Scanning and skimming are 2 reading skills that you definitely want to practice and perfect. These 2 skills are the basic essentials to research, assessment of information, organization, and reading comprehension. They also save you lots of time and energy. Being good at scanning and skimming will also save you from becoming overwhelmed and frustrated with too much material or material that is too difficult.
Before I talk about the specifics of scanning and skimming, let me say that you have to accept and appreciate the complexities of the mind in order to get the full benefit from these skills. You see, while you are consciously scanning and skimming pages and pages of written material, your mind is actively working very hard on the next level down, just below your conscious awareness. You have to know that your mind is automatically doing this and trust it; give your mind the freedom to do this work without suffocating it with conscious thought. In other words, focus your mental energies on scanning and skimming and just trust the rest of your mind to do its work behind the scenes and you will be greatly rewarded.
Approach the information you need to read as if you are standing in a wide open field. Outdoors in wide open spaces, your eyes naturally look to the horizon. They sweep over the space and you become aware of the totality of your environment. You notice the colors of the sky and the texture of the earth; you take in all the elements with all of your senses, but you don’t linger on any one thing long enough to fully study it. You notice, for example, that there are many trees in the distance, but you don’t focus your eyes there to actually count them.
This is how you scan when you read. You read the title and notice how many pages or paragraphs there are in the whole piece; you read the sub headings and look for words that are bold, underlined or italicized. You notice any pictures or graphs and you look at them as you would watch a bird that flies across your path in the open field.
This is scanning: you simply get an awareness of your surroundings. In the case of reading, your surroundings are the entirety of the content in the material.
Back to the field – once you are attuned to your surroundings, you will naturally be more interested in certain aspects than others. This is what makes your experience in the field unlike anyone else’s. So you turn your attention to a cluster of trees, for example, and let your thoughts linger there longer than anywhere else. You study the trees, not in isolation, but in terms of their environment. You notice how they are clustered; you notice how they bridge the earth and the sky; you notice how they shelter the ground and house the bird you noticed earlier.
This is how you skim: you simply pick up certain specific bits of information from the reading and put it in your mental collection of take-aways form the material.
Notice that when scanning and skimming, you never sit down and read something word for word. The purpose of scanning and skimming is to first get an overview of understanding, and second, to gleam bits of information to take away, interpret, and use.