Hi Folks

When I read, I have a tendency to highlight things I believe to be important.  When I am finished the book I just put it on my bookshelf  and it seems I rarely extract value from it for use in my day to day.

I am wondering, what techniques people use to extract value from the books they read - do you take notes during the reading process, after you have completed the book, do  you record your notes, etc

Thanks for any feedback.

calpron's picture
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I take notes on paper while I am reading a book or listening to a podcast (as long as I'm not driving of course).  I take down the quote and write the page number, Kindle location, or time index in the left margin next to the quote.  Once I finish the book (or podcast), I type the notes into my computer, usually using Omni-Outliner.   This helps me to remember important concepts from the book / podcast as well as the ability to go back to that location in the media if I need to review the context of a quote.  I also use the quotes as discussion topics in my team meetings.  During my portion of the team meeting, at the very end of my organizational updates, I state the quote as well as who wrote or said it.  Then we discuss what the quote means and what things we do within the department that relate to the quote.  This has led to some very interesting discussions.




tlhausmann's picture
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When I see a noteworthy item I underline it with a colored pencil. I note the keyword and page number on the inside of the front cover.

For particularly good books the notes may extend onto white space of the first few pages (ISBN entry, title page, etc.)

12string's picture
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 I post specific thoughts as my facebook status.  I know it's strange, but it works for me...


MsSunshine's picture

The book "How to Read a Book" has lots of suggestions about how to get the most out of any type of book - with specific suggestions related to different types of books.  I found that it's suggestions  have helped me feel like I'm getting more out of good books, able to easily assess a book for value (and not read if it doesn't have much, ...)


aluciani's picture

Hi Julia,

Just so I am clear, is the book "how to read a book" written by by Mortimer J. Adler (Author), Charles Van Doren


MsSunshine's picture

Yes, that's it.  It is not a new book but I thought it had good information.  I was given it as part of a list of books the GE corporate training suggests that you read.  It helps you hone in on what is important to look for, strategies for easily digesting and remembering what you read.

SamBeroz's picture

I typically don't take notes while I read, unless I get an idea that I really don't want to loose.  Instead I use 3M sticky flags to mark (horizontally) just above the sentience I want to revisit. If the page as a whole is worth revisiting then I mark it with a vertical flag.  When I'm finished I remove the flags one at a time and compile the ideas into a short summary.  - Sam

gpsmith's picture

I've often used the little plastic post-its which have a clear bit plus a tab. I often use them as my own index to allow quick looks of the info I need, rather than writing lots I won't look at.

TNoxtort's picture

I got this tip from a book called The Little Guide to the Well Read Life by Steve Levine. I've been using it for 5 years.

So I highlight my book, and in the margin, I make a summary of what I wrote. For really good points, I put a star and then put a colored sticky there. Sometimes I'll use other symbols (ie exercise, website, etc).

When I finish the book, I create an Excel spreadsheet with three columns: 1st column a star, if it was a strong point, next point my summary note that I wrote in the margin, and next column the page number. I size the Excel sheet for the size of the book, print it out, and stick it in the front, and if necessary, back blank pages of the book.

I find that by doing this, i know my books so well. I'm also able to search my directory and pull something from a book very quickly if I need it for a speech or anything.

The only downside is that I read books a lot slower.

stellamarie's picture

Taking down notes while reading is a great idea. However, that's my my usual habit. I am not taking down notes I just remember them. Of course I cannot remember everything but what I've read I will apply it.



Snowman's picture

As I am reading I keep my Ipod handy and when I see something that I want to refer back to I utilize Dragon's Naturally Speaking App that utilizes voice recognition and converts it to text.  I read the paragraph or sentences into the microphone and include the book name, page number and some keywords.

I have one massive Word document for all books that I read and a cut and past the text into the document.  

I regularly review the Word document and pick up/remember bits of information I had forgotten.  Also if I am needing information for a meeting, speech or conference I can search the entire document by entering keywords or names of the books into search/find feature.   

GlennR's picture

I do the same as TLHausmann. I highlight the sentence(s), then right the concept and page # on one of the blank pages or inside cover at the front. I look at it as creating a chronological index. For me, this works so much better than just highlighting the sentence.

I also like some of these other ideas and thanks for the tip about "How To Read A Book."

I read a great deal of business books, but I'm on a budget. I have had very good experiences using's Marketplace. Many of the used books I've purchased were in or near mint condition at half the price.


blaine's picture

 Unlike many others, I hate the highlighter method!

When going back to review a book at a later date, I find that I overlook much of the context and tend to focus only on the highlighted text.  While finishing up some business studies I took to using a mechanical pencil to mark up my books.   The grey notes is easy on the eyes and I could more easily (and creatively) make references to related comments, circle key ideas, or vary the density of my underlining according to the importance of the idea.  An eraser can also be used if your thoughts change or if you want to expand on your  notes.

I also keep a small 5x8 coiled notebook with me and also mark key ideas and thoughts along with a reference back to the book and page number.  This may seem redundant to the table of contents, but it is personalized for what I what to get out of my readings.  Like GLENNR I also like to mark up the inside cover with notes and ideas.  A book with penciled notes and ideas also acts as a journal that helps to reflect your thinking at the time of the original reading, something a highlighter fails miserably at.

The 5mm mechanical pencil is a wonderful tool to capture all your thoughts, and outperforms the highlighter in every way!



stephenbooth_uk's picture

 I tend to take notes in the form of a mindmap, initially on paper but I then transfer it to FreeMind (for legibility).  If I'm reading a book the mind map will usually have the concept/keyword and the page it appears on as a sub-branch (with other sub-branches for other pages it's referenced/expanded/explained on and other thoughts that built from it).  MIndmaps from listending to podcasts wil usually just have the concepts/keywords and sub-branches of related concepts keywords, maybe references to other podcasts or to things I've read.

I've been using mindmaps since school (never formally taught to use them, just happened on a book one day when I was 13) so I'm probably more familiar with using them than people who didn't see them till later in life.  Very few people I know saw mind maps until they started work.

I do use highlighting in books, alongside notes in the margin and also attach tabs (the ones that have a clear sticky section and coloured section) to pages.  For most 'Open Book' certification exams this is the only option you have, you're not allowed to take separate notes in but you can annotate the set book.



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stevesim's picture


I've always felt that mindmapping would be a very useful tool to have for capturing ideas.  would you, or anyone else who has the skill, be willing to do a little informal "coaching" here and recommend some resources for those of us who are looking to acquire this skill?


Steve Simmons

sbaleno's picture

Reading on the iPad (iBooks) I use the highlight and notes feature.  What this means is I have to click each note if I want to read it.  Perhaps in a future relase of iBooks there will be a "notes" summary page, where all the notes in a book will be compiled.

The upside is that I am now reading once again.  The iPad makes reading very convenient for me.

When using a paper/hardcover book I'd write in the margins and sometimes capture notes and page numbers in one of the blank pages at the back of the book.


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whitehead's picture

check out the kindle beta site on pc - you can get a full summary per book. I now do much more highlighting and notes. Regards, David

jpetel's picture

When I finish reading a book, I try to create a presentation using the information I have noted. I use post-it notes for marking the sections I feel are worth while. Then, when I have finished reading the book, I try to put together a presentation using the points I have highlighted. The objective of the presentation would be to try to convey the message to someone without them reading the book. I enhance the points with additional background information and personal thoughts that support each topic. In this way, I feel the lesson of the book can give more value than just to me. Also, I have found that teaching something makes me learn more about it and the things I teach are written into my memory better than if I only read the book.  



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jclishe's picture

I used to struggle with the exact same thing mentioned by the original poster. I would highlight noteworthy sections in the book, then when I was finished reading I would put the book up on the shelf and rarely reference it again.

Then the Kindle came along.

Now, I use the Kindle's highlighting feature, as others have mentioned. However what a lot of people don't realize is that when you highlight something on the Kindle, the highlighted text gets copied into a seperate .txt file on the Kindle. So when I've finished the book, I use the Kindle's USB cable to connect it to my PC, open the .txt file that contains all of the highlights, and copy and paste the entire contents of the text file into OneNote. Voila. Create a seperate section in OneNote called "Book Highlights" or something similar, and create a dedicated page for each books' highlights, and now you have a dedicated, searchable, master list of the highlights of all the books you read. And it takes virtually zero effort. You don't have to re-transcribe any text, you don't have to document Kindle locations, write comments in the margin, none of that. Just CTRL-A, CTRL-C, CTRL-V, and you're done.


GlennR's picture

This is a great tip and further reinforces my leaning towards purchasing a Kindle over a Nook or other e-reader. Anyone know if an iPad can do something like this?

JSalvage's picture

I'm very protective of my books. I like them to remain "unbruised" as possible. That being said, I also like to retain those brilliant lines of dialogue or inner monologue. I give myself permission to dog-ear pages that are very special. I'm terrible at actually remembering what I read. I know when I love something and I can always remember loving it, but often I don't remember why or even what the story was really about. I know I'm a smart person and it's always irritated me that I'm the kind of reader that has words just washing over me. JSalvage,

mfculbert's picture

 It is my practice to write directly into the book. Underline important concepts. Things I MUST remember I write in the margins of the page. That helps me remember. The most important step however is to go back through the book. After I finish a new business book, I go back and review one of my "primary texts." Just a skim through is enough to keep the thoughts fresh. My primary texts include;

   Effective Executive, Drucker

  Getting Things Done, Allen,

  7 Habits, Covey  (still evaluating whether it is a primary) 

eagerApprentice's picture

I treat my books like workbooks - they are marked with comments, circles, lines, etc :)


After I read them, I do review them from time to time, and especially my comments. It's the review that really brings the knowledge you remember from the book.


Every year I re-read my "Book Trinity" ;-)

1 - Effective Executive

2 - Getting Things Done

3 - First, Break all the Rules

Mark's picture
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I used to take notes, but I don't as much anymore.  The moment I finish a book, I rarely go back to it, so I've learned not to make notes in the book itself.  That said, my mother, a professional book reviewer, hated my dogearing, but when I do go back to the few books I go back to, I can find what I want.  And, I can usually tell you where in any book I've read where any bit that was valuable to me was.  Just lucky there, I think.

So, if something strikes me, I make a note in Omnifocus (you can record into an iphone).  If it stays in the book, it's unlikely to be of value to me.  But if it gets into my notebook, or omnifocus, it's with me for good.

it would be fair to say, though, that I'm not a good model for this thread, because when I synthesize something, I'm SUPPOSED to share it...which changes my approach a bit.  I have a 50 page word doc with thousands of cast ideas and outlines and notes and ideas.  

And yes, it's backed up.

I've read 40 books so far this year.  A good year!

Right now: Unbroken.  Reminds me of the saying, I cried because I had no shoes, and then I met a man with no feet.


malekz's picture

I enter concepts, keywords, paragraphs, even scanned pages or pictures, and web pages in my Random Information Manager: Info Select.

I became familiar with this precious software back in 1986 in the DOS operating system.  At the time the software was called TORNADO and boasted that NASA (National Aeronautics and Space Administration) used it because of its light speed random search capabilities. Over the years this software evolved for the Windows operating system as well as changed its name to Info Select with huge improvements and more sophisticated features. It is published by Micro Logic at  It is a five star software. Whatever and wherever you enter any piece of random information into this software (like random pieces of notes), you will have almost instant access to it when you want it, plus more!


tomdoepker's picture

I use a pencil to mark important points, then dog ear the pages. I then go back and transcribe the notes into a Google Doc which gives me two things: the ability to have it everywhere and a chance to re-cover the material.

Thanks for all the other suggestions!


stephenbooth_uk's picture

 Something I've started doing in recent years for helping with recall of reading and other learning I do is blogging what I've learned, especially technical things and processes that fall under Mark's 'Christmas rule' (important but don't do very often).  The act of not just reading something but then interpreting it and tryign to write about it helps to fix it in my mind.  It also means that if I do forget then it's there in the blog (more than once I've run a Google search on something I've forgotten how to do and foudn that one of the results returned is from my own blog).

An added advantage here is that sometimes someone else will find my blog entry and add a comment expanding on what I've written about and so I learn something.  Occasionally someone will find my blog entry and use it to solve on of their problems and leave a comment sayign thanks and so I get a warm feeling inside.



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miketickle's picture

I do most of my business reading as audio books (or M-T podcasts) so I'd welcome any tips that relate well to that format.

I'm not so good at remembering specifics but I tend to try an cement the themes by talking about them with other folks.  This some times helps to spot if I've missed something - if someone says "but why?" and I can't explain.  For some books I buy the dead tree version so I can scan back though it and re-cover key bits, or because I enjoyed them so much I want to share them.



mfculbert's picture

I am a book writer. I write all over books that are good. Underline importance concepts. Circle really important details and write summaries or personal insights in the margins. 90% of the books I will never look at again but my primary documents have been reviewed once a quarter for two years now.

Effective Executive - Drucker

Getting Things Done - Allen 

7 Habits - Covey... being considered for the hall of fame now.

sammyv's picture

Currently I'm using Dlopy, a service that supports me taking notes while reading. It allows to take notes and keep them organized in a simple way, but the feature I most like is it is designed to keep notes in context, in fact it keeps track of the source of the note.

For the time being it seems to be an invite only service (I got one from a friend of mine), and unfortunately I've already shared the 3 invites I got on signup.

I'll take a look at the book "how to read a book", I hope it'll be useful. Thanks for the suggestion.

mccamarero's picture

Well, I must confess that I can´t help myself doing that.

I highlight some sentences, I write on the back cover some interesting things I find (I specifie page number in order to look it up later, may be do some research on that particular phrase, or idea).

I find it very useful to talk to other people about what I am reading, specially about the things that stand out in the story (for its sentence contruction, because it is something new, or it is something funny, or it reminds me of another author style of writing).

If I have a doubt regarding ANYTHING, I search on dictionaries, internet, books, etc, until I get the full idea.

I also use some phrases on facebook. Some of my favorites are from "The Godfather" (men think they manage its code as "a men thing", but I am afraid to tell them that this phrases belong to human kind, :)), 1984, Animal Farm, Brave New World, Bleak House, and so on ...  

I do more than scannig and skimming, I squeeze the books, I look for diferent interpretations of the intended message within the story. I keep asking myself "why, when, what, who?, etc. 

Enjoy your reading!!

María cecilia

bbrown's picture

Perhaps in a future relase of iBooks there will be a "notes" summary page, where all the notes in a book will be compiled.

The most recent update to iBooks includes exactly this--it's tremendously useful.


glenmlee's picture

 I typically highlight what i feel is important or relevant from a general perspective.  If something rings true or relevant to a specific issue I may be currently addressing thenI may make a note in the margin.  I generally go back and re-read just the highlighted section to see if it makes sense and if I still feel it's relevant.  If so I compile those notes on my computer or iPad in a text editor or outliner program like OmniOutliner or Tree.  Some of the specific note references will make it into a field notes book that is alway in my back pocket, unless of course, I'm writing in it or reading it. :)




wpjoosten's picture

Working now for almost 3 years after university I see myself changing reading habits. Previously reading to get good grades, I now find myself reflecting on my own experience while reading books. Knowing Kolb's learning cycle I became consciensly aware; I came to connect theories in books to my own practical experience. Powerfull! In the less busy summerweeks I try to go through my once-a-year-books like Drucker and Covey, like most here seem to be doing. 

More difficult are audiobooks (and MT or CT podcasts!). I listen to them in my communte (car or bike), or running. It is almost impossible to take notes right away...

Peter Joosten
consultant paperless office and blogger

tlhausmann's picture
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Hi Peter,

I record voice memos to my iPhone or digital recorder that I may carry (in addition to my iPod) while doing yard work or exercising. (geeky...yes.)

tpedrick's picture

I am a bit of an extremist but, I keep a commonplace book for my reading material.  Since college I have kept a commonplace book and utilize it often.  Instead of marking up a physical book I copy important passages, notes and summaries into my commonplace book.  E-books, even with the highlighting technology built in, may not be capable of being referred to at a later date and also get hand written into my commonplace book. Many of my friends think it to be a waste of time but, I still clutch to the old-fashioned way of doing some things.  It works for me.



rdokoye's picture

I like to take some time to reflect on a point that I’ve found insight. Usually I’ll try to relate what I’ve picked up to personal events in my life and try to extract some kind of lesson from it, something that would ultimately help me in my day to day life. Other methods may entail highlighting certain text (just as you’ve done), it’s a practice done primarily for memorising, rather than so you can latter come back to the book and look it up.


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