Reading Strategy: Previewing

What It Is

Previewing is a strategy that readers use to recall prior knowledge and set a purpose for reading. It calls for readers to skim a text before reading, looking for various features and information that will help as they return to read it in detail later.

Why Use It

According to research, previewing a text can improve comprehension (Graves, Cooke, & LaBerge, 1983, cited in Paris et al., 1991).

Previewing a text helps readers prepare for what they are about to read and set a purpose for reading.

The genre determines the reader’s methods for previewing:

  • Readers preview nonfiction to find out what they know about the subject and what they want to find out. It also helps them understand how an author has organized information.
  • Readers preview biography to determine something about the person in the biography, the time period, and some possible places and events in the life of the person.
  • Readers preview fiction to determine characters, setting, and plot. They also preview to make predictions about story’s problems and solutions.

When To Use It

Previewing is a strategy readers use before and during reading.

How To Use It

When readers preview a text before they read, they first ask themselves whether the text is fiction or nonfiction.

  • If the text is fiction or biography, readers look at the title, chapter headings, introductory notes, and illustrations for a better understanding of the content and possible settings or events.
  • If the text is nonfiction, readers look at text features and illustrations (and their captions) to determine subject matter and to recall prior knowledge, to decide what they know about the subject. Previewing also helps readers figure out what they don’t know and what they want to find out.

How to Preview

Movie marquee for the Athena theater. Message reads "see you soon."

Consider previewing a text as similar to watching a movie preview.

Think of previewing a text as similar to creating a movie trailer.  A successful preview for either a movie or a reading experience will capture what the overall work is going to be about, generally what expectations the audience can have of the experience to come, how the piece is structured, and what kinds of patterns will emerge.

Previewing engages your prior experience, and asks you to think about what you already know about this subject matter, or this author, or this publication.  Then anticipate what new information might be ahead of you when you return to read this text more closely.

Previewing Strategies

The following strategies should be done before reading the text.  You should not read the entire text, or even a substantial portion of it, but instead use the following steps as a way to get a sense of the reading’s organization, development, intended audience, and so on.

  • Read any information about the author and reading offered prior to the text of the reading itself.
  • Research about the author (if none or not enough is provided in an overview) and the publication.
  • Read the title and subtitle (if there is one).
  • Read the introduction.
  • Scan the reading for section headings.  If there are no headings, then read the first sentence or two of each section.
  • View any charts, tables, photographs, and any other visuals.
  • Read the conclusion.
  • Take a look at any reading questions before or after the piece.