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How to Develop a Scan Technique for Competitive Intelligence Research

To process competitive intelligence information more efficiently, you need to develop a technique for skimming through articles and extracting key facts, figures, ideas, and opinions. Below is a three-pass technique that is highly efficient and effective.

First pass: Get a general idea of the topic

The goal of your first pass is to simply gather a general idea of what the intel you’re reading is about. The best way to do that is to read the way writers write.

Writers tend to follow a formula for writing, starting with a descriptive title. The first paragraph usually introduces the key ideas, body paragraphs support those key ideas, and the final paragraph recaps or reinforces the key ideas.

When performing your first pass, proceed as follows, spending no more than two minutes skimming through the article:

  1. Read the title.

    The title usually clues you in on what the article is all about.

  2. Study the first and last paragraphs of the article.

    The first paragraph usually contains the thesis statement — the main idea or the point that the author sets out to prove in the article. The final paragraph usually restates the point or summarizes the article.

    Look for a three-point outline that’s common in business writing and usually appears in the first and last paragraphs. A three-point outline merely states the three key ideas that the author sets out to address in the article.

  3. Read any headings to find out what’s covered in the body of the article.

    Headings are like road signs telling you what to expect.

Second pass: Pick out the main ideas and key details

Now that you have a general idea of what the article is about, read to pick out the main ideas and important details:

  1. Grab a yellow highlighter or notepad (if you’re reading the article online).

  2. Skim through the article again, highlighting or jotting down key ideas and important details.

  3. Watch for the golden moment of the article, where the writer sums up the main point.

    For example, as you study a white paper on the diffusion rates of online television, the writer comes to the conclusion that online programming is at least five years from being commercially viable.

Third pass: Summarize the intel in your own words

On your third pass, you should be ready to summarize the article in your own words:

  1. Quickly read through the article (two minutes max).

  2. Write a one-paragraph summary of the article.

    This one-paragraph summary can also be referred to as a sticky-note summary. When you’re working with an electronic database, the same summary is considered metadata (data about data).

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