The superficial reading is what we do to get an idea of the content of an article, a story or book. It is used to obtain general information about a topic, or when we are looking for a particular piece of information.
When we pick up a book, read some of the information, check the index (the table of contents) and read the first paragraphs of the introduction to get an idea, we are doing a cursory reading.
When we review the news portals online, reading the headlines and introductory texts without stopping at any of them, until we reach a news item that interests us, it is also making a superficial reading.
It contrasts with deep or intense reading, which is one that we do carefully, reading each paragraph in full, slowly and without skipping the lines.
Characteristics of surface reading
It is informative
A superficial reading allows us to get an idea of the publication we are reviewing, and if it will be able to serve us for the research or the work that we are doing.
It’s a quick read
Reading is superficial when we do it “as the bird’s eye”, going through the pages without stopping, that is why it can also be considered a form of speed reading.
It is not a linear reading
When you do a superficial reading, you read the main ideas and jump to the next paragraph; it is read “between the lines”, skipping the information that does not interest us, paragraphs and even entire pages.
It can be a rereading or review
Often a superficial reading occurs because it is a rereading, the revision of a material that had already been read.
Done as part of a job, and less often for pleasure
A superficial reading of recreational texts (poems, stories, novels) is also possible, especially when it comes to rereading and we want to skip paragraphs or chapters that did not interest us.
It is an attribute or characteristic of virtual reading
Different experiments and documented experiences have proven that reading on the screen (digital or virtual) tends to be less deep or intense than readings made in paper books or magazines. Virtual reading is often superficial reading.
Differences between shallow reading and deep reading
The superficial reading goes above, seeking to get a general idea; deep reading stops at the concepts and ideas contained in each sentence.
Form and content
Exploration and interpretation
The superficial reading is an exploratory reading, it allows us to know new books and contents; while deep reading is interpretive, analytical, seeks to understand and delve into the content.
Advantages of surface reading
Ability to review a greater number of publications
Shallow reading is generally a speed reading that allows access to more information in less time.
The superficial reading allows to locate a word, a concept or data more quickly, identifying key words in the search.
It favors searching and browsing the internet
Reading the most important headlines and paragraphs allows a more fluid “navigation” on the Internet, while selecting the information that interests us.
May promote concentration
Superficial reading does not imply a lack of concentration, on the contrary: when looking for data or materials in different publications, the reader must concentrate to identify ideas and keywords.
Helps make connections between concepts
The superficial and fast reading of different texts or publications can help to establish relationships and connections between them, which would not be easily distinguishable with a more delayed reading.
Shallow reading examples
Review of materials for an essay or school work
When we begin to review pages on the Internet, and to skim through different publications that can be useful for an investigation, we are making superficial readings.
Daily news reading
The reading of headlines on mobile and computer screens, today a habit as widespread as before was leafing through the morning newspapers before leaving for work.
The habit of flipping through newspapers and magazines makes us pay attention to the headlines and headlines that are in larger type, making a quick reading, unless we are caught by a particular article.
Review of manuals or instructions
In this way, protocols, contracts and regulations are also read, skipping the preliminary considerations and the articles and rules that are repeated in the documents, to concentrate on the most relevant ones.
Rereading of texts
When conducting research, you often have to go back to the same text two or three times. The first reading serves to get an overview of the material; in the second we go directly to the aspects that interest us; and there may be a third superficial reading when we want to quote or refute information.
For some authors, like Jorge Luis Borges, every first reading is always superficial, and that is why it is important to reread the books, even when it comes to reading poetry, short stories and novels. There are things that we only see or understand with a second reading.
Screen reading (phone, internet)
Currently the main newspapers of each country have portals where the main news of the day can be read, and it is normal to see people reviewing headlines and short texts, while walking or going on public transport.
On the other hand, consultations and readings on the Internet are usually moving from one text to another quickly, opening links (links), and reviewing several pages at the same time.
Screen reading has become the most widespread superficial reading in the 21st century, and is often interspersed, supported or interrupted by audiovisual material.