Underlining/Highlighting (hereafter referred to only as underlining) should be done because it forces you to decide what's important in what you are reading and how ideas are related; it tests your understanding by putting ideas into your own words; and, you concentrate because you read actively rather than passively.


  1. Read the entire paragraph or section (depending on the subject matter of the book) before underlining. Decide what the main idea is and which are the supporting details.
  2. Always try to make your own sentences. Select key words and short phrases to make smooth and complete sentences. Sometimes you may have to write in a word or two to make the sentence complete. Generally, it is best to leave out small words like "the" or "a".
  3. Underline the right amount. Make sure your underlining covers ALL the necessary material for recall on tests. But, make sure you don't underline too much. Different kinds of material require different percentages of underlining, e.g., a very rough guideline is to underline about 20 percent of the material.
  4. Develop and use a variety of marks for instant discrimination during review. Circle words defined; underline the definition; draw a line down the side of the page for the examples or elaborative material. Use a variation of this technique for different kinds of subjects. In reviewing the material. Look first at the circled words. You may not need to review the definition, etc.
  5. Underline and use above markings consistently. Every once in a while review the type and amounts of marking in earlier chapters to ensure consistency.
  6. Use the margins--for writing key words, correlation with lecture notes, your own thoughts/reactions, etc.
  7. Remember always that the main purpose of underlining is to reduce the amount of material to be specifically remembered and thus to be reviewed.
  8. Review--often, regularly, and quickly--the material underlined/highlighted.

Reproduced with the permission of Gregory Wells, Coordinator, William James Center, Davis and Elkins College, Elkins WV., NACADA Conf. 1987