How to Add Chapters to Your Highlights in Readwise

In this guide, we're going to learn how to add chapters to your notes and highlights in Readwise using the heading action tag. The heading action tag is a special note taken while you read that captures a book's structure — its parts, chapters, sections, and subsections, as the case may be. Once you've captured this data, the more intuitive location context of chapters becomes available throughout Readwise, enhancing your overall experience.

(If you're not familiar with the concept of an action tag in Readwise, be sure to check our primer: How to Tag Your Highlights While You Read.)

Semantic Locations

Even though your highlights from books typically include a page or "location" number, this context is largely meaningless unless you happen to be writing a paper requiring proper citations. For most of us, it'd be far more useful to see location in terms of the highlight's part, chapter, section, or subsection. The heading action tag makes this possible.

chapters-on-highlights-1

Tables of Contents

In addition to the chapter context on individual highlights, the heading action tag will also generate a nifty table of contents on the book's summary page which you can use to quickly navigate your highlights and refresh your memory of the book's organization.

table-of-contents-1

How to Use the Heading Action Tag

So how do you use the heading action tag to capture chapter data while you read?

Simply highlight the title of each section and add a note beginning with a period (.) followed by an h (for "heading") and then the number 1 through 4 representing the section's position in the hierarchy.

For example, with a book organized into parts, chapters, and sections, you would denote all parts as .h1, all chapters as .h2, and all sections as .h3.[1]

Here's an example (in outline form) from Sapiensthe most densely highlighted book on Readwise.

.h1 Part One: The Cognitive Revolution (part)

.h2 1. An Animal of No Significance (chapter)

.h3 Skeletons in the Closet (section)

.h3 The Cost of Thinking (section)

.h3 A Race of Cooks (section)

.h3 Our Brothers' Keepers (section)

.h2 2. The Tree of Knowledge (chapter)

...

.h1 Part Two: The Agricultural Revolution (part)

.h2 5. History's Biggest Fraud (chapter)

... You get the idea.

Some additional notes on the heading action tag:

  • The heading action tag works across all e-reading platforms supported by Readwise including Amazon Kindle, Apple iBooks, and Instapaper.

  • Do not using the heading action tag on the table of contents in the front matter of the book. Instead, only highlight and tag the titles at the beginning of each section.

  • The default use of the heading action tag is while you read. That said, you can always go back and capture the structure after you're done reading. Start at the beginning of the book, flip to the beginning of each section, highlight the section title, and add the appropriate heading action tag. Then resync.

  • Although you can use the heading action tag while or after reading, the ultimate application is before you read. This will force you perform a "pre-reading" or "inspectional reading" of the book, which is a classic technique to read at a higher level.

Section Summaries

The final benefit of the heading action tag is that once you've captured a book's structure, you can then add section summaries. These are purely optional, but if you really want to master a book, summarizing each section in your own words is a powerful exercise.[2]

section-summaries

Reading at a Higher Level

Not only does chapter data enhance your entire Readwise experience, consistent use of the heading action tag will elevate your reading practice to the next level. It turns out that authors — the good ones at least — put a tremendous amount of effort into logically organizing their works and smartly titling their sections. Authors do not do this for themselves. They do this for you — the reader. If you pay closer attention to a book's structure, you'll naturally read better in the same way that you'll better learn the grid of a new city by consulting a map and noticing street signs.

If you haven't already, sign up for Readwise today and start transforming your reading into meaningful action and lasting insight.


  1. If you're familiar with HTML or Markdown, the syntax of .h1, .h2, and so on should be rather intuitive since we've merely repurposed the h1–h6: HTML Heading elements as action tags in Readwise. ↩︎

  2. You can of course capture section summaries and section notes while you read! Simply hit enter after the respective heading action tag and type your note as you normally would (e.g., .h1 ↩︎ This meaty chapter was about...). ↩︎

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