By the end of this you will be able to:

  1. explain  what scanning  is
  2. explain  the principles  of scanning
  3. scan given  passages
  4. state clearly  the advantages  of scanning.

What is Scanning?

Scanning refers to taking a close examination  of a text or scrutinizing  a text for a piece of specific  information.  It is a technique  often used to rapidly cover a great deal of material,  in order to locate a specific fact or some information. 

When you scan a passage (text), your aim is not to understand  the sentences; you only want to find  some information.’  In other words, you look at a text quickly  without  careful or critical reading.  The objective therefore is not to understand  the whole passage.’ Scanning  is used when you first find  a resource to determine  whether it will answer your questions.  Once you have scanned the document,  you might  go back and skim it. 

When you scan, you must begin with a specific  question which has a specific answer.

Unlike  skimming,  in scanning,  you look only for a specific fact or piece of information  without reading everything.  When you look for a programme  in a show that is listed in a television  guide you scan. Other instances  of scanning  include  looking  for your friend’s  phone number in a telephone book or looking for the league scores of football in a newspaper or magazine.

For scanning  to be successful,  you need to understand  how your material is structured  as well as comprehend  what you read so you can locate the specific  information  you need.

Types of materials appropriate  for scanning

There are types of materials  appropriate for scanning.  These include  the following:

  1. Simple: lists,  dictionaries,  tables, signs,  classified  ads
  2. Less simple: reference works, tables of contents,  indices (indexes), web pages
  3. Complex: continuous  prose – documents,  articles,  books, long descriptions

Why Do We Scan?

  1. In simple material: to find  particular  names, facts, words, numbers,  and specific information
  2. In less simple material: to find  services,  data, resources, when exact wording is not available
  3. In complex material: to visualize  and follow an argument,  style, reasons, motifs, patterns, support for inference,  evidence of sound logic/  reasoning,  evidence of faulty reasoning,  propaganda, and/or bias
  4. On the web:  Scanning  is a method often employed  to sift through  the excess of information  available  on the web.

When and how is scanning useful as a study reading strategy for college students?

Scanning  involves  moving  your eyes quickly  down the page, seeking specific  words and phrases. As a student, you will find  scanning  to be a valuable  skill for locating  information  in reference materials.

Scanning  is also a fast and efficient  way to locate or review material in your textbooks. Scanning enables you to locate the section you need quickly  so that you may spend your time re-reading the relevant material more carefully.

When students face a new text they tend to read word by word. This way of reading affects the general understanding  of the passage, and the time  taken to finish  the reading can be too long for the final results.  The students can end up reading every word very well,  but in the long run the idea of what they have read is lost. To avoid this loss of time and effort a reader can use scanning to help. This type of scanning  has to do with running  your eyes down the text, searching  for important  or key words, as well as the most outstanding  facts. Scanning  can be a preliminary  step in reading because, with it you can locate new terms, look up items in a dictionary  or a glossary and save time when you actually  begin to read. This type of scanning  should  not take more than a couple of minutes.  After that you must decide which terms are the most important  and which part of the reading deserves more attention.  Do not forget that this is only a comprehension technique  designed  to help you get into the reading.  In order to interpret the author’s intentions and ideas, it is important  to read the whole  text, and then your analysis  of it must be done with more attention  to detail.

How To Scan – The Principles

 Every day we scan many different  types of materials.  For this reason it will not be difficult learning  more details about scanning.  It is essential that before you start scanning,  you do the following:

  1. establish  your purpose,
  2. locate the appropriate material,  and ignore all others iii.  be very fast
  3. know how the information  is structured.
  4.  when you find the sentence that has the information  you seek, read the entire sentence.

 When scanning,  look for the author’s use of organizers such as numbers,  letters, steps, or sentence signals such as, first, second, however, nevertheless or next. Look for words that are bold faced, italicised,  or in a different  font size, style, or color. Sometimes  the author will put key ideas in the margin.

The material you scan is typically  arranged in the following  ways: alphabetically, chronologically,  non-alphabetically,  by category, or textually.

Alphabetical  information  is arranged in order, from A to Z, while  chronological  information  is arranged in time or numerical order. Information  can also be arranged in non-alphabetical order, such as a television  listing,  or by category, listings  of like items such as an auto parts catalog. Sometimes  information  is located within  the written paragraphs of a text.

A person’s peripheral vision  can help him scan effectively.  When your hand moves down a list of names, you see not only the name your finger  is pointing  to, but also the names above and below. Let your eyes work for you when searching  for information.

You probably scanned in the past, without  knowing  you were doing so. Now, with the information  provided in this lesson, you can use scanning  more intentionally  and frequently.  The more you practice, the more effective  scanning  will become.

How You Can Improve Your Scanning Technique

You can use scanning  to help you find  information  quickly.  Here are some tips to help you improve and maintain  your scanning  speed without  reading the text in any depth.

Note carefully  the arrangement  of the information:

  1. Begin by previewing  the material if you do not already have a “map” (a mental outline  or visualization)  of how it is structured.
  2. Use the index/heading/bold  type etc. to find  the information  you require.
  3. For scanning  more complex material,  you will need a thorough  prior knowledge of the material:  the organization,  the content, stylistic  devices, and rules of rhetoric and logic.

 In the case of a dictionary,  for example,  you know the words are arranged alphabetically.  Using the guide words at the top of the page, you can locate the correct page quickly  and begin immediately  to scan the alphabetical  arrangement  of words.

 Alphabetical  arrangements  include  resource material such as a dictionary,  the index of a book, guides and reference listings

Non-alphabetical arrangements:

  •  television  listings: day and time
  • historical  data and tables of months and years – they come chronologically
  • sports pages by categories: baseball, football,  tennis,  etc.
  • best seller lists  numerically  according to number of copies sold
  • prose material:   articles in newspapers and magazines,  sections in encyclopedias  or other reference materials

 Whatever the source of reference you are using,  you can be sure it is arranged in some logical way. In order to save reading time, it is important  for you to know the arrangement  of the material in the resource you are using.  Therefore,  to prepare for scanning,  you must take a few minutes  to discover the organizational pattern. This will give you a general idea of the order of ideas and topics. Once you understand  the arrangement  of thoughts  in the selection,  you will be better able to predict where the information  you want may be located, and you can quickly  and efficiently  find  what you need.

 Keep clue words in mind:

  1.  Know your specific  question and understand  it.
  2. Create a mental image  of the fact, word, or phrase for which you are scanning.
  3. If the fact, word, or phrase does not appear, be ready to look for synonyms  or closely related ideas.
  4. Use clues provided by the author.
  5. Stay alert and keep that clear idea in your mind  (repeating  it to yourself if necessary) as you scan quickly  through  the text to find  the necessary information.

Speed and Accuracy:

  1. Move your eyes in a scanning  pattern and do not stop to read until you find the specific information  you are looking  for.
  2. Your goal should  be 100% accuracy.
  3. Use hand/finger  movement  to help you to move swiftly  down the page. This will help you to ignore whole blocks of information  which are not relevant  to your question.
  4. “Un-focusing  your eyes” or using  a soft focus may help you to avoid irrelevant  material and see the information  you want more quickly.

The Benefits of Scanning

  1. Scanning  helps you to become a more flexible  reader.
  2. Scanning  helps to speed up your reading.
  3. Scanning allows you to find  details and other information  in a hurry.

Exercise 1

Read the following text quickly and answer the questions.

  1. When were X-rays discovered?
  2. Who discovered them?
  3. What are the four characteristics of X-rays?

The Discovery of X-rays

Except for a brief description of the Compton Effect, and a few other remarks, we have postponed the discussion of X-rays until the present chapter because it is particularly convenient to treat X-ray spectra after treating optical spectra. Although this ordering may have given the reader a distorted impression of the historical importance of X-rays, this impression will be corrected shortly as we describe the crucial role played by X-rays in the development of modern physics.

X-rays were discovered in 1895 by Roentgen while studying the phenomena of gaseous discharge.  Using a cathode ray tube with a high voltage of several tens of kilovolts, he noticed that salts of barium would fluoresce when brought near the tube, although nothing visible was emitted by the tube. This effect persisted when the tube was wrapped with a layer of black cardboard. Roentgen soon established that the agency responsible for the fluorescence originated at the point at which the stream of energetic electrons struck the glass wall of the tube. Because of its unknown nature, he gave this agency the name X-rays. He found that X-rays could manifest themselves by darkening wrapped photographic plates, discharging charged electroscopes, as well as by causing fluorescence in a number of different substances. He also found that X-rays can penetrate considerable thicknesses of materials of low atomic number, whereas substances of high atomic number are relatively opaque. Roentgen took the first steps in identifying the nature of X-rays by using a system of slits to show that (1) they travel in straight lines, and that (2) they are uncharged, because they are not deflected by electric or magnetic fields.

The discovery of X-rays aroused the interest of all physicists, and many joined in the investigation of their properties. In 1899 Haga and Wind performed a single slit diffraction experiment with X-rays which showed that (3) X-rays are a wave motion phenomenon, and, from the size of the diffraction pattern, their wavelength could be estimated to be 10-8 cm. In 1906 Barkla proved that (4) the waves are transverse by showing that they can be polarized by scattering from many materials.

There is, of course, no longer anything unknown about the nature of X-rays. They are electromagnetic radiation of exactly the same nature as visible light, except that their wavelength is several orders of magnitude shorter. This conclusion  follows  from comparing  properties 1 through  4 with the similar  properties of visible  light,  but it was actually  postulated by Thomson  several years before all these properties were known. Thomson argued that X-rays are electromagnetic radiation because such radiation would be expected to be emitted from the point at which the electrons strike the wall of a cathode ray tube. At this point, the electrons suffer very violent accelerations in coming to a stop and, according to classical electromagnetic theory, all accelerated charged particles emit electromagnetic radiations.  We shall see later that this explanation of the production of X-rays is at least partially correct.

In common with other electromagnetic radiations, X-rays exhibit particle-like aspects as well as wave-like aspects. The reader will recall that the Compton Effect, which is one of the most convincing demonstrations of the existence of quanta, was originally observed with electromagnetic radiation in the X-ray region of wavelengths.

Answers: Check to see if these were the same answers you got for the questions asked:

1.   1895

2.   Roentgen

3.   a. they travel in straight  lines   b. they are uncharged    c. they are a wave motion phenomenon    d. the waves are transverse

Exercise 2:

Read the following text quickly and fill in the table. What do the numbers given in the table refer to?


Spoon-fed feel lost at the cutting edge

Before arriving  at university  students will have been powerfully  influenced  by their school’s approach to learning  particular  subjects. Yet this is only rarely taken into account by teachers in higher  education,  according to new research carried out at Nottingham University,  which could explain  why so many students experience  problems making  the transition.

Historian  Alan Booth says there is a growing  feeling  on both sides of the Atlantic  that the shift from school to university-style  learning  could be vastly improved.  But little consensus exists about who or what is at fault  when the students cannot cope. “School teachers commonly  blame the poor quality  of university  teaching,  citing  factors such as large first-year lectures, the widespread use of inexperienced  postgraduate tutors and the general lack of concern for students in an environment  where research is dominant  in career progression,” Dr Booth said.

Many university  tutors on the other hand claim that the school system is failing  to prepare students for what will be expected of them at university.  A-level history  in particular  is seen to be teacher-dominated,  creating  a passive dependency culture.

But while  both sides are bent on attacking  each other, little  is heard during  such exchanges  from the students themselves,  according to Dr Booth, who has devised a questionnaire  to test the views of more than 200 first-year history  students at Nottingham over a three-year period. The students were asked about their experience of how history is taught at the outset of their degree programme.  It quickly  became clear that teaching methods in school were pretty staid.

About 30 per cent of respondents claimed  to have made significant  use of primary sources (few felt very confident  in handling  them) and this had mostly been in connection with project work. Only 16 per cent had used video/audio;  2 per cent had experienced field  trips and less than 1 per cent had engaged in role-play.

Dr Booth found students and teachers were frequently  restricted  by the assessment  style which remains  dominated  by exams. These put obstacles in the way of more adventurous teaching  and active learning,  he said. Of the students in the survey just 13 per cent felt their A-level course had prepared them very well for work at university.  Three-quarters felt it had prepared them fairly  well.

One typical comment  sums up the contrasting  approach: “At A-level we tended to be spoon-fed with dictated notes and if we were told to do any background  reading (which was rare) we were told exactly which pages to read out of the book”.

To test this further, the students were asked how well they were prepared in specific skills central to degree level history study. The answers reveal that the students felt most confident  at taking notes from lectures and organizing  their notes. They were least able to give an oral presentation  and there was no great confidence  in contributing  to seminars, knowing  how much to read, using  primary  sources and searching  for texts. Even reading and taking notes from a book were often problematic.  Just 6 per cent of the sample said they felt competent at writing  essays, the staple A level assessment activity.

The personal influence  of the teacher was paramount.  In fact individual teachers were the centre of students’  learning  at A level with some 86 per cent of respondents reporting that their teachers had been more influential  in their development  as historians  than the students’ own reading and thinking.

The ideal teacher turned out to be someone who was enthusiastic  about the subject; a good clear communicator  who encouraged  discussion.  The ideal teacher was able to develop students’ involvement  and independence.  He or she was approachable and willing  to help. The bad teacher, according to the survey, dictates notes and allows no room for discussion.  He or she makes students learn strings  of facts; appears uninterested in the subject and fails  to listen  to other points of view.

No matter how poor the students judged their preparedness for degree-level study, however, there was a fairly widespread optimism that the experience would change them significantly,  particularly  in terms of their open mindedness  and ability  to cope with people.

But it was clear, Dr Booth said, that the importance  attached by many departments  to third-year teaching  could be misplaced.  “Very often tutors regard the third year as the crucial time, allowing  postgraduates to do a lot of the earlier teaching.  But I am coming to the conclusion  that the first year at university  is the critical point of intervention”.

 Alison  Utley, Times Higher Education Supplement. February 6th, 1998.

Answers: Check to see if these were the same answers you got for the questions asked: 

The instruction  was for you to read the following  text quickly  and fill in the table. What do the numbers given  in the table refer to?

1%      had engaged in role-play

2%      had experienced  field  trips

6%      felt competent at writing  essays

13%    felt A-level courses had prepared them very well for university

16%    had used video/audio

30%    had made significant  use of primary  sources

3/4       felt A-level courses had prepared them fairly  well for university

86%     reported that their teachers had been more influential in their development  as historians than the students’  own reading and thinking.


  1. Scanning  has to do with looking  for a specific piece of information  in a passage by scrutinising  that passage.
  2. In scanning  you search for key words or ideas.
  3. In scanning  you also look out for the author’s use of organisers  and topic sentences to identify  main ideas.
  4. Scanning  increases your reading speed and helps you read through a piece of passage very fast.



William Foli Garr, (Rev.) M.Phil.

Peer Reviewers

Prosper Kwesi Agordjor, M.Phil.

John Tetteh Agor, Ph.D.

 Modestus Fosu, Ph.D.