Difference between Skimming and Scanning

By: | Updated: Dec-12, 2017

You have done both of these things many times before but you just did not know this is what you were doing. You did this every time you looked at a document in a hurry to see what it was about or you quickly glanced to find some information you needed. So, what is skimming, what is scanning, and what is the difference between them?

Summary Table

SkimmingScanning

A fast reading method that gives you an idea of what the text is about without having to read it in full

A fast reading method that allows you to find specific information in a text
Means reading the introduction, the headlines, or the first phrase of a paragraphMeans going through an article quickly looking for a date or a quote

Implies not having read the text before

Implies previously knowing the information you are looking for

Definitions

girl reading a book
A girl reading a book

Skimming is a reading technique that allows readers to get the gist of a text without having to read the whole thing in full. When skimming, people will usually look at chapters or subtitles, and even at the first phrase of a well-written paragraph. The main purpose is to get an idea of what the text is about.

Scanning is another method of fast reading, but this one is reserved for people looking through the text to find specific information. For example, when you are writing a paper and you quickly look through a text to double check a date, a number or a fact. It’s the same thing a computer does with the “find” function, but you have to do it yourself.

Skimming vs Scanning

The difference between skimming and scanning consists of purpose and technique.

Purpose

Skimming is a reading technique meant to give you an idea of what the full text is about. Scanning is meant to help you find specific information in a text.

Techniques

Skimming techniques include reading the introduction, the headlines, or the first phrase of the paragraph. On the other hand, scanning means looking over the whole text quickly in search of specific information.

You skim a text at first sight and decide on whether to read it in full. However, when it comes to scanning, it is implied that you know at least the information you are looking for.

Usage

You can spot people scanning a text as they will be more concerned with the form of words and will tend to use their fingers to go through the text and not jump around. A must in case of scanning is that the reader knows what information he is looking for.

On the other hand, people can use skimming to decide whether they will read the text in full. You can use this technique in the library to tell whether a book contains the necessary information for a paper, or in a bookshop to see whether a book is worth buying.

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