How to Decide What to Highlight While Reading


There's something about a yellow highlighter -- or a green or pink one, too -- that can unleash our inner child. But a highlighter isn't a crayon; it's a study tool. If you don't want your books to look like they've encountered an angry swarm of queen bees, then you need some pointers about highlighting. Let discipline and restraint guide your efforts.

Highlight After Reading

  • Let titles and subheads guide your reading. Read one section at a time, from start to finish, and keep the cap on your highlighter. When you're finished, think about what you've read and what is most important. Go back and highlight key words and phrases; it's rare that an entire sentence should be highlighted. Parse long-winded sentences like this one for vital information: “Many conspiracy theorists still insist -- and have written articles and books in support of their belief -- that the CIA, organized crime figures and Cuban exiles plotted and executed the assassination of President John F. Kennedy on Nov. 22, 1963 in Dallas, despite the findings of President Johnson's Warren Commission that Lee Harvey Oswald acted alone.” In this example, highlight the most pertinent points: “Many conspiracy theorists still insist” and “the CIA, organized crime figures and Cuban exiles plotted and executed the assassination of President John F. Kennedy.” The clause in between is superfluous, and the information that follows is historical in nature.

Focus on Content

  • Highlight boldfaced words sparingly; they already stand out for your benefit. Instead, focus your highlighting efforts on examples and illustrations that expound on the boldfaced words. Review lists, charts and graphs with a discerning eye. Rather than highlighting them in their entirety, highlight only the title or heading. With practice, you might wish to use highlighters in two different colors -- one color to emphasize main ideas and another color to emphasize supporting information.


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