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4 months ago

Does an online format cause readers to skim rather than fully digest information?


A clear understanding of what Skimming is, first has to be acquired, as many of us have just a faint knowledge of what it really means. Understanding the term then helps you the reader realize reasons that online format could easily encourage it and help recapture the need for fully digesting information. This is not to say that online formats are bad or something else is better but to highlight the need for a balance and answer what could come across as a mere question; Does an online format cause readers to skim rather than fully digest information?

Skimming is the process most people are familiar with that is confused with scanning most times and that is finally before reading or studying.  Although many of us skim through materials consciously or otherwise, skimming is intended to be a strategic, selective reading method in which you focus on the main ideas of a text. Extracting the essence of the author’s main messages rather than the finer points is Skimming. Scanning, on the other hand, is reading line by line in order to find specific information. It involves Knowing what you're looking for, Looking for only one keyword at a time, allowing the eyes to float rapidly down the page until you find the word or phrase you want. On catching one of the keywords one can then read the surrounding material carefully.

In skimming through a text there is a deliberate skip through text that provides details, stories, data, or other elaboration. Other than a close reading of every word, one focuses on the introduction, chapter summaries, first and last sentences of paragraphs, bold words, and text features to draw the main point or at least gain some insight on the set topic.  Following skimming, one can decide if the material will be useful before proceeding to scan or read. Skimming is reading a text quickly to get a general idea of meaning.

Readable Online formats

Starting from the very common DOC — Microsoft Word DOCument, we have been witnesses to different online readable formats. Keeping in mind that we now read from our mobile phones, laptops and the likes, one can safely say that content which is non-paper (not readable in hardcopy) is in an online format. There is the GIF — Graphics Interchange Format. Which is popular on social media like Whatsapp or twitter; we use them to exchange information, they were first for pictures to be portrayed and now even texts can be displayed in GIFs. Also existent is HTML/ HTM — HyperText Markup Language file which is used for write-ups on website posts and even JPG/JPEG — Joint Photographic Experts Group file that also carries texts.

Readable Online formats have become even more reachable or easily accessible than physical books or other hardcopy materials like Journals over time. A previous discussion on Is technology changing the way we read? has shed light on how much technology has affected people’s reading patterns. But it ended on the note that a choice of reading in one format or another is really dependent on the individual no matter what innovations of technology have done to influence them directly or indirectly.

On to the question at hand, in some cases, the online format can cause readers to skim rather than fully digest information, but technology is also promoting the full read in certain ways. It’s true that technology has made our attention span very little and due to which we tend to skim stuff very quickly but the same technology is helping us to get the most relevant information and ideas and let us hooked over them and hence read the complete content. We have been skimming from the newspaper age itself and if we want to be factual, with loads of information we did read the interesting category or information only and rest we read the headlines, but right now with more graphical presentation of the content we tend to interact with the information recommended by Artificial intelligence.

Online reading has far more distractions than traditional reading this is a pointer that online texts can influence skimming habits so readers actually skim much more than they traditionally have. Furthermore, the search function allows readers to skip over certain sections with ease. Even with assertions from research, it is widely believed to be true that online texts cause one to skim rather than read.

In the early days of websites, designers and copywriters written content in the inverted pyramid style that newspapers have long used. The inverted pyramid encourages writers to place the most critical information first, followed by less important information, with supporting details at the end. This way, readers can glean key messages by simply glancing at the first paragraph. So this is definitely another Yes, consumers of online content skim, rather than peruse, most content.

Today, even though the ways we consume online content have evolved, that rule still stands. In fact, readers are more inundated with messaging now than ever. That makes them even more likely to scroll through a page quickly while skimming the content. The online format allows spread information around the world and quickly, but it has also come with some disadvantages including distorted reading habits through skimming. First of all, if we focus on the nature of the tool through online format spreads, we have to think that screen light can strain our eyes and cause headaches, making it sometimes harder to read. Plus, if we read a text through a website that is not user-friendly, it will be hard, if not impossible, to zoom in texts and images if we use devices with small screens (smartphones, smartwatches), making harder to read. But we have to consider also the human mind: human concentration and attention, especially when we read an online format, last shortly, of the order of few minutes.  Moreover, the human mind tends to use an “F” reading scheme, which means that the most seen parts of online formats, especially texts, are the first lines and the leftmost ones. In the case of videos, our attention is focused on the first 30 seconds, and when we usually put audio down, especially when we use mobile tools and are on the move.

It’s natural that, with these premises, the online format can be sometimes hard to fully interact with, especially if it is too long since lots of people have a short attention span and time to spend reading online news. For these reasons, there are misunderstandings and lacks of information. Certainly skimming is sponsored by online readable format but may not be the ultimate cause of it. Skimming has existed from time as a quick method to gather information needed as we have proven herein. There is really nothing that can be done to eradicate online formats or to stop people from skimming if it is considered a problem. Skimming is intended to give off the idea of a text and should most likely be used in that regard to avoid getting used to in our educational or personal habits. notably, we need not forget the need to fully digest information is primarily to understand and retain such information over a long time for future or immediate use. When you skim, you are more likely to forget and keep going back to a text unlike actual reading or studying. Then again, the reason one is looking for a certain type of information determines if one would need to either skim through or outrightly read and digest it.

One can categorically label this ‘skimming’ borne from online texts as a problem. Students, who read the most of all people, need to actually read or study to instill knowledge that will last in memory, so skimming is definitely a contextually wrong choice for school reading. For those who can positively aid the situation like bloggers, writers, editors and other relevant personnel, it’s necessary to make short and concise online texts, in order to avoid information losses in addition to other measures. This will most likely discourage lazy reading that is masked as skimming in this context and even for videos, they could be short and the use of subtitles can be applied; like youtube added to its features recently. Then again these people can only do so much in making the best formats of information available, leaving readers to curtail their habits. Individual readers should stick to what suits them.



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Credits- Akshay Bansal, Steve Silberberg, Laura Stringer, Matteo Fragnan



Anita O.

Lover of tech and blockchain.

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