Skimming and Scanning DifferenceSkimming vs Scanning Understanding the Differences for Effective Reading
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Skimming is used to get a general overview and the Main idea in a text while scanning locates specific information quickly at a glance. Both Skimming and Scanning are fast-reading strategies.

Functions of Skimming and Scanning

Skimming and scanning are both reading skills-building practices. They help a reader become more efficient and skilled than the common reading practices. Also, they assist the reader to read faster by skimming and scanning a text in a short amount of time. Although the functions of these strategies are similar, their purposes are entirely different. For example, when we want to read something fast to obtain a general idea, we skim. But when we want to read something quickly to discover a specific piece of information, we scan a text.

Characteristics of Skimming 

  1. Efficient Reading Method
  2. Fast-Reading Method
  3. Time-Saving Method

Efficient Reading Method

It improves our ability to read quickly. So, instead of reading every single word, we should focus on:

Fast-Reading Technique

Skimming is a fast-reading strategy that we employ to quickly gain a general overview and information about the text. It is a speedier reading method than any other fast reading technique. Because it allows us to obtain a broad range of information from a vast part of the text.

Time-Saving Method

Skimming allows us to read longer texts without having to read them thoroughly. We take a cursory glance at the text or document via this lens. Then, rather than reading a book, it saves us many long-sitting hours. As a result, it saves us a lot of time.

Skimming: Image source – Pexels

Apply Methods of Skimming

We use skimming to get a quick look of:

  • Contents of a textbook
  • Summary of a text
  • Preparation for exam
  • Tone and Mood of the text

Examples of Skimming

  • Take a glance at what’s going on in the news or the newspaper’s headlines.
  • We go through a book to see whether it’s one we want to read.
  • Look through the TV schedule to find what’s on that evening.
  • Take a look at the table of contents.
  • It is necessary to read the first and last sentences of each paragraph.
  • Pay attention to the headers and subheadings.
  • Examine any images or visual elements.
  • Summaries should be read.

Three Ways of Skimming Texts

  1. Preview Skimming: It entails having a mind toward reading before you start reading. It’s a great way to get a head start on more in-depth reading.
  2. Overview Skimming: It means getting a gist of the material and a broad understanding of what it’s about.
  3. Review Skimming: It entails returning to a selection with a lot of content after you’ve finished reading it.

Characteristics of Scanning

  1. Locate Particular Information
  2. Find Question Answers
  3. Find particular Facts

Locate Particular Information

We utilize it to search for only one piece of information using a single word or phrase. For example, when we look for a word in the dictionary, we start scanning. Because the objective of scanning is to look for something specific, not something general.

Find the Question Answers

At the end of a chapter or a story, we are asked to give exact answers to the questions for comprehension. As a result, we can search for the textbook to get answers to the queries we’re required to. Scanning is the practice of reading quickly to discover specific information.

Find particular Facts

Scanning allows us to research complex issues. The issues which require fact-based evidence. For example, we scan the fact-based answers to the comprehension questions at the end of a story or a chapter.

Scanning: Image source – Pexels

Apply Methods of Scanning

The objective of scanning is to find specific data. Apply it to check for:

  • Primary headers
  • Theme lines
  • Main Ideas
  • Tables
  • Charts
  • Keywords
  • Highlights
  • Underlined Words

Examples of Scanning

  • Take a look at the contents page.
  • Check to see whether there is a question that we need to answer.
  • Scan when you are looking for a phone number.
  • Look up a term in a dictionary by using the index.
  • Use one of our fingers to scan the area carefully.
  • Look for terms that are relevant to our topic.
  • Look over the sidebars and bulleted information.

Three Ways of Scanning Texts

  1. Linear scan: This method involves reading through the text one character or word at a time, from start to finish.
  2. Keyword scan: This method involves searching for specific keywords or phrases within the text. It can be done using string-matching algorithms such as Boyer-Moore or Rabin-Karp.
  3. Regular expression scan: This method involves searching for patterns within the text using regular expressions. It is often used for parsing or validating text.

Key Difference between Skimming and Scanning Table

Reading technique used to get an overviewReading technique used to find specific information
Skimming is a fast reading techniqueScanning is a quicker reading technique
Used to preview or get the gist of the contentUsed to find answers to specific questions
Focuses on headings, subheadings, and bold textsFocuses on keywords and phrases in the text
Helps to identify the main points or key ideasHelps to locate specific details or facts
Good for reading lengthy documents quicklyGood for finding specific information in a hurry
Example: Skimming a newspaper to get the headlinesExample: Scanning a research article for keywords
Example: Skimming a novel to understand the plotExample: Scanning a menu for a specific dish
Example: Skimming a website for the main contentExample: Scanning a legal document for a clause
Skimming can lead to missing details or nuancesScanning may miss important context or connections
Skimming can be used for leisure readingScanning is often used for academic or work tasks
Skimming requires some background knowledgeScanning requires specific questions or prompts
Skimming can help determine relevanceScanning can help answer specific questions
Skimming can help with decision-makingScanning can help with research or analysis
Skimming can be used as a pre-reading techniqueScanning can be used as a study or research method
Skimming can be subjective and open to interpretationScanning is more objective and precise
Skimming can be a helpful reading habitScanning can be a valuable time-saving skill
Skimming can be combined with other reading strategiesScanning can be combined with note-taking or summarizing
Skimming can be used to increase reading speedScanning can be used to increase reading accuracy
Skimming vs Scanning Table


In summary, skimming is used to get an overall understanding of a text while scanning to locate specific information. Skimming and Scanning are both efficient reading strategies that allow a person to quickly identify either general or specific information in a text fast.

By Waqas Sharif

Mr. Waqas Sharif is an English Language Teaching (ELT) Professional, Trainer, and Course Instructor at a Public Sector Institute. He has more than ten years of Eng Language Teaching experience at the Graduate and Postgraduate level. His main interest is found in facilitating his students globally He wishes them to develop academic skills like Reading, Writing, and Communication mastery along with Basics of Functional Grammar, English Language, and Linguistics.

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