Text Marking and Highlighting


Text marking is not only allowed in university, but encouraged because it allows readers to be fully engaged with the content and boosts reading efficiency. Although it may take a little time to become familiar with it, text marking can help readers make connections between ideas and facilitate reviewing.


The purpose of text marking is to decrease the time it takes to read for important information at review time. Thus, the time it takes to do the initial marking will be gained at review time and should result in better comprehension.

It is also important to think critically about the information that is presented. Rather than being closed or negative to the ideas presented, information should be thought about before it is accepted. This manipulation increases understanding; therefore, the ideas transfer more easily into long term memory.

What to Mark

Before embarking on text marking, understanding the SQ3R method of textbook reading is an asset. It is also good idea to employ a system for highlighting or text marking; this way you know what you need to do with the marked information. For example, you may want to:

  • circle all unknown words (in pencil) so that you know you need to look them up, and you can erase them once you are familiar with the definition,
  • highlight definitions and put "def" in the margin so you know you need to study this important definition,
  • number a list or series of events (this will help you remember them),
  • and put question marks in the margin to alert you to sections you want to ask the professor about.

Equally important, text marking also involves writing in the margins of your text. Writing comments, summing up information, noting disagreements and similarities, and posing questions allow you to think about the material at an even higher level of understanding.

When to Mark Text

In order to think adequately about the information, text marking should ideally be done after the paragraph or section has been read. It is difficult to evaluate the importance of information on the first read; it is common to highlight phrases of an idea, and then find that the idea is put even more succinctly in a subsequent line. Thus, it is important that you understand the material before you highlight. The information you select will then reflect thoughtful choices, thus deepening your understanding of the material.

McWhorter. K.T. (2006). Study and critical thinking skills in college (6th ed.). New York: Pearson Longman.