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Scanning Text for the Information You Need

Think of scanning as a hyperactive form of skimming, which is in a turn a quicker form of speed reading. You speed through the text in search of information without any regard for the overall gist of the author’s ideas. All you want is information about a specific topic — George Washington, the influenza virus, copper production in 19th-century Peru, ancient Greek sandal sizes, or whatever. To help you become a top-notch scanner, the following sections give you tips on scanning well.

When you’re scanning, it helps to think in terms of targets. Think of an informational target you want to hit and then try to hit it in the text. Here are some other tips for scanning:

  • Use all your powers of concentration. Scanning is boring as all get-out, so you may be inclined to slip into laziness. But if you get lazy and fail to concentrate, you won’t find the information you want.

  • Scan for the two or three search terms that describe the information you want. You can recognize terms more readily on the page if you have them in mind while you scan.

  • Use the Find command to scan a Web page. Press Ctrl+F (the Find command), enter a search term, and press Enter. Your Web browser scrolls to the first instance of the search term you entered (if the term appears on the page at all).

  • Look at all italicized words. According to popular publishing convention, authors often italicize and explain terms the first time they use them. If you’re reading a printed book or magazine article that conforms to these conventional editorial standards, you can look to italicized words for explanations and perhaps for the information you need.

  • Don’t be shy about using the table of contents and index. Why scan when you can look up the information you need in the index? Why pore over numerous pages when the table of contents can direct you to the information you want?

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