Getting the Big Picture of a Chapter

Reasons to Get the Big Picture of a Chapter

You can get the "big picture" of a chapter's content by previewing it. Chapter previewing (also known as pre-reading or surveying) helps you to:

  1. Warm up and focus your mind.
  2. Create interest in the topic you are about to study.
  3. Form a big picture of the chapter so that you have something to relate details to when you begin your thorough reading.

Previewing can be done at the chapter level or at the book level. This page focuses on previewing at the chapter level. (For information about previewing at the book level, see Getting the Big Picture of a Book.)

How to Get the Big Picture of a Chapter

The concept of previewing at the chapter level involves taking a "quick peek" at some of the chapter's main topics and key organizational features. Most people tend to treat an individual chapter as they do an entire book; they just start reading the chapter without paying attention to its overall organization. You'll find that you understand and retain a chapter's contents much better if you pre-read it first.

These are the chapter elements you should read when previewing a chapter:

Chapter Title

The chapter title usually gives the reader a general idea of what the chapter is about. You might even find that a clearly worded title summarizes the entire chapter. When you read a chapter title, let its meaning sink in and get your mind wondering about what will be covered and how it might relate to what you already know.

First and Last Paragraphs of Chapter

The first and final chapter paragraphs often summarize the whole chapter in just a few words. They are a great way to "warm up" before reading further. If the chapter begins with chapter objectives or other types of chapter overviews, include these in your pre-reading.

Headings and Subheadings

Headings and subheadings can provide a fairly detailed "outline" of the chapter's organization. They also provide insights to the general flow of the information presented in the chapter. Read through all the headings and subheadings to give yourself a "heads-up" about the content and its order.

Bold or Italicized Words

Boldface and italics are typically utilized by the author to focus the attention of the reader on the formatted words. In some cases, the formatted words indicate key terms within the chapter. In other cases, the formatted words indicate concepts that should be understood before continuing. Taking note of these during your pre-reading helps orient you to watch for the important terms and concepts when you start your thorough reading.

Tables, Graphs, and Pictures

Tables, graphs, pictures, etc. are typically used to convey complicated information in a more straightforward way. You know the old adage, "A picture is worth a thousand words." Get an idea of what information is presented via tables, graphs, and pictures during your pre-reading so that their significance is already known to you when you begin reading the chapter in earnest.

Chapter or Text Summaries

Unfortunately, chapter or text summaries are typically bypassed by most readers. Reading the chapter summary before actually reading the chapter can provide you with insights regarding what the chapter is about and what the author feels are the main points of the chapter.

Questions at the End of a Textbook Chapter

Reading through the questions at the end of the chapter as part of your pre-reading gives you an insight into what the author thinks are the most important concepts covered in that chapter and helps you to self-question as you move through the chapter.

Final Thoughts

You might be thinking that this whole previewing process will take "forever." In actuality, the previewing or pre-reading process at the chapter level should not take a long time—no more than 20 minutes, even for a long chapter. Remember, the idea is to get a "sneak peek" at what you will be reading and how it is organized.

Page last modified: February 12 2012.