Another aspect of being a more efficient and effective reader is to look over the text before reading. This is called surveying or previewing the text. By looking over the material before reading it, you get a sneak preview of what you will be reading. This can aid in focus because you can identify which sections you may lose focus on. This, in turn, allows you to better plan the amount of time it will take you to read the assignment, think about what knowledge you already have of the topic—your schema (the less you know, the longer it will probably take), look up information before reading that may help you better understand the topic, and think about how the reading is organized.
How do I survey?
To survey you want to look at features of the text that help you predict what it will be about and prepare yourself for the information you will learn. Some common ways to survey include the following:
- Read the title. The title indicates the topic of the
- Check the author and source of the article. This information may provide clues about the reading’s content or
- Read the first paragraph or introduction. The introduction introduces you to the topic and suggests how the rest of the reading will be
- Read headings and subheadings. The subheadings or subtitles suggest the specific focus of the
- Read the first few sentences after each heading and subheading. These sentences often state the main point of the
- Read text that stands out typographically (such as bolded, italicized, or underlined text). This emphasis indicates important information or vocabulary that the author wants to stand
- Look over graphics and pictures. If a graphic or picture is included, it often suggests the information in and around it is
- Read the summary (if included). The summary provides a condensed view of the reading and often outlines key
- Look for patterns of organization or how the reading is set up. These patterns will help determine what is important in the article and what information you should annotate most carefully. 1
1 From Reading Across the Disciplines by McWhorter.
Why should I survey?
Surveying will give you a mental outline of the reading. In other words, you will know the main idea and major points of the text before you start reading it. Additionally, you will know what to expect including patterns, difficulty level, and type of vocabulary. This mental outline of what is in the reading and what you need to do to prepare to read it helps you maintain focus because you are actively trying to fill out the details of the outline.
Surveying also makes it possible to assess your interest and knowledge level for the topic so you know if you need to build schema (prior knowledge) prior to reading. Knowing the difficulty level and how complex the text is will help you better estimate the time it will take to read so you can plan accordingly.
What should I survey for my current reading assignment?
For different classes on campus, different aspects of the text are important to survey.
For example, for History, it is very important to know who the author is before reading because different historians have different interpretations of history. For your ENGWR 300 class, the author may or may not be important. It depends on the type of text and the purpose for reading the text.
Think for a minute about the text you are reading for ENGWR 300. What features of the text do you think you need to look at as you survey? Make a list here:
Based on the survey list you just created, begin surveying your current ENGWR 300 reading assignment. Then, answer the following questions. If you are having trouble answering, resurvey based on the questions.
- What is the title?
- How long is the reading?
- Is the reading broken down into chunks (i.e. sections or chapters)? How long is each chapter or section?
- How difficult do you think the reading will be?
- What do you think your schema for the reading is? (Low, medium, high)
- How could you build your schema on the topic if necessary?
- What is the first paragraph about?
Next step: Now that you have surveyed, a good practice to enhance focus is to create questions out of what you surveyed. Then, when you read, you try to find the answers. This process of finding answers helps you to maintain focus. More information about moving from surveying to questioning can be found on the Survey slideshow on Canvas. As you get used to
surveying texts, you can combine these steps and annotate your assigned reading with surveying questions as you survey.
During the survey process you may have located barriers to your comprehending or completing the reading. If you are worried about schema, you can build schema. If you are worried about giving yourself enough time to focus, you can work on creating efficient and effective daily reading habits. If you realized during surveying that the reading didn’t look that difficult, you can focus on increasing your reading rate. When you do your metacognitive check- in this week, think about whether you would like to work on schema, reading habits, or reading rate next.