Scanning before you read can improve your comprehension.

Scanning might seem like a reading approach that yields less information, but scanning is an important first step in reading comprehension. Scanning prior to reading can help you understand the main points of the article. It can be particularly beneficial to students taking standardized tests, who can scan both the article itself and the standardized test questions before reading in earnest.

What Is Scanning?

Scanning is a form of pre-reading, and many study systems, including the popular SQ3R -- short for survey, question, read, recite and review -- advocate scanning a piece before reading text closely. When you scan, you'll be looking at headings, scanning the body of the piece for any frequently used words or concepts, reviewing the thesis of the piece and attempting to gain a general idea of the piece's argument or focus.

How to Scan

To scan a piece, read the first paragraph to locate the thesis. Then quickly skim the piece, taking note of any words that are frequently repeated. Review the headings and subheadings of the piece, and take note of any unfamiliar terms. Read the last paragraph in its entirety, and when you read the piece more closely, note whether the arguments and evidence in the article contradict or support the first and last paragraphs.

Benefits of Scanning

Scanning an article helps you understand the article's main points before you dive into the meat of the article. This can make it easier to critically read the piece and to develop questions. It can also help you decide if there are any unfamiliar concepts or terms that you need to study up on before you read the piece. Because it can sometimes take several pages for an author to get to the meat of her argument, scanning also enables you to understand what the author is building up to when you sit down to read the piece in its entirety.


Scanning is not a substitute for reading, and students who choose to only scan can end up with major comprehension issues. Missing even a single qualifier can dramatically change the meaning of a passage. Scanning can also sometimes establish some preconceived notions that may be incorrect. You might assume an article is about the writer's opposition to a law, for example, but it could turn out that the article addresses the law's pros and cons. The things you learn scanning a piece are not set in stone, and you'll need to adjust your perceptions based upon a subsequent thorough reading.