Active Reading and Digital Texts

To become a more active reader, think of yourself as in dialogue with the text you are reading. Do not just highlight or underline, but also write in the margins of your text, in a notebook, or on a computer. Write questions, note why something is important, argue or agree with the author, register your surprise at something you have read. This approach will help you better remember what you have read. You will also start to develop a critical perspective on the reading and place it in relation to other texts you have read. In class, you will not only be able to say what the text said; you also will have something to say about it.

Here are some kinds of responses you might want to write in marginal or other notes:

  • Questions (to the author, to yourself, to the professor)
  • What the text makes you wonder or want to learn more about
  • Connections/comparisons to other readings
  • Critique of the argument
  • Extensions (x could also apply to y)
  • How the text connects, to contradicts, or complicates your own thinking

You might also want to record from the text: 

  • Argument(s)
  • Key words and phrases
  • Theoretical concepts
  • Evidence
  • Facts, Names, Dates
  • Information and Data

Fastwrite after a reading session: If you find that annotating the text is slowing you down too much, you might try instead just making quick marginal notes, and then taking ten minutes or so at the end of a reading session to fastwrite. The idea for this fastwrite is not to take extensive notes on the reading (which in some cases might be appropriate), but to record what was most important or striking about what you read, in addition to your response to the text.  

Further resources

Editing and Annotating PDF files with Preview (MacWorld)

Listen while you read using Kurzweil, text-to-speech software (available to the Amherst College community through a site license).