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English: skills for learning
English: skills for learning

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3.3 Scanning for specific information

Having learned what the text is about and how it is organised, you may decide not to read it in depth but to just record some of the very specific information it contains. One reason for doing this may be because you are already familiar with the theme of the text and just need some details. In order to find this specific information, you need to scan the text.

Scanning consists of letting your eyes move quickly through the text until you find what you are looking for. As long as you know how the text is organised, this can be done quickly and without reading every word.

This is a technique many of us use every day. For example, I may scan the telephone directory to find a name. Or when I go to a restaurant, I scan the menu to find the vegetarian options.

Scanning texts is easy if you are familiar with their organisation. For example, I know that the menu of my favourite restaurant lists the main course under the heading ‘Mains’, so I scan this list looking for the word ‘vegetarian’, ‘vegetable’ or simply ‘V’.

In academic texts information is often grouped under headings, so to find a specific detail, you need to first locate the appropriate heading. If there are no headings, remember that the topic sentence of each paragraph is like a heading, as it tells you what the paragraph is about. In a paragraph, details can usually be found in the sentences that follow the topic sentence so this is where you need to look.

When you think you have found the relevant section or paragraph, look for key words or figures.

You will practise this skill in the following activity.

Activity 9

Timing: Allow approximately 10 minutes

Using the understandings you gained from skim reading the text in Activity 7 [Tip: hold Ctrl and click a link to open it in a new tab. (Hide tip)] , quickly scan the text again to answer the following questions. Make your notes in the box below before looking at the answer.

  1. How many children are underweight?
  2. What percentage of children die because of under-nutrition?
  3. What diseases are caused by over-nutrition?
  4. Who develops type 2 diabetes – adults or children?

You will need to first select the relevant section. To answer questions 1 and 2, look for numbers and percentages. To answer questions 3 and 4 look for specific words.

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To answer these questions successfully you needed to look for numbers and percentages as well as words describing diseases and the words adult and child.

  1. 100 million [P3].
  2. 35% [P3].
  3. Coronary heart disease, type 2 diabetes, gallstones, arthritis, high blood pressure and some types of cancer [P6].
  4. Both adults and children [P7].


This activity has shown that having gained an overview of a text, it is often possible to search for specific information by scanning it. This technique is very useful when you don’t need to read the text in depth. As you will see in the following section, if you wish to gain a full understanding of the text, you will need to read it again in depth while focusing on the main points.