Difference Between Skimming And Scanning (Uses & Examples)

Skimming and scanning are both rapid reading techniques used to extract information efficiently. These two reading methods might appear similar on the surface, but they actually used for different purposes and are essential for specific reading scenarios.

What Is Skimming?

Skimming is a reading technique that enables a reader to gain the general idea about the text at a relatively faster rate. It does not involve a thorough reading and understanding. However, it often depends upon the skills of a reader to understand the text quickly.

Generally, a reader quickly reads all the words or the text that seems to be important and then tries to gain the general idea about the document. At times, when time is a constraint, skimming is achieved by reading that text only which is considered to be relevant. For example, one may read only the headings, subheadings and conclusion.

Skimming is used to find the main ideas of the text quickly or to simply familiarize yourself with a text that you have never seen before. The purpose of skimming is to get an idea of what is contained within a text before reading it thoroughly, word for word. Rather than reading everything word for word, when skimming, you would focus more on these specific things:

  • Read the title
  • Read the introduction or first paragraph
  •  Read the chapter preview or highlights
  • Read headings and subheadings
  • Look at pictures, graphs, charts, and bold lettering
  • Read the summary or last paragraph

Process of Skimming

  1. Read the title and table of contents. For articles, read the title.
  2. Look at the main headings in the report or article. Lengthier articles often include sub-headings.
  3. Read the report abstract (an abstract is a summary of the report’s contents). For articles, read the entire introductory paragraph.
  4. Read the first and last sentences in each paragraph of the report or article.
  5. Note any words in boldface or italics.
  6. When you discover a significant or confusing point, stop to read the entire sentence to ensure comprehension.

What Is Scanning?

Scanning is a reading technique that enables the reader to look for a specific piece of information within an item of text. In other words, the reader looks for specific information rather than trying to absorb all the information. Scanning is a technique that requires concentration and can be surprisingly tiring. 

If you need to locate a specific piece of information quickly, you would use scanning. When scanning, you know exactly what you’re looking for; you just have to find it. To scan when reading, look for specific words or information. Let your eyes run rapidly over several lines of print. Use headings and other aids to help you identify sections where your answer might be found.

Scanning to answer questions
If you are scanning for facts to answer a specific question, one step is already done for you: the question itself supplies the keywords. Follow these steps:

  • Read each question completely before starting to scan. Choose your keywords from the question itself.
  • Look for answers to only one question at a time. Scan separately for each question.
  • When you locate a keyword, read the surrounding text carefully to see if it is relevant.
  • Re-read the question to determine if the answer you found answers this question.

Also Read: Difference Between Error And Mistake

Process of Scanning

  1. State in your mind specifically the information for which you are looking. Phrase it in question form, if possible.
  2. Try to anticipate how the answer will appear and what clues you might use to help you locate the answer.
  3. Determine the organisation of the material; it is your most important clue to where to begin looking for information. Especially when looking up information contained in charts and tables, the organisation of the information is crucial to rapid scanning.
  4. Use headings and any other aids that will help you identify which sections might contain the information for which your looking for.
  5. Selectively read and skip through likely sections of the passage, keeping in mind the specific question you formed and your expectations of how the answer might appear. Move your eyes down the page in a systematic way.
  6. When you have found the much needed information, carefully read the sentences in which it appears in order to confirm that you have located the correct information.

Key Differences: Skimming vs Scanning


  • Skimming involves quickly glancing over the text to get a general sense of the content and main ideas. It helps to decide whether the material is relevant and worth reading more thoroughly.
  • Scanning is used to locate specific information or details within the text without reading it comprehensively. It targets specific keywords, phrases, or numbers.


  • Skimming is a high-speed reading technique. Readers skim through the text rapidly, often focusing on headings, subheadings, and the first and last sentences of paragraphs.
  • Scanning is even faster than skimming. Readers use their eyes to move quickly across the text, looking for particular words or information.

Reading Depth

  • Skimming provides a superficial understanding of the text, as it focuses on grasping the overall structure and main ideas.
  • Scanning does not involve deep comprehension; its purpose is to find specific details only.

Eye Movement

  • During skimming, readers’ eyes move smoothly and swiftly over the text, covering a large portion of the material.
  • Scanning involves more jerky eye movements as readers look for specific cues or information.

Reading Technique

  • Skimming often involves reading the first and last sentences of paragraphs, headings and bullet points to glean information quickly.
  • Scanning relies on a systematic sweep of the text, searching for specific words or phrases related to the information being sought.


  • Skimming may sacrifice some level of comprehension, as it prioritizes speed and breadth of coverage over depth.
  • Scanning typically results in limited comprehension, as the focus is solely on finding specific information.


  • Skimming: Skimming is useful for previewing articles, books, or texts to decide their relevance before investing more time in reading.
  • Scanning: Scanning is beneficial when looking for particular data, facts, or details within a text, such as names, dates, or statistics.

Reading Material

  • Skimming is commonly used for lengthy materials, such as books, reports, or academic papers.
  • Scanning is commonly used for more structured texts with clear headings, such as directories, indexes, or research papers.

Skimming vs Scanning: Key Takeaways

Basis of comparison Skimming Scanning
Description Skimming is reading a text quickly to find out the general theme, topic or meaning. Scanning is reading a text quickly in order to find specific information e.g figures or names.
Reader In Skimming, the reader is trying to get the general overview of the material. In scanning, the reader has prior knowledge of what he or she is looking for in the given text.
Involves It includes reading, introduction, headings, subheadings and conclusion. It involves going through the whole text quickly.
Advantage The reader is able to gather substantial information within a short period of time.  The reader is able to get limited but concrete information.
Text While skimming there is no need of reading all the text. Scanning sometimes involve going through entire text or a large percentage of the text.
Application Skim to preview a book for selection or when reading  magazines, newspapers and a non-fiction item, Scan if you need to find a specific piece of information e.g phone number, statistics, a word in a dictionary or searching a keyword in the index.
Nature Skimming is general in as far as its approach is concerned. Scanning is selective in as far as its approach is concerned.

Skimming Uses

  • Familiarize yourself with a chapter by looking at the headings, pictures, graphs, etc.
  • Preview a new textbook to find what information is inside by looking at the front and back covers and table of contents.

Scanning Uses

  • Use scanning to locate quotes in a text you have previously read.
  • Find specific words you are looking for on a worksheet by moving your eyes quickly across the page.
  • Use scanning to find answers to questions on a worksheet.

By understanding the distinctions between skimming and scanning, readers can employ these techniques strategically and make their reading experiences more efficient and effective. Both skills complement each other, allowing individuals to navigate through information overload and find what they need precisely and swiftly.