Natasha’s Study: Retaining What You Read

“Mommy’s Little Girl” Photo courtesy of © Deronta C. Robinson 2010

Well, folks this is the last “Natasha’s Study” blog post of the year. In recent weeks, I’ve been talking with another girlfriend at seminary about processing all of the information we are required to read. I mostly read nonfiction books for a particular purpose, so it is important that I read the material with understanding to accurately interpret and apply the information gathered from the reading.

I developed a passion for reading at an early age. As an English major in college, I read frequently. I’m positive, however, that never before have I completed as much reading as within the past few months of attending seminary. Not counting Bible study, morning devotions, magazines, internet articles and news, 1200 pages of systematic theology text, and hundreds of research pages from book excerpts, I have also completed reading 18 books (average of 250 pages each) within the last four months.

With a reading diet like mine, it is easy to forget or confuse information. Here are a few reading habits that assist me in retaining information and organizing what I read:

1. I am not afraid to write in the margins and underline or highlight the text (and this includes my Bible). I am a visual learner. I tend to locate previously reviewed information in a book by the color of my highlights and the presentation of my notes on a page. I love books. I prefer to buy instead of rent them at the library for this purpose alone. Documenting the text is my first step to understanding and processing the information that I read.

2. Create a crib sheet or a personal “contents” page. This process for annotating content and page numbers has been invaluable. Sometimes I read information that I want to quote in my writings, ministry training, school papers, or blog,  so I annotate that information on one of the blank pages in the front of the book. In this way, I can come back to the book several years later and quickly go to the areas that really stood out for me. My crib sheet helped tremendously when studying early church history this semester. I was able to quick reference the names of historical figures (many of which sounded the same), the significant historical dates, and document the Ecumenical Council information all on one page!

3. Most recently, I have started to complete book summaries or “Book Net-outs” for the information in books that I definitely want to retain and possibly revisit at a later date. I got the Book Net-out idea from Michael Hyatt’s blog. The purpose of the “Book Net-out” is to complete a quick, one page summary of a book, including key highlights and points of practical application. If desired, you can also document the meaningful quotes from the book.

Here are a few links from Michael Hyatt’s blog that describe these processes:

How to Retain More of What You Read –
How to Read a Nonfiction Book –

The Book Net-out can be time consuming upon the first effort, but I have found the process to go a lot smoother as I continue in this discipline. “Book Net-outs” or book summaries are extremely valuable for personal and theological reflection.

4. Finally, the last thing I do to retain information is: Talk about it. I get excited about learning new things, so I share it. When I do, I get to hear other people’s perspective on the addressed issues. Considering their contribution to the topic helps me better process and articulate my own thoughts.

I hope these tips help you focus, process information, think theologically, and retain more of what you read. Try it out, and let me know what you think.

Why do you like to read? What are some skills or tools that help you retain the information you read?

© Natasha L. Robinson 2010

Published by Natasha Sistrunk Robinson

Servant of Jesus. Truth-teller. Leader. Mentor. Author of Books.

3 thoughts on “Natasha’s Study: Retaining What You Read

  1. January 24, 2011

    I know I’m late, but better late than never, right?
    Today, I read through the first three chapters of TTP. And when I finished, I was so excited that I wanted to share it with someone. Since I was in grade school reading the Babysitter’s Club or reading an Essence magazine article, I have been a fan of discussing and sharing the information that I have read to (1) test my understanding of the material and (2) pass on an interesting topic that I feel is important to share with my friends. I will definitely take a look at Michael Hyatt’s blog to get more tips on reading and retaining information from the non-fiction books that I read.

    Thanks for sharing and love always,
    C Wolfe

  2. You are correct indeed, my friend. Late is always better than never (at least that my position anyway). 🙂 I’m excited that you are excited about the Treasure Principle. More on that tomorrow. Let me know if you pick up any additional tips. Always glad to share. Love, me

  3. First time I’ve read your blog but really appreciated you tips on retention. I read a lot and agree with your view of the e-readers. I love “a book” that I can turn the pages and mark up. Your “crib sheet” page at the front of he book was a great idea and one that I intend to begin to practice.
    Thanks for sharing your thoughts and ideas with us.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: