active reading

When reading texts for the research paper, it is important to read actively by noting, summarizing, synthesizing and questioning ideas and evidence as you encounter them. Active reading will:

  1. help you concentrate (because you are doing something), and
  2. save you time (because you will focus on the relevant information with just one reading of the text)

You may find the following active reading strategies helpful:

  • always read with a pen/highlighter in your hand (or using highlighting/commenting tools on a digital document)
  • if it is your copy of the text, take notes on the text (if it is a library copy, use a separate sheet!)
  • as you read, note down any:
    • key terms of the argument
    • key claims the writer wants persuade you are true
    • key evidence / reasons given to support the claims
    • questions you have for the text, which may be about
      • meaning: Is there anything you don’t understand?
      • personal experience: How could this argument affect /apply to you or your peers?
      • critical evaluation: Are the claims / evidence persuasive? Are counter claims or other cases / examples mentioned and convincingly dealt with? Is anything missing?
      • discussion: How can you find out others’ opinions about the author’s claims / evidence (without “leading” them to share yours)?
  • carefully distinguish:
    • “exact quotes” (12) – use quotation marks and note page numbers so you don’t think they are your own paraphrases when you return to your notes
    • your own claims / questions – use shorthand like “n.b.” or “Q:” so you don’t confuse your own ideas or questions with what the writer said


  • On this ENG 102 course, you will have to create annotations and summaries of the sources you find. Active reading will help you with this.
  • N.b., researchers have found that merely underlining or highlighting long passages is not as cognitively demanding as notetaking/summarizing and leads to shallower processing of the material
  • You can also take notes digitally by
    • annotating pdf files using free pdf software
    • filling in the “notes personal notes” field in bibliographic management software (RefWorks, Zotero, etc)