My Speed Reading

Best Ways of Skimming and Scanning

Those who are familiar with speed reading must be aware that Skimming and Scanning are two of the most vital techniques for making a break-through in increasing their speed of reading.

Understanding and using these techniques well, will dramatically boost speed reading, as well as prevent the lack of comprehension and recall which affects speed reading. Both these skills can be learned and are based on what to skip and what to look for.

Understanding Skimming and Scanning

Often people do not have a clear concept of these two reading techniques, and even if they do, they will often confuse one with the other. Unless we understand these and can distinguish the difference between these, we will not be able to apply the underlying principles, and will not be able to harness the several ways to use them productively.

Skimming is for Understanding the Main Idea

Skimming is the strategy to get the main idea or the most important point in the passage or book. It involves running your eyes through the texts, visually searching the sentences and passages of a page for clues. Skimming implies looking only for the general or main ideas. This is especially suitable for factual material and one can skip the rest while looking for the important issues.

Skimming is to know what is happening. It is just like glancing through something to know what it is about. The book summary or reviews provide extensive examples of this. The movie trailers that we see give a glimpse of what the movie is about. Skimming is not meant to know the details or to make elaborate inferences from. Skimming comes naturally to many adults. It is done at a very high speed of about 1000 words or more per minute which is three to four times the normal reading speed.

Scanning is Hunting for Details

Scanning is the strategy of speed reading where one specifically looks for certain information on certain specific matter that one has gathered after skimming.

When scanning, one looks only for a specific fact or information, and skips the rest without reading. It involves rapid but focused reading and is equivalent to processing printed material at a high speed while looking for desired information. Scanning for information is both fast and accurate.

Differences between Skimming and Scanning

Skimming and Scanning are often confused with each other but both are distinct skills. Moreover, Skimming and Scanning are designated as search techniques rather than speed reading techniques. Both are good for printed page rather than that displayed on computer screen. It is easy to distinguish between the two, the major differences are:

 Skimming easily provides the general context of the material and a broad outline, whereas Scanning is to locate specific contexts and details.

 In skimming one filters out large chunks to get to know what the reading material is about, whereas in scanning one begins with a specific query in mind actively looks for something like a particular information such as dates, names, or certain types of words and focus only on the sentences where these words occur.

 While the goal of skimming is a bird’s-eye view of the material, the goal of scanning is like that of an eagle’s to locate and swoop down on particular facts.

 Although both are different techniques, both complement each other and are often used in succession, one after another.

A Few Best Ways for Skimming

Once the concept of Skimming is clearly understood, one can devise one’s own ways to skim a large amount of printed information. There are several ways of skimming. Here, some of the best and easily practised ones are given.


Previewing is a technique to “read” or glance through the book before it is actually read. It is used to determine the main idea from a long reading material that is not required to be read thoroughly.

• Skim through the material according to this sequence :

Title, Subtitles, Subheading, Diagrams and illustrations etc.

• Read the introduction and topic sentences.

• Read the first few paragraphs which may introduce the subject and last few paragraphs which may contain conclusion and summary.

• Opening paragraphs often outline what the matter is about.

• In Concluding paragraphs author concludes with justification.

Looking for Special Typographical Contents

Skimming requires moving rapidly through pages, paying attention only to headings, bold, italics, different font styles, indents, bullet points and numbered lists. Also, look carefully for key words and phrases, names, places, dates etc. Always read the chapter overviews and summaries, all the boldfaced keywords.

Best Ways for Scanning

While Scanning, the purpose is already known, which is the information we are looking for. It is essential to know the specific question or information and understand it to create a mental imagery of the fact, word, or phrase which is being looked for.

Thus scanning amounts to efficient use of the vision in locating the desired information. Some of the most effective ways are given here.

Knowing How the Information is Organized and Structured

While Skimming the material has already been “previewed”. Thus the bird’s eye view of the material already exists in the mind. This helps in creating a mental map or a mental outline of the structure and its contents. Certain materials are easy to scan whereas documents, books are more complex for scanning. Knowing the structure helps in locating the information quickly.


Using a finger or any pointer like pen or pencil, and running it through the lines in the pages, and to make the eye follow it with the same speed is called Meta-guiding.

Meta-guiding is one of the oldest techniques of speed reading and many would have been familiar with it during their early school days. It is a very effective way of Scanning. Using the finger or pointer helps in moving swiftly down the pages and skipping big blocks of information that are irrelevant. It helps in increasing reading speed by decreasing the distraction and increasing focus.

Using Peripheral Vision

Developing effective peripheral vision helps in scanning when running a finger or pointer across the printed text. One can see not only the lines currently been read, but also a few more lines and thus a larger amount of data to scan. It requires running the eyes in a scanning pattern till the desired information is located.

Avoid Backward Scanning

Often readers are unaware that unconsciously they may be going back on previous lines or areas under scanning. This happens when one stops or goes back to check a specific word or context. Peripheral vision needs to be trained to look for text ahead.

Using Scanning Sweep Patterns

There are a few sweeping patterns that are very helpful in mastering scanning.

In the “Z” Sweep, the eyes move in a Z-shape and move through the line and go down two, three or more lines and again move horizontally. as the sweep size increases with practice, one can scan a page in just one or two Z-sweeps.

In the “S” Curve sweep, the eyes scan the pages in a series of S-shaped glances. The aim is to make less number of S-shapes and make it bigger so as to cover the whole page in one or two S-movement of the eyes.

The ‘Straight Down from the Center’ Sweep is used when one has gained adequate proficiency and speed. Here the eyes move down from the top of the page to the bottom, keeping the gaze at the centre. One can start this technique with narrow columns as in newspapers or magazines, before going on to single-column as in books.

In future, more and more techniques shall be discovered and popularized, as speed-reading is an aspect of learning that has always been a subject of on-going research.


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