Author: Sydney Bauer
This lesson explains how to scan a reading.
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Introduction to Psychology

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We’ve all had practice in scanning, even if we didn’t know it was scanning at the time. Think of those times when you look over a list of search results online, pages in the dictionary as you try to find the word you’re looking for, or topics included in the index of a book. You’re not reading every single word. Instead, you’re simply moving your eyes quickly back and forth across the page looking for the shape of a specific word, or clusters of related words (the key terms and phrases that will help you understand the overall reading passage).


Scanning helps you to visually map out where those key terms and phrases are located within the passage, so that when you go back to answer the questions, you’ll know where to look. Think of it as a way to locate the main ideas of a reading passage, as well as determine how the author has organized the information.


Some things you’ll want to look for while scanning a passage:

  • Any terms that are bolded, italicized, or defined in a footnote or margin
  • Any terms that appear repeatedly throughout the passage
  • Section headings/subheadings, as well as words that determine the order of information (first, second, third), so that you can see how the information is organized and presented.


Keep in mind: the purpose of scanning is to create a visual map of the information provided in a reading passage. Scanning won’t necessarily help you understand the information, but it will help you to quickly locate the information throughout the reading passage.