Advantages of scanning

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Right opportunity: Scanning is advantageous in certain situations.
Right opportunity: Scanning is advantageous in certain situations.

We conclude the series on speed reading by outlining how scanning is very useful in certain situations.

The greatest gift is the passion for reading.

It is cheap, it consoles, it distracts, it excites,

It gives you knowledge of the world and experience

of a wide kind. It is a moral illumination.

Elizabeth Hardwick (1916 –2007), American writer

In a previous column, we mentioned what scanning implies. Let us now look at it in some depth. Before scanning you should clearly define in your mind what you are looking for. If you are looking for a specific number or word, the process is easy. Sometimes you look for an idea. This would entail reading a part of the page where the idea would probably appear. If you keep a question in mind, the answer may contain some of the words in the question. The answer may also be phrased in a way totally different from what you expect. On such occasions, your scanning may involve reading much more than what you do when you mechanically look for a particular number or word.

It is a good idea to look at the chapter names, table of contents, headings, sub-headings, index and bold or italicised words first while scanning. This will tell you whether you are in the right region or domain where the answer you search for is likely to appear. Flash your eyes quickly through the book or document. When you feel that the information is likely to appear near a particular region in the text, read at a slower speed.

Scanning is indeed a process where you do not read most of the material before you. However, it is not like the futile searching for a pin in a haystack. While scanning, you would be guided by signposts as mentioned above. If you keep the words or idea you are looking for firmly focused in your mind and if you are in the right frame of mind, the success rate becomes very high. In certain cases, you may have to scan for a second time.

Remember that the content of a reference book is mostly something other than what you look for at a specific time. Your answer occupies only an insignificant space. You are trying to find that minute part from an enormous volume of text. While scanning a book, if you read the chapter names first, you can bypass several pages in one go. The index would often take you quickly to the right spot. While scanning, you concentrate better than in regular reading. Remember, a driver has to concentrate sharper when he drives fast. There has to be better application of the mind. Your mind cannot slip from the scanning activity. The attitude has to be different from what you maintain in usual reading. You have to be more alert, since you do not read the book or document in full. Scanning cannot be taken lightly.

Once you develop skill in scanning, you would be able to select books, journals or magazines for your reading more efficiently and in less time. In an academic atmosphere, this would help you greatly in the long run. Education is not an endeavour to know everything. You cannot keep everything in your memory.

Education implies knowing where a piece of information is available and the ability to retrieve it quickly. Scanning is an essential part of this practical application in life. If you have partial knowledge of something gained through skimming or scanning, you can conveniently go to the source concerned and get full information at the time of need.

The most careful reading of a book may be the ideal in a given situation. But you do not have the time for that. So a question arises. Which is better: to glance through the book in a short time or not even look into the book? The answer is obvious. Half a loaf is better than none.

From what we have described, it is obvious that scanning is much faster than skimming. In skimming you have to gather the main points. You are not looking for an answer. But in scanning you just have to locate a particular bit in a book or document. Those who refuse to skim or scan, under the impression that they would lose vital information, fail to appreciate that nobody comprehends fully whatever is read. Mastery in skimming and scanning places in you a position of advantage. This is not to suggest that you develop a habit of not reading anything in full. You apply your discretion in deciding when you should read in full, skim, or scan.

There are several web sites for checking and improving reading speed. Some of them are:, and

Also, there are mechanical devices like the tachistoscope, evolved by psychologists, for helping speed readers. We do not intend to go into the details of such devices. For the ordinary readers, self-directed and committed efforts would be sufficient for gaining efficiency in the essential art of rapid reading. We should take rapid reading as an enjoyable activity and not as a piece of drudgery or grinding hard work. Any reading should be a pleasure, not a chore. The main thrust in this series of articles has been the need for a desire to improve your reading, in terms of speed and quality. Of course, you should see that you have proper eye sight. Any error should be corrected before trying the techniques for speed reading. Do not be obsessed with the notion that speed reading would damage comprehension.

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