Highlighting is a favorite study method of students everywhere. It’s accessible and satisfying—what’s better than using your favorite colors to help you remember important points? However, not knowing how to highlight can turn this useful tip into a distraction. In this guide, we’ll show you some ideas on how to get more out of highlighting. Plus, we’ll share our picks for the best highlighter pens for studying! Watch the video below to see the tips in action.
- What is the text about?
- What do you want to gain from highlighting it?
- What do you need to know to reach your goal?
By asking yourself these questions, you’ll be able to focus on the significant portions of the text without getting distracted.
When you’re ready to highlight, make sure you’ve read the text and have a firm idea of what the paragraph is about. Also check that what you’ve highlighted makes sense in isolation. It’ll save you the extra work of re-reading when you go back to it.
- Limit your color count. Using too many colors can get overwhelming. Pick three to five different colors and stick with them.
- Pick readable colors. Strike a balance between conspicuous and mild. Pastel highlighters are great candidates: they are visible enough to pick out without being too harsh on the eyes. You can check out our Best Pastel Highlighters guide for recommendations.
- Pick dissimilar colors. You want to be able to tell the different types of information apart!
Double-sided highlighters are especially handy for diversifying your highlighting, although you can draw lines with the pointed ends of chisel tips too. The Kokuyo Beetle 3way Highlighters deserve a special mention for their unique tip design that lets you easily draw double lines as well.
As you highlight your text, do so in moderation. A common problem is over-highlighting, when virtually everything is marked as important. If every sentence on the page stands out, then nothing will be distinct enough to remember.
The FriXion lineup is a leader in erasable pens, including highlighters. You can use them to refine your highlighting when you go back to prune unnecessary bits of information. They’re also great for cleaning up areas where you accidentally caught the first word of an irrelevant sentence.
The Tombow Kei Coats have especially fine tips among highlighters. They’re particularly handy for annotating in corresponding colors or underlining narrow-spaced text. The tips are enforced with plastic so they stay crisp in the face of heavy pen pressure or vigorous use. You can choose from a fair selection of mild colors with just the right amount of vibrance.
Kokuyo’s Beetle Tip 3way Highlighters are a great choice for people who want to underline with their highlighters. The unique tip design lets you easily highlight, underline, and draw double lines. The smaller angles of the chisel tips allow the pens to lie more comfortably against flat surfaces, letting you produce neat lines without holding the pen stiffly upright.
The wide-tipped Stabilo Boss Original Pastel Highlighters come in a pleasing selection of gentle colors. They’re our pick for those who want to have both neat handwritten notes and pastel ink: they don’t smear ballpoint or pencil and slightly smudge gel and fountain pen ink. You also don’t have to worry about them rolling around thanks to their flat bodies.
If your biggest gripe with highlighters is the smearing, we recommend the Zebra Justfit Mojini Line Highlighters. Whether you’re highlighting written notes or inkjet printed paper, they’re specially formulated to be smear-resistant. The tips are also flexible so that lines come out neatly even if you highlight at an angle.
For those who place the utmost importance on color choice, consider the double-sided Zebra Mildliners. They’re popular for their broad color selection, boasting an incredible 25 soft and unique shades. Mildliners are known for their tendency to smear, so we recommend smear-resistant pens such as the Zebra Sarasa Mark On if you plan on highlighting written notes with them.
Like their name suggests, Uni Propus Window Highlighters all feature a nifty window built into the tip that lets you see what you’re highlighting. We especially recommend the ultra fast drying Q-Dry highlighters if you intend to highlight the slick pages of a textbook. All Uni Propus pens are double sided and the regular highlighters come in a variety of colors, including five pleasing pastel shades.
Though clearly not a highlighter, the Zebra Mark On deserves a mention for its unparalleled ability to resist smearing. It can even stand up to the popular Zebra Mildliners! If you highlight a lot of written notes, consider picking one up.
Our writers draw on their personal expertise, consult our in-house subject matter experts, and do extensive research to make our guides as accurate and comprehensive as possible. We then test every finding that makes it through the research stage. Only the techniques and tools whose performance we personally confirm make it into our guides as recommendations.
If you’d like more stationery recommendations or tips for studying, check out some of our other blogs:
- Dunlosky, J., Rawson, K. A., Marsh, E. J., Nathan, M. J., & Willingham, D. T. (2013). Improving Students’ Learning With Effective Learning Techniques: Promising Directions From Cognitive and Educational Psychology. Psychological Science in the Public Interest, 14(1), 4–58.
- Leutner, D., Leopold, C., den Elzen-Rump, V. (2007). Self-Regulated Learning with a Text-Highlighting Strategy. Zeitschrift für Psychologie 215(3):174-182.
- University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. (n.d.). Highlighting.