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'Speed Reading' 101: Skimming and Scanning

In this blog, we will explore how to use skimming and scanning to move through text-heavy documents. We also look at the benefits, challenges and limitations that come with these techniques.


Prepare to become a master of skimming and scanning!

Skimming and scanning are two important techniques that can help you quickly and efficiently read through large amounts of text, whether you're studying for an exam, researching a topic, or trying to find specific information in a document.


Skimming helps to identify the main ideas and key points of a text, and to decide whether it's worth reading in more detail. Skimming is done by reading the headline, looking at the first sentence of each paragraph, and then skimming through the rest of the text.


The goal of scanning is to locate specific information, such as a name, date, or statistic in a document, or to find a specific section of a book or article. To scan effectively, you'll need to be familiar with the layout of the text, and you'll need to use your peripheral vision to quickly scan over the pages.


When skimming, you quickly move your eyes over a text to get a general sense of its content. You might start by reading the headline, then looking at the first sentence of each paragraph, and then skimming through the rest of the text to get a rough idea of what it's about. Skimming is a great way to quickly identify the main ideas and key points of a text, and to decide whether it's worth reading in more detail.


Scanning, on the other hand, involves quickly looking through a text to find specific information. You might use scanning when you're looking for a particular name, date, or statistic in a document, or when you're trying to find a specific section of a book or article. To scan effectively, you'll need to be familiar with the layout of the text, and you'll need to use your peripheral vision to quickly scan over the pages.


Once you've identified the main ideas and key points of a text through skimming, you'll need to read the text more closely to fully understand it. And once you've found the specific information that you're looking for through scanning, you'll need to read that section more carefully to ensure understanding.


Pay attention to cues in the text:


Headings

Sub-headings

boldface type

italics

indenting

· bulleted lists

1. numbered lists.


How to Skim

Here's a step-by-step approach for how to skim effectively:


  • Get an overview: Start by reading the table of contents or chapter overviews/chapter summaries. Look at the title, headings (including the headings of charts and tables), subheadings, and the first sentence of each paragraph. This will give you an overall sense of the main ideas and key points of the text. Pay attention to introductory paragraphs.

  • Look for keywords: As you skim, pay attention to keywords and phrases that stand out (bold and italic); they might indicate the main ideas or the main arguments of the text. Pause to read the sentences containing the keywords but… don’t dwell if this offers no ‘reward’ since you’ll read details you don't need!

  • Check the layout: Observe the layout of the text such as bold or italic words, bullet points, or images, they usually indicate important information or will summarise the main points.

  • Look for patterns: As you skim, look for patterns in the text such as repetition of key words, similar sentence structures, or repeated ideas. This can help you identify the main ideas and arguments of the text.

  • Check the conclusion: If the text has a conclusion, skim through it, it will give you an idea of the main arguments, the main points and the main ideas conveyed.

  • Take note: After you've finished skimming the document, take note of the main ideas and key points that you've identified. This will help you decide whether you need to read the text in more detail.

  • Repeat the process: If you didn't get a clear idea of the text, repeat the process until you have a general sense of the content.


How to Scan

To scan:


  • Determine what you're looking for: Before you begin scanning, take a moment to think about what specific information you need to find in the document. This could be a name, date, statistic, or a specific section of the text.

  • Get familiar with the document's layout: Look at the document's overall layout and structure, for example, headings, subheadings, and bullet points. This will help you get an idea of where the information you're looking for might be located.

  • Use your peripheral vision: When scanning, it's important to use your peripheral vision to quickly scan over the pages. This allows you to take in more information at once and saves time.

  • Read headings and subheadings: Start by reading the headings and subheadings of the document, these usually summarize the main content of the section, you can quickly decide if the information you are looking for is in that section or not.

  • Look for keywords: When scanning, pay attention to key words and phrases that might indicate that the information you're looking for is present. This could include names, dates, or statistics.

  • Check tables and charts: If the document includes tables or charts, scan them for information that might be relevant to your search.

  • Repeat the process: Can't find the information you're looking for? Repeat the process.

  • Take note: Once you find the information you're looking for, take note of (bookmark, tag, sticky note) the location of the information so you can easily find it again if you need to.


By following these steps, you should be able to quickly and efficiently scan a document to find the specific information you need. Be aware that Scanning requires concentration and can be tiring. Limit the time you allow for this technique (use ‘Pomodoros’ - see links below). Practice to ensure your attention doesn’t drift away from the task.


Possible Issues when Skimming or Scanning

While both techniques can be useful ways for quickly identifying the main ideas and key points of a text, there are several potential problems:


  • Missing important details: Skimming involves quickly moving your eyes over a text, which means that you risk missing something, such as important details or nuances in the text. This can lead to a lack of understanding of the text or an incomplete understanding of the main ideas. Similarly, when scanning, it's easy to focus solely on the specific information that you're looking for, which can lead to missing important context or background information that might be necessary for understanding the text.

  • Confusion: Skimming and scanning can lead to confusion if you are not able to identify the main ideas and key points of the text. This can happen if the text is poorly written or if you're not familiar with the subject matter.

  • Misunderstanding or limited understanding: Because skimming is a fast-paced method of reading, it's easy to misunderstand or misinterpret the text. This can happen if you're not paying close attention to the important details or if you're not familiar with the subject matter. Scanning, where you are looking for important information, can lead to a limited understanding of the text. This can happen if you don't take the time to read the text more closely or if you don't understand the context of the information that you find.

  • Not suitable for all types of text: Skimming is not suitable for all types of text, for example technical documents, legal documents, or scientific papers, require close reading and attention to detail. Scanning is not suitable for literary texts, poetry, or creative writing which require close reading and attention to language and style

  • Lack of engagement: Skimming and scanning can be ‘surface-level’ ways of reading, which can make it difficult to engage with the text on a deeper level. This can lead to a lack of understanding or interest in the text.

In conclusion, skimming and scanning are valuable techniques that can help you quickly and efficiently read through large amounts of text. Skimming is a great way to quickly identify the main ideas and key points of a text, and to decide whether it's worth reading in more detail. Scanning, on the other hand, is the process of quickly looking through a text to find specific information. Both skimming and scanning can help save time, but it's important to use them in conjunction with more traditional reading techniques to truly understand the content of the text. It's also important to keep in mind that skimming and scanning are not suitable for all types of texts, and might lead to missing important information or context.


By following the steps and best practices outlined in this blog, you will be able to effectively use skimming and scanning techniques to improve your reading efficiency and comprehension. Remember to practice, and with time, you will be able to master these techniques, and make the most out of your reading time. Happy reading!







 







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