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Why You Should Stop Highlighting and Underlining

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underlining-vs-highlightingThe most common method of reading involves a student with a highlighter, pen, and book. The student reads intensely and then meticulously highlights portions while underlining others for greater effect. However, Time reports that the approach is mostly ineffective.

Highlighting and underlining led the authors’ list of ineffective learning strategies. Although they are common practices, studies show they offer no benefit beyond simply reading the text. Some research even indicates that highlighting can get in the way of learning; because it draws attention to individual facts, it may hamper the process of making connections and drawing inferences. Nearly as bad is the practice of rereading, a common exercise that is much less effective than some of the better techniques you can use. Lastly, summarizing, or writing down the main points contained in a text, can be helpful for those who are skilled at it, but again, there are far better ways to spend your study time. Highlighting, underlining, rereading and summarizing were all rated by the authors as being of “low utility.”

Instead of highlighting and underlining, there are other methods of marking a spot in a book, which do not destroy the book. For example, you can use colorful tabs to mark specific areas in the book.

Regardless, for the historian, the approach is useful, if those highlights and notes then end up in some sort of digitized document, making it easier to recall the contents of an article or book. In that case, the practice becomes invaluable. However, if the student merely highlights, underlines, and moves on, then the practice offers very little usefulness.

By Scott Manning
Online Learning Tips, Student Contributor

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