We all understand that there’s so much going on in the world. When we slightly step backward or move a little bit slower, we may be left behind. No matter what kind of reading materials you’re approaching, whether it’s a newspaper in your hands or a kind of digital post, you’ll probably save a lot of time when using skimming and scanning skills. Although these two techniques of reading have always been practiced by many people, some still find it quite difficult to tell them apart. So what are those kinds of techniques? Are there many differences between skimming and scanning?  

This article will point out the differences between skimming and scanning, when and how to use them effectively. Stay patient!  

Basic differences between Skimming and Scanning 

1. Let’s imagine to better understand

Although skimming and scanning are techniques for fast reading that help you read well in a shorter time, the differences between skimming and scanning may take a couple of minutes to be explained. However, understanding it is an interesting experience, don’t be discouraged.

differences between skimming and scanning
Image by Pexcels via Pixabay

Now let’s try to imagine reading as attending a buffet party. There’re so many dishes nicely displayed. Skimming is when you take a look around and tell yourself  “ok, this party’s worth my next couple of hours ”. Then, it’s time for you to do the scanning job, selecting what to put on your dish because of the fact that you can’t have them all.

2. Short definitions for skimming and scanning

Sometimes, of course, giving definitions will truly do us a favor. Take a good look at the two short paragraphs below to better understand skimming and scanning.

Skimming is a process of reading to get an overall view or get an impression of the content. This is when you pick out the main ideas or messages.

Scanning, on the other hand, requires you to look for a particular word or phrase. You can totally ignore unnecessary ones. If you’re reading, you must be having or about to have questions to be answered, just wisely choose what to read and quickly get what may benefit.

When to use Scanning and when to use Skimming 

The differences between skimming and scanning are crystal clear. Skimming helps you tell what the general information is, while scanning helps you position a particular piece of information. In fact, you have to understand your purposes for reading in order to apply a proper technique. You have to be the most flexible reader you can become. The variability of the situations requires you to be adaptable.

Keep reading if you don’t know when to use these two different techniques.

1. When to use skimming

Skimming has always been one of the most selected ways when it comes to   FAST READING. Before putting any effort into studying a document, practicing skimming can be a good hand in previewing. You can use skimming before entering a new chapter of your textbook or a long article. To be simply said, most people refer to the use of skimming when they need to save time. Time-saving has always been one of the top priorities of today’s society. Reading every word can prevent us from increasing our reading speed. There’re many situations that spending long hours of laborious reading can’t do anything well.

Suppose you have to read an academic text and write an essay about its topic, skimming can’t do the job as there is too much information. This skill would help when you’re trying to find out if something is a waste of time or similar to something else you’ve already known. Using skimming is an ideal strategy when there are only a few days left and you’re about to take an examination. In short, you save your time by skimming.

2. When to use scanning

As convenient as it seems, skimming can’t guarantee you all the important points. Usually, you need scanning when you find a friend’s phone number in a telephone book or last night football’s scores in the newspaper. Or when you’re in a new restaurant knowing they have your favorite dish but are not sure the price is reasonable, you also need to scan along the menu to see it with the price. Scanning significantly proves its value when researching and studying. These two kinds of activity can’t be successful if they depend on only your general knowledge.

You may also need scanning to locate the correct answer for the given questions. You are likely to scan when you have no intention of getting a general idea. Obviously, if you have no doubt of your purposes for reading and other unrelated information is far from support, now take scanning into your consideration. Scanning is perfect when it comes to looking for something more particular rather than an overview idea in your mind.

3. Skimming and Scanning are close friends

Despite all the differences between skimming and scanning, those two friends seem to be best together. They have been taught in almost every class of reading methods. This is because of the fact that practicing either of them can show great results.

However, the combination of skimming and scanning is even much greater. It’s like insurance for your fast reading: you read quicker but you don’t miss out on anything important. Why and how can these techniques do such an amazing job? Skimming takes the role of covering the whole reading material to assure you get what’s beneficial and leave out the useless ones. Scanning plays a part in taking out the most precious facts you need. It’s a responsible way of fast reading that no one could deny.

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How to use both skills in your reading 

1. Effective reading with skimming

When learning to skim, get yourself ready to move your eyes quickly through the pages. Skimming is not about placing your eyes wherever your attention is drawn to. The effective work of skimming does not require you to do that.

You know that you don’t read every word but carefully pay attention to what forms the structure of that reading material. So what exactly are we talking about? Headings, bulleted lists, numbered lists, bold text, italic text… These are just some of them, though. Now here are some steps you should take if you do skimming:

  • Look at the table of contents if there is. It’s a fast way to figure out what’s going on.
differences between skimming and scanning
Image by Pexcels via Pixabay
  • The main headings are the most essential, so don’t forget to read them. Remember that tables and charts have headings, too (e.g., U.S. population by age and gender, Healthcare cost from 2010 to 2017, and Risks of environmental impacts). Some may miss the headings of tables and charts as a habit, so keep in mind they are there for some good reasons.
  • After reading the first sentences, scroll your eyes down to the last ones of each paragraph. These sentences can be the topic sentences that hold the main idea. This should not take you too much time as there’re only a few important words to follow. However, don’t hesitate to stop if you think something needs to be read entirely. Make sure you leave the paragraph and move to the next after carefully skimming.
  • Attentively read the keywords. They can be nouns, dates, events, names, or numbers,… These very single words or phrases that give details are worth considering. Questions about these kinds of information usually show up in the IELTS test.
  • Along with your skimming process, underline or highlight important words and phrases. It’s good to use a marker or pencil (if you think you might want to erase the lines after that). This is also a preparation for scanning.
differences between skimming and scanning
Image by PDPics via Pixabay
  • Remember it’s you who decides what rate of speed you want to skim. Of course, it’s not necessarily equal in every part. The situations may vary, it could be a slow-down when you skim through an unfamiliar word, for example. Sometimes, there are sentences that need more than one glance.  

As far as what we have agreed in the previous section, you only scan when you know what to scan. There are some facts you want to find out. So what are the facts that you need? If you have questions and are looking for a specific answer, there are probably some keywords in the question.

2. Effective reading with scanning

You can now leave out all the rest of the text as you’re in search of some specific question-related information. In case they’re not any given keywords, establish them. Choose a few words or phrases to search for. It’s your choice to look for one or more keywords at a time. Let’s see if you can practice these suggestions below:

  • Use a finger of your hand to scan, which is a helpful way to stay focused. The calmness of mind together with the strong physical image of your finger-pointing along the lines will provide you with confidence. You’re also sure of what you’ve scanned and what’s left to be scanned.
differences between skimming and scanning
Image by Free-Photos via Pixabay
  • Repeat silently in your mind the keywords while scanning. You may think you’re sure of what you need, but keeping on telling yourself the wanted word or phrase can never be anything of disadvantages. Whether it’s a phone number, a person’s name, a location, or a country… keep saying quietly that’s the destination.
  • When you come across a keyword while scanning, stop, and carefully read the surrounding text. If there’s anything serving your purposes, note them down to review later and see if this information needs noticing. The changes we find needed sentences and then lose them can happen without a warning. If we do not prepare for surprises, we’ll be surprisingly slower than planning.

3. Frequent practice is the key

Although knowing the differences between skimming and scanning is undeniably useful, the habit of reading every word may make some of us uncomfortable to change. To finally master the techniques of skimming and scanning, you have to spend your time practicing again and again. It’s the act of allowing yourself to skip all the texts but the ones that best match your purposes. Whenever you’re in your best mindset, you’re ready to speed up your reading process.

How important Scanning and Skimming are in the IELTS test?

One of the most challenging things students have to face in the IELTS test is time management. You need to deliver an appropriate amount of time for each question. You must optimize every minute to get the best possible result. We can clearly see that skimming and scanning are necessary skills to secure your success in IELTS reading.

Skimming is inevitable if you are in the early stage of an IELTS reading test. The limited time does not allow you to read all the writing. If you try to do so, there’s a chance that you’ll run out of your time. As long as you skim carefully, the pleasant result will come as a large quantity of information within a short period of time. Moreover, you’ll even have a couple more minutes to check if the answers are correct.

With a clear purpose – a particular keyword, all you need to do is scan through the reading material until anything catches your eye and pauses to look for important information or data. As you can see, skimming can’t contribute much to this state of reading as it does earlier. This is the time of details and more details. When you’ve located the keywords in the passage, slow down and find your answer in the surrounding text area.

In a word, practicing both skimming and scanning intentionally is a survival strategy in the IELTS test  


This discussion about the differences between skimming and scanning may be too long to digest, but it’s still essential for your understanding of the two techniques. Becoming familiar with doing skimming and scanning has been helping a lot of people, including the writer of this article. I know we are people who love to read and save time for important matters. We all hope that we are able to speed up our rate of reading. Just start your first day practicing, if this is the first time you know about these techniques. Keep on if you’ve been doing them so well so far. If you have other questions about this topic, please let us know by leaving them in the comment section below. We also love to know your own tips for these two techniques. 

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