Course Content
Chapter 3: Writing Mechanics Help
Chapter 12: Teaching Writing
Chapter 23: Teaching Reading
College English Composition: Help and Review
About Lesson

Importance of Details

Whenever you are reading a text, you should be constantly noting the important details. When discussing reading comprehension, think of details as the individual features, facts or particulars in the text. These details are essential to develop reading comprehension. For instance, in the popular fairy tale ‘Cinderella,’ imagine if you missed the detail of the lost glass slipper. Would Prince Charming asking women to try on a glass slipper in order to find his true love make any sense without that detail? Of course not!

Not all reading selections are as simplistic as ‘Cinderella,’ so you may be wondering how to find those important specific details in other works. There are many strategies to use for any type of passage, like underlining key phrases. Typically, for any length of passage, underlining around two to three important key phrases in each paragraph will help you later on when trying to find other details. However, knowing what type of selection you are reading can also help to find specific details.

Narrative Writing

Since we already used ‘Cinderella’ as an example, let’s begin with narrative writing, which is any writing that tells a story. It is perhaps the easiest to find specific details in narratives due to the format. The sequence is almost always in chronological order, which is in order of time. In narratives, there is a beginning, middle and end to the story.

To find details in narratives, you simply have to figure out where within the chronological order the detail should fall. For example, if you missed the detail that Cinderella lost her glass slipper, you can easily figure out where to look to find it. You know at the end of the story that the prince travels the kingdom asking women to try on the glass slipper. You also know that somewhere in the middle of the story Cinderella’s fairy godmother gives her a dress, the glass slippers, and a coach to go to the ball. So, the detail you missed must fall in between those events! For any narrative, figure out part of the plot that holds the detail, then return to the story and skim through until you find the specific detail you need.

Expository Text

Next, let’s look at expository text, which focuses on explaining or giving information. This is a very general umbrella that many examples of text might fall under, thus being able to find specific details in expository writing is an essential skill.

A great way to organize the details in this type of writing is to make an outline. An outline is a general summary of the writing, organized with minor ideas falling under major ones. The larger topics must stand out more than the smaller details. This way, when looking over your outline for that text, you can easily use the larger ideas to determine where the specific detail you are looking for might fall. You can also use an outline to direct you to the correct spot in the passage that might hold the specific detail.


A more specific type of expository text is structured as problem-solution. For these types of selections, there will be two parts to the passage: a problem and a solution. The problem section explains the causes for concern and the solution section explains a way to solve the problem. Looking for a specific detail, try to figure out if it relates to the problem portion or the solution. That will help narrow down where the detail will be.

One of the best ways to handle this type of passage is to use the Cornell note taking system. For this method, make two columns to take notes in as you read the selection. The left column should be narrower. In that column, insert questions centered on the topic. For example, if the selection centered on the medical dangers of poverty, one question could be ‘what are the effects of poverty on a hospital?’ Then, in the right-hand column, answer that question with details from the reading selection. This organizational format makes it very easy to use your notes to find a specific detail. Simply see which question it relates to and check your notes or return to the reading selection at that spot.

Compare & Contrast

The last type of writing can be formatted as compare and contrast. In this case, the passage focuses on two or more related issues and describes the similarities and differences between them. This type of selection could read like a debate, each section arguing a case for one side of the issue.

Graphic organizers are a great tool to use to be able to find specific details in selections formatted on compare and contrast. Graphic organizers are any type of visual organization for information. For example, a Venn diagram is a tried and true compare and contrast graphic organizer. Two overlapping circles represent two different ideas, with the similarities written in the overlapping section and the differences in the other part of the circle. Other graphic organizers, like tables, charts, flow charts and webs, can all be used to show the details of the similarities and differences of any topics. Once you have a graphic organizer, refer to the section needed when looking for specific details. The clearer you organize your visual, the easier it will be to find the specific details you need.

Concept Maps

Besides the methods already described in this lesson, there are many more strategies for finding specific details. One method that can be used for nearly any type of writing is a concept map. A concept map is a means of showing key concepts and their relationships in graphic form. This probably sounds very similar to a graphic organizer, and in fact, a concept map can be considered a type of graphic organizer. However, concept maps are much more complex.

Think of a concept map like any other type of web. However, with a concept map don’t only use the information in the selection, but also prior knowledge. The goal is to show how new information relates to prior knowledge and how a student is constructing his or her own knowledge. Students can show hierarchy to emphasize importance of information, draw lines and arrows to link information, or even use descriptive linking words to show how details are related. Concept maps can even be changed or rearranged as needed. Concept maps are great because they not only hold the specific details you might need later on, but they show the relationships between all those details, which is much better for comprehension and for locating other details.

Lesson Summary

To review, being able to find specific details in a reading selection is a very important skill for all students. Often knowing how the reading selection is structured will help you to find the specific detail needed.

For example, with narratives, which are pieces of writing structured like a story with a beginning, middle and an end, use the sequence to find specific details. Figure out where in the plot the detail might fall, and then review the selection as needed.

Outlines, which show a hierarchy of information, can be a great way to organize details in expository text. For problem-solution structured selections, using the Cornell note taking system (which has two columns to show information) is a clear way to show the important details. Venn diagrams or other graphic organizers can also be excellent ways to pull out specific details from selections with a compare and contrast structure. Lastly, for most reading selections, you can use a concept map, which is a complex web, to show relationships between information, prior knowledge, how understandings change and hierarchy of details.

Overall, even if you are not required to create any notes on a reading selection, noting how the passage is structured is very important for finding specific details. As you read, constantly stop and check how the details are related. This will help anyone be able to find any specific detail needed.

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