, highlighted material, material in bold-faced type and topic sentences. You also should glance at charts, graphs and pictures when looking at nonfiction.

You should use skimming to get an idea of what is covered in a new reading assignment. It is also helpful in deciding whether you might like to read a book for a report or for pleasure. If you find nothing to interest you in a book when you skim it, it is probably not one you'll enjoy reading for pleasure.

On the other hand, scanning involves looking for one or two specific things. You always have a purpose when you are scanning. You might be looking for information on a specific event, such as a bus strike or a Civil War battle. When you scan, your eyes move rapidly to capture the word or term you want. Scanning is very helpful when you are looking for answers to questions.