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HIST 100.06 Immigration, Conversion, and Cultural Change in Early England and Ireland

Prof. Bill North - Fall 2020

Active Reading

Reading critically involves more than simply understanding the information that the text conveys. That is the first step. But reading critically requires reading actively, in constant conversation with the text as you discern not only what it says, but how it says it. In the end, according to Dan Kurkland, you want to know three things:

  1. What the text says - information conveyed
  2. What the text does - purpose and techniques
  3. What the text means - interpretation in context

To help you do this, take notes as you are reading. The goals is to give yourself ways to find patterns and key moments in the text. This is your initial conversation with the author.

Make notes that:

  • summarize key sections of the text,
  • mark important structural elements of the text,
  • ask questions of the text,
  • indicate places where you would like to go back and follow up on an allusion or citation,
  • mark the most important phrases or sentences that you might want to quote later.



In the example to the left, the student has used red pen to mark structural elements and blue pen to make notes about and ask questions of the content.

Not only will annotations help you find patterns in the texts, they'll also help you remember what you read. So always read with a pencil (or its digital equivalent)!

Example of reading notes

Here is an example of reading notes taken in Evernote, with citation and page numbers noted as well as quotation marks for direct quotes and brackets around the reader's own thoughts.

But what software do I use?

Use something that you like, and can use consistently for years! We have some tips to help you make this decision. You'll be much happier down the line if you think about organizing your files up front. In general it's best if you name your files consistently and store them where you can get back to them easily.