I recently read this book called "How to Take Smart Notes". As the title suggests, the book is largely about taking notes. I came to find that it is about more than that. The note-taking is just a means to an end. The note-taking technique that the author discusses is a way to make you a more effective reader and writer.
I knew I was prone to reading the words in a book without necessarily understanding what I was reading. I thought I had already figured this out though. As I would read, I would write down page numbers and quotes that stuck out to me. Certainly that meant I was no longer passively reading. I had convinced myself that I was reading effectively. I wasn't.
What I learned in this book is that to really be reading effectively, you have to be taking deliberate notes. Underlining, scribbling in the margins, and copying down quotes do not provide the same benefits as taking deliberate notes.
So, what does it mean to take deliberate notes?
What's behind deliberate note-taking is that you are synthesizing what you are reading into your own context.
Your context is made up of your interests, the big and small questions you are thinking about, and the other things that you are reading. Rather than taking down a quote, you should identify what interested you about the quote and write in your own words what it means. Make note of the questions it raises for you and how it ties to the questions you already have in mind. Does it seem relevant to other things that you've read? Find those references and notes and link them together. Find how they confirm and conflict with one another and synthesize that into more notes.
The deliberate practice of note-taking is to consider your unique context as you read and put what you've learned in your own words.
As you read with a pen in hand and an intention to take deliberate notes, you start to read differently. You become more attentive to what you're reading. You are actively trying to draw connections with what you are reading and other ideas. You become a more ruthless reader, skipping over what doesn't seem relevant or pique your interest. In short, you become a more effective reader.
Equipped with all of these notes -- notes that go beyond the surface, integrate your own thinking, and make connections -- you will also become a more effective reader. Though that is a topic for another post. Or just read the book.
Consider engaging in deliberate note-taking for a while; see how it transforms the way you read and write.