MODULE 4 .1 -  SCANNING


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Module 4.1 -  Scanning 

Learning Objectives: When you finish Mod 4.1 you should be able to answer the following questions:

What is scanning?

How can I improve my scanning technique?

Why scan?

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


What is scanning?


Scanning is often confused with skimming, but is in fact a distinct reading strategy involving rapid but focused reading of text, in order to locate specific information, e.g. looking for particular details such as dates, names, or certain types of words. It is processing print at a high speed while looking for answers to specific questions. When you scan, you must begin with a specific question which has a specific answer. Scanning for information in this way should be both fast and accurate.


Acceptable rates:  1000 wpm or more


Acceptable comprehension:  100%


Here's an example of scanning for specific information: Try this scanning exercise.


Types of materials appropriate for scanning:

  • Simple: lists, dictionaries, tables, signs, classified ads

  • Less simple: reference works, tables of contents, indices (indexes), web pages

  • Complex: continuous prose - documents, articles, books, long descriptions

Backward scanning is a regression while reading to check a specific word or one's understanding of a specific word. This happens so quickly that often a reader is unaware of the unconscious action whereas regular scanning is a conscious, focused action.


How can I improve my scanning technique?


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 the arrangement of the information:

  • Begin by previewing the material if you don't already have a "map" (a mental outline or visualization) of how it is structured.
  • Use the index/heading/bold type etc. to find the information you require.
  • For scanning more complex material, you'll 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 being immediately to scan the alphabetical arrangement of words.

Alphabetical arrangements:  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

month and year - 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:

  • Know your specific question and understand it.
  • Create a mental image of the fact, word, or phrase for which you are scanning.
  • If the fact, word, or phrase does not appear, be ready to look for synonyms or closely related ideas.
  • Use clues provided by the author.
  • 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:

  • Move your eyes in a scanning pattern and don't stop to read until you find the specific information you are looking for
  • Your goal should be 100% accuracy 
  • 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.
  • "Unfocusing your eyes" or using a soft focus may help you to avoid irrelevant material and see the information you want more quickly. Try this interesting slide show to help you get the idea:

More self-pacing techniques to practice

Warm-Up Exercise

Warm-Up Exercise
Hold a book at a comfortable distance from your eyes (generally 18 inches). Move your eyes rapidly in an hourglass pattern from one corner of the page to the next for approximately 10 seconds. Now all six sets of eye muscles should be warmed up and you're ready to begin.


Horizontal Training
Scanning patterns: 

The "Z" Sweep
Turn to the first full-text page in any book you are about to read. 
Practice scanning all the way down the page, using your index finger as a pacing device and horizontally scanning from the beginning to the ending of each line, moving rapidly to the next line, then the next. (Remember The Zigzag from Activity 3.1?) Don't attempt to read the words! Just move your eyes back and forth as fast as you can. You will only stop to read when you have located the specific information for which you are scanning. 

Now, try the same "Z" sweep technique with a variation. When you are moving your index finger (and, of course, your eyes) in the downward direction (the diagonal slant of the "Z"), take in 2 to 3 lines instead of just 1. You should begin your next left to right sweep 2 or 3 lines down the page. Repeat this hand/eye movement down the page. 

Gradually increase the number of lines encompassed by the diagonal slant. With some material you may be able to scan the whole page with one "Z" pattern.

The "S" Curve

This pacing pattern is similar to the "Z" sweep except you will move your pacing device and eyes in a more open, curved pattern. Instead of sweeping your hand on a diagonal slant between the lines to always start at the left of the line, curve it around under the next line from right to left. Then curve it around the next line from left to right. Alternate directions, left to right, right to left, left to right and so on.

Practice this technique first line by line then increase the curves to take in 2 or 3 lines at a time. In addition, practice cutting 1 to 1.5 inches off  each end of the lines. Gradually modify your hand movement, decreasing the length of the left to right, right to left and increasing the number of lines included in each curve. Remember The Sweep from Activity 3.1? Think of this as an expanded Sweep that moves very rapidly.

Straight Down Sweep

As your "S" curve moves more and more rapidly, it can evolve into the straight down movement we have used before with newspaper and other narrow columns. For purposes of scanning especially this technique may be practiced with wider columns.

Place your whole hand on the printed page about 2 lines down from the top of the print with your fingers spread slightly so that they extend across the entire line of print. Move you hand down the page evenly and smoothly, without stopping under any line. When you go to the next page, you hand again starts about two lines down from the top of the print and then moves straight down the page. Your eyes may either move directly down the center of the page or make 2 stops on each section of print: 1 stop in the center of the left portion and one in the center of the right portion. 

Why scan?

  • In simple material: to find particular names, facts, words, numbers, and specific information

  • In less simple material: to find services, data, resources, when exact wording is not available

  • 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

  • On the web:  Scanning is a method often employed to sift through the plethora of information available on the web. Check out this site that attempts to explain the differences between reading text and reading on the web. Has the author accurately described your website reading techniques? 


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


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.


Preview Scanning:

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 consists on 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 them up 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.


Check out Skimming and Scanning Scientific Material. These tips are good for moving quickly and efficiently through any type of textbook - not just science.


Activity 4.1 - Scanning Practice

For this activity you will be using exercises from your DRV textbook for scanning practice. You will find a variety of formats from simple to complex arrangement of information and questions designed to give you practice scanning for specific information. Read the introductory material and complete all 4 exercises on pages 150 - 158 in DRV. You may answer the questions in your book if you don't mind tearing out the pages; otherwise, answer on notebook paper. Leave your responses in your lab folder (clearly labeled as Activity 4.1 - Scanning Practice).

Be sure to follow the guidelines in your book regarding time limits. Maintain a steady, rapid pace; use your hand movements to push yourself (your eyes and your mind) to keep up that pace pausing to read only when you have (or think you have) located the specific material for which you are scanning. Don't relax; feel a sense of urgency as you scan. Work with all the pacing techniques introduced above and choose the one most effective for you. Remember to work to increase your focus, concentration, and attention.

Write a paragraph at the bottom of your exercise answers reflecting on your attempts and success so far with scanning. Which pacing techniques work best for you? How can you use scanning to help you be a more efficient reader?

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