How to Highlight Books Effectively

Highlighting Books

As readers, we always strive to achieve excellence. Regardless of what that actually means to you, excellence requires dedication, hard work, and a clear intent to go the extra mile. Whether that means better comprehension, better information retention, or simply having a better reading experience, book highlighting has been common practice for many years now. 

Learning how to highlight books effectively to ensure that you maximize the value of the time you spend reading is something that can change the way you benefit from it.

Here at Basmo, we want you to be the absolute best version of yourself and we know that you will need all the help you can get. And part of that help means simply providing you with the right information, so we decided to do some research and find out just how important highlighting is in reading and how it can improve your performance. Here’s what we found.

What is book highlighting?

Highlighting in books is generally defined as a learning process that consists of manually marking parts of a text with a different color. It is a way for readers to mark the important paragraphs or pieces of information, as a way to make them stand out from the rest of the content in future reads.

It is believed that highlighting helps readers maintain focus and concentration and aids in the learning process, enhancing comprehension and retention levels while reading. Whether that is true or not hasn’t been officially decided yet, but while highlighting is definitely the most effective reading strategy, its popularity is clearly undeniable. 

Learning how to highlight a book properly can have a positive effect on the way you organize your learning process. Moreover, the simple act of putting pen to paper and highlighting the text enhances your level of focus. That can only do you good when it comes to active reading and actually learning. 

There’s quite an intense debate among readers and specialists when it comes to the process of highlighting books. On one hand, we have reading enthusiasts who can’t even conceive the atrocity of damaging their books in any way and want to keep them in mint condition for as long as humanly possible. On the other hand, many other readers consider absorbing the information and consuming the content in a meaningful and fulfilling way a lot more important than the state the book is in once they finish reading it.

While this has more to do with the type of reader or book collector you are, the fact of the matter remains that there are a lot of questions about highlighting books that need to be answered. So, here are the most commonly asked questions about book highlighting, answered.  

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What to highlight in a book?

To answer this, you need to know what the ultimate goal of your reading session is. If you are reading to learn new skills or to study for school, the natural things to highlight are the most important pieces of information you can extract from the reading material. 

Alternatively, if the reading you are doing doesn’t have a clear learning intent but you still want to remember certain pieces of information, like an interesting quote or simply words that are unfamiliar and you want to remember. 

What you highlight in a book is generally up to you and what you want to achieve. What we can suggest though is to never go over the top with your highlighting. At first, when you are faced with new reading material, you tend to consider everything to be very important, but highlighting huge chunks of text is going to make it a lot harder for you later and defeats the purpose.

What are the different highlighting techniques?

Highlighting books is generally a very straightforward process. While the preferred techniques differ from one reader to another, the process isn’t what you would call complex or complicated.

There are two main ways to highlight your books: one is the traditional pen and paper (highlighter and paper to be more precise), and the other is a modern version of book highlighting through a reading app

For example, if you decide to use Basmo for your highlighting needs, you will be able to write notes, highlight and annotate books without ruining them. Our reading tracking app comes with a bunch of features designed to help you become a more efficient and well-organized reader.

By using the book scanning tool, you can simply take advantage of your phone’s camera to scan the pages of the book you are reading.

These scans can later be edited however you see fit. You can either use the scans to add your notes or highlights through the app or extract the text from the scans and save it as notes that can be later edited.

What is the best highlighting strategy?

As I mentioned, highlighting books is generally a pretty straightforward technique. But like with anything else, there is a wrong way and a right way to get it done. To get the best results from your reading session, it is usually a good idea to use a correct book highlighting system. Here are the most important highlighting books tips. 

1. Don’t be trigger-happy. Whenever you are reading something with a clear intent to comprehend and retain the information, you are tempted to try and absorb everything at once. That usually means that your first instinct will be to highlight a lot more text than you will need in the end. To avoid that, you should always decide what parts of the text you should highlight after reading the entire paragraph. Don’t highlight as you go, do some pre-reading, and only after you finish reading a complete section, you should decide what needs to be highlighted for future reference.

2. Limit yourself. In order for your highlights to be actually effective and useful later, you should always consider the fact that you will need to highlight just the essential data. That means that as a general rule, it’s quite unlikely for more than one sentence to be highlighted per paragraph. If you go overboard and end up with entire paragraphs highlighted, that is not going to help you too much on your next read.

3. Color code. Who says you are only allowed to use a single color for your highlights? You can use as many colors as you want, as long as you are able to keep track of their meanings. Use yellow for the most important parts and different colors for the additional data that is a lower priority, but still relevant. That way you will always know exactly what to look for when re-reading.

4. Highlight keywords. Sometimes you can use highlighting as a way of creating an internal map of the content. Instead of highlighting entire sentences or phrases, only highlight the absolutely essential word that best describes what you can find in said paragraph. That way you keep your books relatively tidy, but still easy to navigate.

Which color highlighter is best for books?

While no actual studies have been done on this topic (trust me, I checked), the unanimous consensus among students and readers seems to be that a neon-yellow highlighter would be the ideal color for highlighting your books.

It makes perfect sense if you think about it: the color is bright enough to stand out and not dark enough to make reading difficult. It is a vivid color that tends to energize the reader and is thought to have a positive effect on the reader’s ability to retain information.

Other popular choices are:

  • Pink: has a positive effect on the reader’s mood
  • Orange: energizes and improves mood
  • Blue: improves productivity
  • Green: Improves concentration.

Is highlighting books effective?

As much as I would like to bring you some hard evidence that highlighting books is an amazingly effective productivity and efficiency booster, the truth is that it depends on who you ask. Some consider it to be more of a distraction than anything else, while others can swear that highlighting brings massive benefits in their reading or learning sessions.

One study from 2013 seems to have concluded that highlighting books is not as effective as we might think. The technique is still quite a popular one among readers and students everywhere and many consider it an amazingly effective tool. 

For me, taking notes is generally a lot more effective than highlighting. Others find it more convenient to simply color the content they want to remember. It is up to you to decide which type of reader you are.

Is highlighting better than taking notes?

Both science and personal experience have taught me that taking notes is a lot more effective in comprehension and information retention. It has to do with the way our brain processes information while reading and writing. Since the same information passes through two entirely different mental processes, we are more likely to understand and remember it. 

Simply adding a splash of color to the information you want to remember is not as effective as processing that information in more parts of your brain at once. 

How do you highlight a book without ruining it?

Highlighting and annotating books are quite similar processes. One thing they have in common is the fact that they tend to leave their marks on the books we read or study. While some readers have a certain satisfaction in owning a book that has been clearly worked on, others hate the thought of damaging their books.

If you are a part of the latter category, learning how to highlight a book without marking it is going to be essential. The best way to do it, as I explained above, is to use a reading tracking app like Basmo. This will allow you to mark the important information without actually leaving any marks on the books you read.

Does highlighting improve memory?

While studies tend to show that there are no palpable benefits brought by highlighting when it comes to information retention, popular belief seems to be the exact opposite.

Many readers and students can swear by the efficacy of book highlighting and never miss an opportunity to use this technique whenever they need to learn something. Whether that actually aids memorization or just acts as a more efficient navigation tool on re-reads is unclear. 

The bottom line is that ultimately, it is only you who can actually decide whether highlighting books helps your learning efforts and the amount of information you retain. 

Is highlighting books bad?

As a general rule, no. Highlighting books can’t do any harm beyond the fact that it can leave you with a bunch of scribbled books. It is unlikely for highlighting to negatively affect your reading performance. 

What is the alternative to highlighting in books?

If highlighting is not something that you enjoy or if you feel that its effects are not worth the effort, the good news is that you do have a couple of alternatives.

Making notes

The most obvious and actually effective alternative to book highlighting is writing your own notes while reading. Whether you do it with a pen and paper or with a reading tracking app like Basmo, you are going to enjoy a lot of benefits. For starters, your books will remain intact. Secondly, you are likely to see some information retention improvements because your brain will make more connections and a significantly bigger effort while processing the information. 

With Basmo, taking notes while reading is amazingly easy and efficient. Whenever a reading session is ongoing, the note-taking feature becomes active and you can simply start typing. All your notes will be automatically saved within the book you are reading, and you can later edit and format them in a number of ways.


While equally destructive when it comes to the condition your books will be after reading them, annotating can be somewhat more effective. You can still enjoy the same benefits as you would when taking notes, but you are still going to use the books as your designated medium.

Alternatively, you can use Basmo for your annotation and through the scanning tool I described above, you can easily add your annotations within the app instead of writing them directly in the book.

Final thoughts on book highlighting

Learning how to highlight books effectively can be a very useful tool for your reading and studying habits. Make sure to use Basmo to avoid damaging your books and to enjoy a ton of other perks that will completely change your reading habits and performance.

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