Reading, writing, taking notes

Reading Strategies

You come to college knowing how to read, but you may need to learn why to read—how to read with a purpose and how to set goals for reading. This is often called active reading. At the university level, the materials you are asked to read include a disciplinary perspective and use jargon and conventions that may be unfamiliar to you. Active reading can help you learn strategies to navigate this new terrain. 

There are a number of different frameworks for supporting active reading skills. We've compiled them for you in the accordions below. We also provide a link to the Read&Write software that IU makes available to all students in IUWare. Be sure to check out this resource as well!

  • Look at the title of the piece. Respond to it.
  • Look at any illustrations on the page. See if they help you understand the title. 
  • Begin to read the text. As you read, interact with the text: 
    • Write down any questions as they come into your head. 
    • Write down any connections you make as you read. 
      • Connections can be to yourself, your world, to something else you have read, to the text you are now reading. 
    • Clarify your understanding by writing ideas from the text in your own words. 
    • Underline or circle words you don’t know. Use word parts or context clues to figure out their meanings as you read. 
    • Don’t forget you should also summarize at the end of each page to help you remember what you have read. 
    • Predict what will happen next. 
    • Visualize what’s happening as you’re working. 

SQ5R allows students to read and study books actively. This is a way to learn more information and understand it in less time.


  1. Survey the chapter
  2. Write Questions for each heading and subheading
  3. Read the information one paragraph at a time.
  4. Record Information
  5. Actively Recite important points from the paragraph
  6. Reflect on what you have read
  7. Review the chapter as a whole for retention

Step One: Survey the chapter

  • Read the introductory materials carefully
  • Read the headings and subheadings
  • Look at the visual materials such as charts, graphs, or pictures
  • Read marginal notes
  • Skim over terminology or information in special print
  • Read the end-of-chapter materials, including conclusion, summary, or chapter review questions

Step Two: Write Questions

Write potential questions based off of the section headings in order to address the main points in the section. You will have a chance to answer these later, in step five.

  • Which? (specific items)
  • When? (time periods)
  • What? (specific facts)
  • Why? (reasons)
  • Where? (specific locations)
  • How? (specific processes)
  • Who? (specific people)

Step Three: Read Carefully and Thoroughly

  • Read one paragraph at a time
  • Read slowly enough so that you can concentrate and comprehend each paragraph
  • Pay attention to facts, ideas, relationships
  • Pay close attention to bold text, graphs, tables, and illustrations

Step Four: Record information

After reading each paragraph, take notes of the important information you will need to study, memorize, learn, and use. This allows you to have a condensed form of the information you are expected to know. Notes also allow you to be actively involved in the learning process. Writing information offers another way for you to hold information in working memory and encode it for your long-term memory.

Step Five: Recite Information

Before moving on to the next paragraph, recite the information written in your notes by speaking out loud and in complete sentences. Reciting helps encode the information for memory and creates important retrieval cues. This is the time where you can answer the questions written in step two. If unable to recite what you read or unable to the answer questions, go back and re-read.

Step Six: Reflect Step

Reflect on the information that you have just read. Try to make personal connections with the material that way recalling information later will be easier. Write down any reflections or connections you have made in your notes to come back to them again later if you forget them. If something is not clear, make a note of it and ask classmates or the professor in class.

Step Seven: Review

Once the surveying, questioning, reading, recording, reciting, and reflecting steps are completed, you may proceed to the review step. The suggested actions below will help you review the chapter.

  • Answer any questions at the end of the chapter.
  • Study and recite from the notes that you took in the Record step.
  • Write a summary of the information in the chapter.
  • Personalize the information by asking yourself additional questions:
    • How can this information be used?
    • How does the lecture from this class fit in with this information?
    • Why is this important to learn?

Create additional study tools such as index cards, audio recordings, or visual mappings. For math and science textbooks with math problems and formulas, copy the problems from the book, then work the problems. Compare the steps you used and your answers with those in the textbook.

THIEVES is a pre-reading strategy that helps you get a big-picture view of your text to orient yourself before you begin reading. This primes your brain to retain and understand the importance and relevance of the information you are learning.

It's also really good to do this strategy before you attend your class lecture, even if you are going to do the reading later.  It will help prime you for the upcoming lecture so you can take better lecture notes.

T=Title.  What do I think the text will be about?  What do I already know about this topic?

H=Headings.  How is the information divided up?

I=Introduction.  How does this make me curious about the subject?

E=Every first sentence in a section.  What details do I learn about the reading?

V=Visuals and Vocabulary.  What do the visuals and bold words tell me about what I"ll be reading?

E= End of Article, End of Chapter Questions.  How does this finish? What do the questions tell me about the reading?

S=Summarize Thinking.  What do I now think the author's main idea will be in this text?

This strategy works best if you do it with another student or a group from your class.  Each student reads a short passage out loud and verbalizes out loud what they are thinking as they are reading. We use different strategies as we read actively.  Below are some of the strategies and how you might verbalize them to others.

Strategy Presented in Think AloudHow to verbalize
PredictingI predict, In the next part I think, I think this is
QuestioningWhat did, How did, Where was, Should there
VisualizingI see, I imagine, I picture
Personal ResponseI feel, My favorite part, I liked/disliked
ClarifyingI got confused when, I'm not sure of, I didn't expect, Why did
SummarizingThis is mainly about, Most important is
ReflectingI think I'll time, I wonder if, Maybe I'll need to time, I realize that
Making Connections: Personal and text-to-text connectionsThis is like, This reminds me of, This is similar to

Adapted from Schoenbach, R., Greenleaf, C., & Murphy, L. (2012). Reading for Understanding: How Reading Apprenticeship Improves Disciplinary Learning in Secondary and College Classrooms. San Francisco: Jossey Bass.

Read&Write is literacy software that is designed to assist anyone who has a learning disability or vision issues, or those having difficulty with reading and writing. It's available free to students through IUware under the Accessibility tab.

The Read&Write software provides individuals with a customizable toolbar that can be used with common applications. The toolbar features are intended to assist with writing, studying, and research. Additional benefits offered include:

  • Text-to-speech integration with Microsoft Word and other applications
  • "Read the web" feature that reads website content aloud (when using Internet Explorer in Windows or Safari on a Mac)
  • Screenshot reader that allows text presented as images to be read aloud (for example, IU eTexts content on the Engage reading platform)
  • PDF Reader for Read&Write for Google Chrome and Read&Write for Windows
  • Converting digital text into an audio file that you can listen to on your computer and mobile device
  • Word prediction, advanced spell check, and dictionary tools

Writing strategies

No matter what your major is, you’ll need good writing skills to be successful in it. Good writing skills come with practice; there is no such thing as a natural born writer! According to NACE (National Association of Colleges and Employers), excellent written communication skills have stayed highly important to employers.

At IU, you can find a writing center on every campus to support you in polishing your writing skills. Professionals at the centers work by helping you learn how to write better. Keep in mind that they do not serve as copy editors or proofreaders.  So come to them prepared to work and learn! 

Need more immediate help? Check out these writing guides from Writing Tutorial Services  at IU Bloomington. From how to compose a thesis statement, to using evidence, to successful proofreading, you can learn strategies to succeed with many different writing tasks. 

SEWing helps you stitch together a successful paper:

S "Say,"

E "give Example," and

W "explain Why."

The acronym helps you remember not to just make your point and stop there, but to support your point with evidence and analysis. Here's how SEWing works: 

(Say:) The supervisor responsible for training at Three Mile Island didn't behave ethically. (Example:) In his memo of July 11, 1978, he ordered his team not to include new information on how to handle a low coolant event. (Why:) According to Markel's guidelines for technical writing, deliberately suppressing information is unethical. 

Give SEWing a try on your next writing assignment and see if it works for you!

Taking Notes

We take notes to clarify, to help us remember, to help us think and organize information as we receive it, and to pay attention. This helpful video covers multiple approaches to note-taking, including how to be an active listener, create a structure, and handle lecture speed.

When you take notes, you have to make an effort.

Note-taking reinforces the stages of the learning cycle. As you encode new information into words or images, you are forming new pathways in your brain and storing the information more firmly in your long-term memory. When you retrieve the information later, you again reinforce your learning process. You have to pay attention and listen carefully; the action of writing keeps your body active and involved in class. In a lecture, because it's almost impossible to take verbatim notes, you have to make decisions about what is most important and organize information accordingly.

You can find more note-taking strategies in the accordions below.

Cornell Method.  In this method, you structure how you write notes on the page so that you can more easily review your notes later. Check out the Cornell Notes module to learn all about this method and how to use it. Here's a template for how to structure these notes. It's available in Word and as a Google doc.


When to Use an Outline:

  • When information should be organized hierarchically
  • When a more effective style of notetaking is needed than the conventional style

How It Works

The outlining method is one of the most common styles of notetaking. Each main topic is bulleted to the point farthest left of the page. Subtopics are placed the next line down, indented right one time. Lastly, any supporting facts of the subtopic are one line below and indented an additional time. It will look like this:

  • MainTopic
    • Subtopic
      • Supporting fact, thought, or knowledge.

There will likely be many main topics to take note of when using the outline method. Each main topic could have multiple subtopics. Similarly, each subtopic may have multiple facts, thoughts, or pieces of knowledge underneath. In textbooks, authors often use different colors of text, bolding, or different font sizes when introducing a new topic. This will key you in that a new topic and main idea is starting.

Advantages: One advantage to using the outlining method is that when you go to review the outline, you have the main points and ideas from the text. When you are looking for more detail, you have the headings from the text in your notes so you know where to go if you need more information.

Disadvantages: When taking a class with lots of graphs and formulas, like math or science, this style is challenging. You would be better off trying a different note-taking style, like the Cornell Method!

Creating mind maps is a visual note-taking method that aids in the memorization of information. Information is organized from general to more specific, creating a skeleton that allows you to better understand the overall structure of the topic at hand.

When to use a Mind Map:

  • Organizing thoughts into a big picture
  • Wondering how all your concepts fit together? See them connect using a mind map!
  • Overview topics that you have detailed

How do I make a Mind Map?

  1. Turn a large, blank sheet of paper horizontally (use a 11 x 17-inch sheet if possible).
  2. Write the major concept in the center of the page and circle it.
  3. Add and circle any main ideas relating to this concept; these ideas should connect to the major concept through lines radiating outward from the center.
  4. Record any details supporting the main idea, using lines to connect them to the main idea.
  5. Construct a new mind map for each major concept.


  • Be brief (only keywords, no lengthy sentences)
  • Use abbreviations, symbols, images, and different colors to highlight different ideas and relationships.
  • Jot notes along the margin of your paper to help you better understand relationships between various mind maps.

Common Problems and Solutions!

  • Too many concepts: break your map down into smaller maps, with one ‘overview’ map that shows how each map fits together
  • Too many links: again, you need to create separate maps for some of the subtopics
  • Description on the links too long: think about whether the concept can be divided into smaller concepts; or it may be that you don’t clearly understand the relationship between the concepts-think more!
  • Concept descriptions too wordy: again, loading too much on one concept-how can it be divided further?
  • Too many maps: there is a happy medium! If some of your smaller maps are too small, merge them together!
  • Not enough detail: add more concepts!
  • Doesn’t cover the material: try and formulate the question you want the map to answer; if you’ve got that right, that question should include as its subject the concept that will be the starting point of your map. If not, reformulate your question!

Mind Map Example

image of a mind map

Guided notes are often used in classes where the teacher will be working problems on the board.  The teacher hands out partially completed class notes.  Students can then work along with the instructor as they solve the problem on the board.  See the example below.

science diagram depicting guided notes