Description of Scanning

Scanning is a fast reading technique. It's a way of reading to look for specific information in a text. Scanning can be used to look up a phone number, read through the small ads in a newspaper, or for browsing TV schedules, timetables, lists, catalogues or web pages for information. For these tasks you don't need to read or understand every word.

Scanning is often confused with skimming, but is in fact a distinct reading strategy involving rapid but focused reading of text, in order to locate specific information, e.g. looking for particular details such as dates, names, or certain types of words. It is processing print at a high speed while looking for answers to specific questions. When you scan, you must begin with a specific question which has a specific answer. Scanning for information in this way should be both fast and accurate.

Types of materials appropriate for scanning:

  • Simple: lists, dictionaries, white pages, tables, signs, classified ads
  • Less simple: yellow pages, reference works, tables of contents, indices (indexes), web pages
  • Complex: continuous prose - documents, articles, books, long descriptions

How to use it

  1. Start at the beginning of the passage.
  2. Move your eyes quickly over the lines, looking for key words related to the information you want to find.
  3. Stop scanning and begin reading as soon as you find any of the key words you're looking for.

When to use it

  1. When one needs to find a particular or specific piece of information.
  2. When one only needs to extract specific details from a text.
  3. When studying or looking to find specific information from a book or article quickly as there is not always time to read every word.
    • For example:
      • The "What's on TV" section of your newspaper.
      • A train / airplane schedule
      • A conference guide


  1. Don't try to read every word. Instead let your eyes move quickly across the page until you find what you are looking for.
  2. Use clues on the page, such as headings and titles, to help you.
  3. In a dictionary or phone book, use the 'header' words to help you scan. You can find these in bold type at the top of each page.
  4. If you are reading for study, start by thinking up or writing down some questions that you want to answer. Doing this can focus your mind and help you find the facts or information that you need more easily.
  5. Many texts use A-Z order. These include everyday materials such as the phone book and indexes to books and catalogues.
  6. There are many ways to practise scanning skills. Try looking up a favourite recipe in the index of a cookbook, search for a plumber in your local Yellow Pages, or scan web pages on the Internet to find specific information.

Activities for Scanning

Lesson Plan Activity 1
Activity Sample lesson Plan

Links to Scholarly Articles about Scanning

Power Reading Online
This site helps one answer 4 questions. (1) What is scanning? (2) How can I improve my scanning technique? (3) Why scan? and (4)When and how is scanning useful as a study reading strategy for college students?

Theories of reading
This article is the second of two parts. The first part looked at some of the shifts and trends in theories relating to reading. This second part will examine tips and guidelines for implementing a theory of reading which will help to develop learner's abilities.



Semantic Mapping

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