An oscillating fan rotates from side to side while blowing cold air out. Because of this movement, it is more effective than a stationary fan. While a stationary fan can only push air straight ahead, an oscillating fan sends air in multiple directions, creating better air flow.
Oscillating fans are driven by a magnet and an electric motor inside the stand itself. When electricity flows into the coils surrounding the fan's inner rotor where the magnet is housed, a magnetic field is created. The central rotor is pushed partway in a circle away from the magnetic repulsion, but then electricity flows into another coil on the opposite side, and the rotor is again pushed in another direction, sending the fan back across its path until the cycle is completed and then repeated.
In some fans, the oscillation isn't from side to side but rather up and down. The basic mechanical process remains the same, only the direction the rotor moves in is altered. Most oscillating fans are best placed strategically in a corner of a room, as from this position they can spread the air out across the greatest area. That being said, many oscillating fans also feature a switch or knob that can lock them in place to focus the air straight ahead in one direction as well, mimicking the style of a conventional fan.