When you read, focus your attention more on the flow of the intellectual conversation than on the specific pieces of information or materials the writers use to have the conversation. Remember, you’re reading to further the conversation, not merely to acquire and retain information. In order to participate in the conversation, you have to be able to use the cues (words) on the page to realize (literally, make real, three-dimensional) the exchange of ideas embedded in the text.
Here are some basic marks and margin comment types that will help you make the conversation-in-the-text come to life:
- Break the reading into meaningful chunks (paragraph sequences that cohere around a single idea, point, or purpose);
- Underline essential questions and supporting questions and label which supporting questions go with each essential question;
- Circle key concepts, then define concepts and terms in your own words in the margin; find the examples in the reading that illustrate the concepts;
- Mark passages that include the writer’s claims, the evidence that supports them, and the logic by which the evidence supports the claims;
- Double-underline compelling passages and make margin notes about how you could use them in your own project;
- Take note of the sources used in the reading, the purpose(s) for which they’re brought into the text, and the writer’s attitude towards the ideas brought forward from other writers;
- Summarize the gist of each page or paragraph as you go;
- Draw a Block around passages that are complicated, challenging or hard to understand, then, on a separate sheet of paper, try to paraphrase them until you understand them;
- Jot down the ideas, examples, and lines of inquiry that occur to you as you read;
- Mark passages you have questions about;
- Draw lines or make cross-references to forge connections and comparisons between sections of the reading, or between the current reading and others you have read previously;
- Make text-to-text, text-to-world, and text-to-self connections
- Make margin notes about the uses and limits of particular concepts or passages for your own work.
Follow your active reading session with meaning-making post-reading activities to improve your comprehension, clarify your response, and consolidate, extend or apply what you’ve learned.
- Summarize the core argument of the reading – focus first on the sequence of claims and why they’re important rather than the evidence in support of them, then respond to the argument using “Yes, and…,” “No, and here’s why not…” and “Okay, but…” stems
- Write a paragraph in which you evaluate the evidence in support of the claims, data-gathering and analyzing methods, and interpretive paradigms
- To develop your response to a piece of writing, make a John Bean What I Like/What Bother’s Me Idea Map
- Do passage-based focused freewriting exercises on hard-to-understand passages or on passages that seem worth exploring more in-depth
- Make a synthesis table to place multiple readings in conversation with one another
- Write extended definitions of keywords – include definitions written in your own words, examples, applications, and negative definitions (how the concept differs from similar or complementary terms)