What Is the Difference Between Scanning and Skimming?

Easa Shamih/CC-BY 2.0

Scanning and skimming are two different types of reading techniques used to assimilate information from sources quickly. Scanning allows a person to look up specific information from a large text or some other kind of information source while skimming allows the person to quickly read through something to get the basic idea. There are numerous examples available to better understand how scanning and skimming can be used in real settings.

Someone commonly uses the scanning technique through the use of a search bar. After typing in a set of keywords, a person will be given a list of available links based upon the terms that were entered into the search bar. Instead of reading through every single source, the person will usually skim the descriptions of the links, and then select the source they want to read through more thoroughly. In this way, the person scans the material given to them by the search page and finds the information that is most significant to him or her.

An example of skimming is when someone opens up a selected source and proceeds to read through the material available. Instead of carefully reading every bit of information, that person may quickly read through the first couple of paragraphs or the subheadings to get a basic understanding of the material.

If the person wanted to scan that material, he or she might use the “find” function on the computer to search for specific terms and try to find certain relevant sections of the material. This is very common too when someone uses the index in a book, reading specific sections of a book based on the relevant terms and concepts the person is interested in.