Speed-reading and note taking strategies

Doing a PhD means you’ll have to read. A LOT. Reading faster and making effective notes become very important skills, especially in the first stage of your studies. Ceren shares some advice on these on tackling that pile of literature…

If you are trying to increase your reading speed, it probably seems counter-intuitive to include note-taking in the process. After all, if you are stopping to take notes or mark a spot in the text, you are also stopping the reading process, right? And the answer is yes, you are but also no, you are not. It all depends on whether you define reading process  as your moment-by-moment words per minute rate, or as the total time it takes you to get all of the information you need out of a particular text.

The goal of speed reading is to absorb, process, and retain the essential contents of an article, book, magazine, or other written material. If you read something very quickly but do not remember what you read, and later have to go back and re-read the material to look up a fact or figure, then the total time you spend reading the text is doubled.

On the other hand, if you pause briefly to make notes, you will do two things: first, you will help your brain retain those specific items by incorporating another activity (writing) and thus activating more parts of the brain; and second, you will have a quick reference for later use, and so will not have to page through the material looking for one small phrase.

You can make notes in the margins of the text, highlight  or underline  key phrases, or jot down what you need on a separate piece of paper (highly recommended if you are reading a book from the library!).

Image credits: photosteve101 / CC BY 2.0

Here are some useful tips on taking notes you might find helpful:

  • Mark  key words  to get a quick visual overview of the entire page or chapter for later reference.
  • Highlight phrases that encapsulate the  main ideas  in the text.
  • Make a note of  quotes  that might be useful when citing the text in a presentation, and keep a list of  facts, figures, and statistics  that you can use later.
  • Write down  in your own words  the main points of a section; rewording something adds impact and makes the information easier to remember. Be sure to include the reason why you found what you marked important.
  • At the end of each major section or chapter, make your own  short summaries  to lock the information in your understanding and memory.
  • If you  transfer all the notes  you made to another page or two, it is the perfect review material, and there is no need to keep the original text. This will help you keep clutter off your desk, and you can organize the notes in a file folder in your desk drawer or on your computer.

How do you go about making notes? Do you prefer a digital or paper copy? Share your tips in comments section.  🙂

Text credits: Ceren Kaya

7 thoughts on “Speed-reading and note taking strategies

  1. This is exactly what I tell my uni students as their tutor and what I have been doing for myself to get me to the point of completing my PhD

  2. Thank you for the article, I want to read and take notes in digital form, which tools(s) will be be better?

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