Signaling topic structure via headings or preview sentences

Robert F. Lorch, Julie Lemarié, Hung Tao Chen

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

11 Scopus citations


Two experiments compared the effects on text processing of headings and preview sentences that were designed to communicate the same information about the texts' topics and their organization. In Experiment 1, college students read a text for understanding then were tested on memory for the subtopics and memory for simple facts presented in the text. Memory for subtopics was better for the text with headings; there was no difference between headings and preview sentences on memory for facts. In Experiment 2, participants read a text in order to outline it. Outlining was better if the text contained signals to topic structure than if the text did not contain signals, but there were no reliable differences between previews and headings. The findings show that previews function similarly to headings in a task that emphasizes the relevance of topic structure information, but they do not elicit readers' attention to topic information as readily as headings do. These results have implications for textbook design and instruction of comprehension strategies.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)59-66
Number of pages8
JournalPsicologia Educativa
Issue number2
StatePublished - Dec 2013

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
Preparation of this article was greatly facilitated by an award of a Chaire d’Excellence Pierre de Fermat to Robert Lorch from the Scientific Council of the Midi-Pyrenees Region, by the support of the CLLE laboratoire of the Université de Toulouse – Le Mirail, and by a sabbatical leave granted to Robert by the College of Arts & Sciences at the University of Kentucky.


  • Headings
  • Preview Sentences
  • Signaling devices
  • Text Processing

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Social Psychology
  • Developmental and Educational Psychology


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