This article, the first of two parts, explores the general concept of preoperative education through a literature review. The relatively complex relationships between the ways people perceive a threatening situation, their levels of anxiety, coping styles and postoperative pain is explored. In dealing with these complex relationships, teaching strategies and forms of presentation of preoperative education are also discussed. The second part will examine the impact of preoperative education on postoperative anxiety, pain and recovery. This will be achieved by analysing the evidence available to provide a rigorous appraisal of the literature.