3 Fast Previewing Strategies

Fast Reading Techniques_Previewing MethodsPreviewing material is one of the three basic speed reading techniques and allows picking the main idea and important information before digging into details. Previewing strategies are suitable for any material, but are rather used for non-fiction content than fiction books. The techniques are easy to understand and suitable for all ages. This post outlines major strategies to scan any material before reading.

What is previewing

Would you watch a movie without seeing the trailer before you head to the cinemas? Of course and why not. But, often a trailer gives you a good hint what the movie is about and whether it’s worth watching or not. It’s also fun. Same applies to previewing material. You skim a text to have quick look, see if you like it, but also get a quick understanding about the main ideas.

When you preview you can choose from three major strategies. These are

  • reading key sentences
  • scan for name and numbers
  • scan for trigger words

A fourth one taught by speed reading teachers such as Ron Cole is called novel previewing. I may cover this in a future post, but for now will focus on methods for non-fiction content.

Previewing strategies include

  • reading the title
  • previewing all subheadlines
  • reading the back of a book
  • skimming indexes or contents
  • checking for images, graphs or tables
  • scanning bullet lists and bold words
  • realizing everything that pops up by default

1. Previewing key sentences

Reading the first sentence of a paragraph often delivers a quick snapshot of the paragraph’s main idea.

How does it work? A common writing tip is to reserve one paragraph for each idea. Another one is to place the most relevant information first. Hence, an ideal paragraph bears the key information in the first sentence and introduces further details in the following ones. Alternatively, the last sentence could include a summary that actually carries the main idea.

From my experience it works pretty well, though I don’t read all sentences and often stop after a few pages or paragraphs and move on to the next block or chapter. I do this in favor to be able to recall their basic concepts. When I started I had trouble remembering the first sentence once I’ve read the 20th.

An assignment below will tackle this issue and provides exercises to improve key sentence reading and recalling.

2. Scan for name and numbers

Most texts have names or numbers, which relate to facts, people or places. It’s not important to get all the facts in the right order while previewing. However, I always found it useful to know where and when a story takes place, who is involved and what the main fact is about.

To start scanning move your index finger across the page either in zigzag or serpentine style. You may quickly recall the name or number a few times. Then read the full text picking up all other details to complete the image. The assignment offers some exercises.

3. Previewing trigger words

I learned this technique a few years back when I read a book by Paul Scheele called Photo Reading. The idea is to speed through an article or book and look for the main keywords. They should pop up when you fly over a page and mainly relate to nouns or compounds. This article would refer to previewing, name and numbers, key sentence or speed reading strategies as trigger words.

The best way to get started start is reading the title, the back of the book or the contents. Having a general interest won’t hurt as well. This approach will automatically reveal two or three main trigger words and helps your brain to narrow on a topic. It’s cooking and not car insurances for example.

Then fly through a book. Imagine sitting in a sightseeing plane. You get the big picture from above, pick a few interesting spots (trigger words) and when you return from the trip you read for more details.

Assignment previewing strategies

1. Key sentence. Choose any book of interest. Read the first sentences of each paragraph. Recall the main ideas by visualizing the concept. Start with 4 or 5 key sentences. Master it. Increase the numbers by one and so on. Recalling 10 sentences will already give you a lot of information before reading.

2. Names and numbers. Chose an essay or article and scan for names and numbers. Stop for each fact a few seconds, realize it and if you like say it. Now read the material and see what happens and whether the previewed facts will make themself visible again.

3. Trigger words. Choose articles or books for this exercise. Read title, headlines, content or back of the book. Jot down the trigger words. Fly through the material and stop at points of interests or words that pop up. Jot them down. Those are your trigger words. Articulate questions what you expect from the reading and what should be answered.


Enjoy learning! Want to get serious about your reading skills? Take part in the free 21 Days Speed Reading Challenge!

Did I miss anything? You can add more tips in the comment section below!

Photo Credit: Creative Commons 3.0 FlickR / John Smith “una nos lucror” Title: speed read!

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  1. Jennifer D. says

    I used some of these technique in high school and college while preparing for term papers and tests. Of course, I didn’t realize I was using speed reading techniques at the time. But I bet most students do employ these.

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