4 Pre-reading Strategies

When you’re ready to settle in with a text, it’s a good idea to begin with pre-reading. With pre-reading, you’ll turn into a temporary sleuth, examining the text for visual clues as to its meaning. Here’s how it’s done:

  • Start by reading and considering the title. A good title will inform you about the text’s content. It’s always nice if titles are also interesting, catchy, or even clever, but the most important job of a title is to let the reader know what’s coming and what the text will be about.
    • For instance, imagine you’re looking at a magazine article entitled “Three Hundred Sixty-five Properly Poofy Days.” Do you have any idea what this article is going to be about?
      • It could be written by a meteorologist, reporting on a year of observing cloud formations.
      • It might be a biopic (a biographical story) about an eccentric salon that specializes in big hairdos, retro-style.
      • Or perhaps it’s a set of guidelines for using poofy cotton balls to apply cosmetics.
      • What if it’s a story about a dog groomer who does show grooms for poodles, the poofiest of dogs?
The title should, hopefully, give you clues to the article content. (Also keep in mind all the other text elements in a magazine that can help you gain meaning for this article.)
  • Look at the author’s name. Have you heard of the author? Do you know anything about them? Sometimes you’ll find a short bio about the author at the beginning or end of a text. You can always Google them to look for more details. Ideally, the author should be an acknowledged expert on the subject or should have degrees, training, or credentials that make them an expert.
    • Learn more about the CRAP method for evaluating sources in the information literacy section titled “Finding Quality Texts.”
  • Skim through the article, looking for headings or “pull-outs.” (content that is pulled off to one side or highlighted in a box). Headings, if present, will often give you clues as to the text’s content as well as showing you how the subject has been divided into sections.
  • Look for any images: photographs, charts, graphs, maps, or other illustrations. Images—and their captions—will often give you valuable information about the topic.
  • If working with an e-text, you may also find embedded web links. Follow these: they’ll often lead you to resources that will help you better understand the article.
  • Here’s a seriously expert-level suggestion: most academic texts and essays follow a fairly similar structure—including beginning every paragraph with a strong, focused topic sentence—you can often get a quick summary or understanding of a written text by simply reading the first sentence in every paragraph. Some authors may use the second sentence as their topic sentence, and if you notice this pattern, reading all of the second sentences in each paragraph will help you follow the text. You can also read the conclusion at the end of the entire text, the conclusion of each section, and the conclusion of each paragraph. I call this technique “bookending” when I teach it to my students.

After working through the above suggestions, see how much you can figure out about the text simply by pre-reading. In other words, look for the global or central idea or argument.

Now, you’re ready to dive in and actually read the text completely. Your pre-reading has given you an overall picture of what to expect and helped you build a schema of what the author wants you to know at the end of the reading. If the pre-reading has worked well, giving you clues to the text’s content, your actual in-depth reading will be easier and more effective. And, you’ll begin reading with your curiosity already aroused, which is a great way to start!

Exercise: Practice Your Pre-Reading Skills

Find the Chatelaine article, “Harry, Meghan And Me: What This Royal Moment Could Mean For Indigenous People.”

Before reading the article, work through the above pre-reading skills.

  • Based on what you found in your pre-reading, what do you think the text is about? How much do you know about the topic already? What did you already know (before you even looked at the article)?
  • Now, switch to in-depth reading and read the article carefully, taking notes of any questions you have or words you don’t understand.
  • If needed, do a bit of quick research on any questions or unknown words you identified.
  • How did the pre-reading affect your ideas of what to expect from the text? How did your understanding of the piece compare between what you learned from pre-reading versus a complete reading? What does this tell you about the relationship between pre-reading and in-depth reading?

Text Attributions

  • This chapter was adapted from “Use Pre-reading Strategies” in The Word on College Reading and Writing by Carol Burnell, Jaime Wood, Monique Babin, Susan Pesznecker, and Nicole Rosevear, which is licensed under a CC BY-NC 4.0 Licence. Adapted by Allison Kilgannon.

Media Attributions


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Advanced English Copyright © 2021 by Allison Kilgannon is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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