How to Actually Use What You Read with Readwise: Part 2

This is Part 2 in a series of articles in which we learn how to use Readwise to develop a reading workflow.

In the previous section, we learned that a reading workflow involves three steps. First, capturing the salient parts of what you read using highlights. Second, periodically reviewing those highlights, which is typically where most people falter and is also what the Readwise email makes easy. And third, integrating what you've read into your life.

In this Part 2, we'll show you how to take the basic workflow of the Readwise email to the next level, from a passive to an active experience.

Natural Progression

For most Readwise users, this progression begins rather naturally. Once you trust that you will indeed see your highlights again — that it's not goodbye, it's see you later — you'll find yourself asking as you read: Do I actually want to see this passage again? Is this passage actually highlight-worthy? Will my future self be able to make sense of what I've highlighted? And so on.

The first time you notice such an internal dialog, you might become self-conscious. Am I reading too slowly? Am I overthinking? Am I in my own head? Rest assured: the answer to these questions is definitively no. The internal dialog is actually a sign that you're actively — rather than passively — reading. And in terms of getting more of what you want out of reading, that's a great thing. In the words of Mortimer Adler, the author of the classic manual on reading How To Read a Book:

"If your aim in reading is to profit from it — to grow somehow in mind or spirit — you have to keep awake. That means reading as actively as possible. It means making an effort — an effort for which you expect to be repaid."

If you're actively reading and highlighting, that means you're ready to actively review. In this article, we'll show you how to develop an intermediate reading workflow, using the same steps introduced in Part 1: Capture, Review, and Integrate.

Step 1: Capturing Reactions

As we learned in Part 1, the first step of any workflow, basic or advanced, is to capture any and all the things that might be meaningful to you in a reliable system outside your mind. With reading, this means highlighting especially salient passages.

Once you grow accustomed to actually revisiting what you've captured, however, you'll likely discover that you also want to review more than just the original passages. You'll also want to review your original reaction to those passages. You can capture these reactions, of course, by taking notes.

As with highlighting, note-taking while reading used to be quite laborious. First, you had to read at a table or desk with a writing implement handy. Next, you had to cram your writing into some tiny margin or external notebook. Finally, you had to discern your scrawled notes weeks, months, or years later (if ever). In the digital era, however, taking notes is as easy as sending a text message.

As to what reactions to capture, again there are no rules. The objective is simply to start a conversation rather than just silently highlighting. Maybe you strongly agree with something the author has written. Even better, maybe you strongly disagree. Note why. Maybe a section confuses you. Maybe a section could be helpful to something you're working on. Note how. You get the idea. Just get in there and start writing. You'll quickly find your voice.

The value of taking notes while reading cannot be overstated. How many times have you heard the cliché, for example, read between the lines? It turns out, the key to reading between the lines is actually to write between the lines. Once you start, you'll discover a whole new reading experience, elevated from that of a one-sided lecture to a two-sided conversation.

Step 2: Active Review

The next step of the workflow is to review your captured material. In the basic workflow, this meant reading the Readwise email each day. Although we love the email for its simplicity and elegance, it's ultimately a passive medium. For a more interactive experience, you should instead use the Readwise web app.

Just like the email, the Readwise web app is centered around reviewing a few highlights a day. Unlike the email, you can perform actions such as favoriting, discarding, tagging, searching, copying, sharing, noting, referencing the original book or article, and more while in the process. And when you're done the day's review, you can of course keep going. Many of our users like this so much that they install the Readwise web app as a shortcut on the homescreen of their mobile device.[1]

You can also visit the web app on an as-needed basis to browse your highlights by book, by tag, or by search term. This is especially useful when you're hunting down a particular passage, organizing your thoughts, or trying to refresh your memory of a particular book.

Step 3: Integrate

The third and final step of a reading workflow is to integrate your reading into your life. The web app provides all the opportunities to better integrate as offered by the Readwise email — such as improved retention, enhanced creativity, and sudden inspiration — and then some.

Importantly, the more you use the Readwise web app, the better your Readwise experience will get. This is because Readwise uses machine learning to intelligently resurface the right highlight at the right time. In other words, Readwise tries to predict which ideas will be most useful to you on any given day. The science behind this process is complicated and just getting started, but every favorite, discard, tag, and note helps to inform which highlights you might or not want to see next.


At this point, we now know that as you use Readwise, you'll naturally begin to read at a higher level. This means not just occasionally highlighting, but also actively reading and taking notes. These behaviors are immensely beneficial by themselves, but you can get even more of what you want by also actively reviewing in the Readwise web app.

If you haven't already, sign up for Readwise and start consistently reviewing the best parts of what you've read today.

Next Up: Advanced Workflow

Once you get into the habit of taking notes while reading, and once you get into the habit of actively reviewing, you'll discover that you can use Readwise to support even more powerful workflows, more closely corresponding the two different objectives of reading for betterment: action and insight. To learn more, continue on to Part 3 of this series on reading workflows with Readwise.

  1. The web app also keeps track of your daily review streak. Check out the high score leaderboard to see where you rank! Oh, and the web app also has all kinds of keyboard shortcuts! ↩︎

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