8 Tips to skim and scan reading material efficiently
One of the most efficient techniques to read faster is skimming and scanning. Previewing a text, document or book allows you to grasp the broader picture, get the author’s main idea and sketch the most important data.
This technique is a real-time saver; think of all the books for exams or paperwork at work and to be able to extract key information without having to read the whole material. You will decide to either read the material or skip it. Previewing is easy to learn and can be combined with other speed reading techniques.
This post will outline all points to get you started. I have also curated useful resources for further studying such as articles, exercises, worksheets, examples, videos and slideshares.
Skimming and Scanning – Meaning and Definition
Scanning is a technique to trigger and extract key information and ideas such as names, numbers, specific facts. Scanning involves moving your eyes quickly down the page identifying specific words and phrases to either find a particular answer or grasping the basic main idea. You can also use it to determine whether a new resource will answer your questions or not. This activity probably takes about 5-10 minutes.
Skimming will focus on understanding the main idea and concept. It works best with non-fiction material.You won’t read everything. You read only what is important to you. You may stop for interesting facts but then quickly continue to skim the book.
It’s like browsing a new travel book or moving your finger over a map of a city you wish to travel to. At first you may spot pictures, read selected snippets of information or identify general areas, landmarks, or highlights. You want to know the bigger picture first before exploring a location in detail. These practices will teach your brain to understand, comprehend and remember a lot faster.
Tip: Previewing is all about answering these five ‘W’ questions: Who, Where, What, When, Why.Who relates to people involved. Where relates to the location. What refers to the general idea/topic. When is about the time of an event. Why refers to reasons, analysis. Write down all key facts to remember them later.
How to Skim and Scan? Best Practice.
You can choose from four major strategies. I will explain them in more detail below.
- Reading Key Sentences
- Scan for name and numbers
- Scan for trigger words
- Skim small parts of text for key ideas
There is also a fifth technique called novel previewing and is taught by Ron Cole, but this method is different from the steps explained in this post.
Preview a book applying these easy steps.
- Preview the content page
- Read the title
- Read the back of the book
- Read the index
- Scan for images
- Look for letters in “bold”
- Read the chapter names and headlines
- Read first sentence of paragraphs
- Try spotting tables and graphs
- Spot ‘conclusion’ or ‘summary’ sections
- Jot down key information
Also look for “thematic sentences”. These are key sentences which contains a summary of the paragraph or a whole chapter. Those may give you a solid overview of a long chapter.
4 Skimming and Scanning Strategies
1. Previewing key sentences
These sentences can be found at the very beginning of a paragraph or chapter. The first few sentences will give you a good idea about the paragraph.
How does it work?
Each paragraph usually delivers one idea, though paragraphs may often relate to each other. Once you understand the central idea behind each paragraph block you will quickly get the gist of it. This may aid you in understanding the whole chapter a lot faster.
You can also use a different approach – just look for the applicable information that you require and skip the rest. Another tactic is to read the first and the last sentence of longer paragraphs which may give you a more relevant summary and enable you to pick up the central idea.
According to my experience this works like a charm. I never read all the sentences or even the whole chapter. I constantly shift to the following chapter only skimming the most interesting bits and bites. In the beginning I found it difficult to remember information but after a while it became easier for me to remember. Skim as little as possible and as much as necessary.
2. Scan for name and numbers
Numbers and names are present in every text and they narrate details about people, places and concepts. There is no order of getting those information in a text during previewing. However, I often look for the main facts by understanding where and when the story takes place or how many people are involved.
One of the best ways of scanning for this sort of information is to move your finger or pointer across the page (you can use serpentine style or zigzag) you will notice that you will quickly remember a number or a few names. After that just read the whole text so that you can get a complete picture.
3. Scanning trigger words
Paul Scheele taught me this technique when I read his book “Photo Reading”. The concept is to preview a text while keeping a lookout for important key words and if wanted to jot them down. Mainly you will spot nouns or compounds. Trigger words usually include numbers, names, places and key sentences.
4. Reading the title
Reading the title, the content and the back of the book or text is probably the first thing we do with new material. Many trigger words are automatically revealed through this method. For example if the title says “Guide to memory techniques” it is unlikely to find information about ‘web design’ for example.
There are also chapter titles, headlines, sub-headlines or titles of tables and graphs that reveal a lot of useful information.
Skimming and scanning exercises
Here is an assignment which tries to solve this issue and provides exercises to help you remember sentence reading and recalling sentences.
1. Key Sentence. Grab any book you like and simply read the first sentences or few paragraphs. Now try recalling the ideas your mind grabbed when you read the sentences using the concept. Don’t practice this on more than 4 or 5 sentences. Only increase the numbers when you have mastered these sentences.
2. Names and numbers. Choose any article that is to your liking and look for numbers and names in it. When you find a fact or a name, pause for a few seconds and realize it. You can say the word out loud if you wish. Now start reading the entire material and see if the facts you just paused on start to reveal themselves as you read.
3. Trigger words.Choose a number of different articles or books for this exercise. When you have the articles or books ready, start reading the titles, content, back of the book if required and headlines. Simply write down the trigger words and try to stop at words that interest you. Write these words down too and let them become your trigger words.
Here are also some additional sources you can go through to help out with your learning:
7 Reading Strategies | Previewing Strategies
SlideShare – A quick intro to techniques
Photo credit: FlickR Creative Commons 3.0 | Renaud Camus
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