Understanding the Preface of a Textbook

A major problem students have in school is understanding what they read. However, the problem often is not reading in itself. By this I mean the student know what they read but they do not know what it means. In other words, they will read the text but cannot explain what the text was about.

There are several practical things a student can do to overcome this problem without having to make significant changes to their study habits. Some of the strategies that they can use involve looking at the structure of how the writing is developed. Examples of this include the following.

  • Reading the preface
  • Reading the chapter titles
  • Reading the chapter objectives
  • Reading the headings in the chapters
  • Make some questions
  • Now read & answer the questions

In this post, we will look at the benefits of reading the preface to a book.

Reading the Preface

When students are assigned reading they often skip straight to page one and start reading. This means they have no idea what the text is about or even what the chapter will be about. This is the same as jumping in your car to drive somewhere without directions. You might get there eventually but often you just end up lost.

One of the first things a student should do is read the preface of a book. The preface gives you some of the following information

  • Information about the author
  • The purpose of the book
  • The audience of the book
  • The major themes of the text
  • Assumptions

Knowing the purpose of the text is beneficial to understanding the author’s viewpoint. This is often more important in graduate studies than in undergrad.

Knowing the main themes of the book helps from a psychological perspective as well. These themes serve as mental hooks in your mind in which you can hang the details of the chapters that you will read. It is critical to see the overview and big picture of the text so that you have a framework in which to place the ideas of the chapters you will read.

Many books do not have a preface. Instead what they often do is make chapter one the “introduction” and include all the aspects of the preface in the first chapter. Both strategies are fine. However, it is common for teachers to skip the introduction chapter in order to get straight to the “content.” This is fast but can inhibit understanding of the text.

There are also usually an explanation of assumptions. The assumptions serve to tell the reader what they should already know as well as the biases of the author. This is useful as it communicates the position the author takes from the outset with the readers trying to infer this.

Conclusion

The preface serves the purpose of introducing the reader to the text. One of the goals if the preface is to convince the reader why they should read the book. It provides the big picture of the text, shares about the author, and indicates who the book is for, as well as sharing the author’s viewpoint.

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