As a college student you might think that the only way to read is to begin with the first word and continue until you reach the last (see Six Reading Myths). While I don’t necessarily agree with everything written on this subject, and reading techniques differ across discipline and genre (e.g., textbook or scientific paper), you have more freedom to be productive than you think. Basically, try to determine the overall structure, key ideas, and relevant questions before you begin reading a chapter carefully.
When you have finished a reading, you should have a list of the key argument(s), concepts, cases/examples, interesting factoids that support the argument, and outstanding confusions. When I read I look for these things and annotate the text accordingly. If you don't review the reading (i.e., identify the big idea, key concepts, main examples, and outstanding questions) you are wasting effort.
Finally, to remain an active learner, read as if you had to explain the material yourself to someone else. If you find something confusing, be prepared to explain why it is confusing and what you would need for it not to be so.
Conventions for Annotation
Annotation is an important part of active readings. You might find the eHow article How to Annotate a Reading Assignment useful. Regardless of the technique you use, some tips for reading and annotating include:
- Get rid of highlighters, you can't write notes and questions in a highlighter.
- Read an entire paragraph before deciding what to note -- otherwise you might note too much.
- Note words, not sentences.
- Record your thoughts (connections, questions, mnemonics) in the margins.
Personally, I use the following markings that I are handy for rereading or for typing up my notes. I use a pencil, try to keep annotations to a minimum, and avoid marking the text itself. Most importantly, when I'm done, I summarize the big idea, key concepts, main examples, and outstanding questions.
|| : excerpt this
| : paraphrase this
- : constituent parts or examples
An example of from Grossberg, Wartella, Whitney and Wise's MediaMaking is below; I mark one excerpt, one paraphrase, 3 definitions, one "look up" and the two types of "determination."