How to Highlight a Book Like a Bible Nerd

highlight-like-nerdIn honor of National Read a Book Minute—which, sadly, is dwarfed in popularity by the annual celebration of International Watch TV Year—I want to teach you how to highlight a book.

I went through more years of formal education than is really proper, and no one ever suggested a highlighting method to me. So just in case you are as untutored as I was, I humbly offer my method to you. Hopefully it will help you become a better reader, as I think it’s done for me.

And maybe if we all band together and become better readers, we’ll make reading cool again and the powers that be will expand the reading festivities beyond a minute. Yeah right. That’ll be the hour.

Here are eight tips you could use to get more out of your reading.

Tip 1: Start at the very beginning

This is a bit more of a reading tip than a highlighting tip, but I suggest you start at the beginning of a book.

I always look at the cover of a book, especially if it’s electronic. I want to be oriented to what’s going on. I read acknowledgments and prefaces and forewords and promotional blurbs, too, for the same reason. I’m looking for key thesis-type statements that authors (and foreword writers) make that help me know the questions out of which the book arose and the audience it hopes to help or persuade or shock or what have you. I highlight those key statements.

Tip 2: Pick some highlighters

But which highlighter will you use? Because this is a system I use in print and electronic media, and because I think green and blue and purple are too overwhelming and messy looking, I stick with the standards: yellow, orange, and pink.

Logos includes highlighter pens that never run out of ink and look like real highlighters.
If this seems like gimmickry to you, let me ask: have you ever used solid colors to highlight an electronic document? It’s hard on the eyes:

I care about the beauty and not just the functionality of my software. I find, in fact, that beauty is as an essential part of good functionality. I really like the Logos highlights:


Tip 3: Use yellow for things you notice and want to see again

I use yellow to highlight anything my attention is drawn to, anything I want to see again if I scan that book in the future. I select text and then press “Y” to highlight it in yellow (the process is slightly different in the Logos mobile app, but just as easy). I have set shortcut keys for all the highlighters I regularly use. To set up your own, just click the dropdown next to the highlighter and pick a key:

Screen Capture on 2016-06-15 at 11-32-03

Tip 4: Use orange for other things you notice which are next to the first things you noticed

Often I highlight something in yellow only to notice that the next sentence is also noteworthy. I can trot out the yellow highlighter again, but sometimes the new sentence is different enough in content from the first that I want to distinguish the two. So I use orange. I highlight the text and press “O.”

Screen Capture on 2016-06-15 at 12-10-27

Tip 5: Highlight sentences

I generally try to highlight whole sentences so that when I scan later I will be able to read self-contained statements with subjects and predicates. When I see (or, worse, buy) books that contain highlights from a previous reader, I often notice that what appear to me to be random words and phrases are highlighted. (This is particularly true of used textbooks.) Random highlights don’t help future me, because they require me to piece together a proposition rather than marking it off for me in advance.

Tip 6: Use pink for lists

I highlight lists in pink. I start by highlighting the organizing statement (“Here are four reasons why ultimate Frisbee is more fun to play than soccer”), then I highlight the ordinals (“First,” “Second,” “Third,” “Fourth”) in pink as well. This is particularly helpful with certain authors who love lists.

This method saved me when I read Nigel Turner’s Syntax of the Greek New Testament, a book with a nested outline structure. I ended up adding purple and green into the mix with that book, too, because of the multiple different outline levels. Likewise, Jonathan Edwards’ Religious Affections is fond of lists of twelve things. When I go back to the book I can now see at a glance what his structure is.

Tip 7: Save your highlights in a convenient file

Now a tip that is unique to Logos: remember that if you make a highlight Logos saves it. Open up your highlighter palettes and click the dropdown next to each one. Tell it to save those highlights to a “Resource-specific note file.” Everything you highlight will be saved as a text clipping in a note file dedicated to each book. This is huge. It’s something I’ve used extensively. I keep a separate document for every eBook I read, and I copy all the highlights into them. I used to do this manually for (paper) books I thought were particularly valuable. Now it’s done automatically for me. I go back to these notes and use them when someone asks me what a book was about, or when I need to find an illustration or quotation that stuck out to me.

Tip 8: Make your own highlighters

Since I won the Nerdiest Home Schooler of 1996 award for Northern Virginia (and I wasn’t even home schooled…), I feel comfortable revealing that I have created my own highlighter styles in Logos. I find myself wanting them when I read paper books. Here they are:

Untitled-1 copy

The pink “Point 0,” “Point 1,” etc. are especially useful to me: these styles add numbers into the text of my book. This is valuable when a book contains a list of four reasons or arguments or what have you but doesn’t use words like “Firstly,” “Secondly,” etc., to help out the reader. I have points 1–6 mapped to keys 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, and 6 for easy use.

The red highlighter style above adds question marks to indicate that I’m skeptical of something I’ve read. And on a few rare occasions when I have seriously disagreed with someone’s statement or methodology, I have resorted to a black highlighter as a sign that I never want to see that sentence again (this is a little bit tongue-in-cheek, but let me tell you it feels good):



I’ve been using this highlighting system for years; it works for me. I’ve used it in paper books and, as much as possible, on Kindle and other platforms. I vastly prefer the Logos highlighting tools to the Kindle (or any other) digital highlighting tool. Reading is a pleasure and a calling for me, and I have come to rely on Logos’ highlighting tools to help me fulfill that calling well. Only Logos gives me the full suite of electronic tools a true (e-)reader needs. My Kindle device limits me to one color, and my paper books require me to remember to bring along at least yellow, orange, and pink highlighter pens. But my highlighters go everywhere my Logos apps go.

Logos even gives me the power to search my library for highlights, or search within them:

Real readers care about books and how they read them. They have their favorite ways of taking notes and remembering what they read. Post-It flags, dog-ears (blech!), colored pencils, etc. I’ve been even been told by one dedicated reader that he won’t read a book unless he owns it—precisely so he can mark it up. The highlighting tools are just one more example of how Logos helps you use your library, not just own it.

mark ward
Mark L. Ward, Jr. received his PhD from Bob Jones University in 2012; he now serves the church as a Logos Pro. He is the author of multiple high school Bible textbooks, including Biblical Worldview: Creation, Fall, Redemption.


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  1. John Connell says:

    Great article! This tip needed some pictures like the other tips. It took me a while to figure out how to set this up.

    Tip 7: Save your highlights in a convenient file

    Now a tip that is unique to Logos: remember that if you make a highlight Logos saves it. Open up your highlighter palettes and click the dropdown next to each one. Tell it to save those highlights to a “Resource-specific note file.” Everything you highlight will be saved as a text clipping in a note file dedicated to each book. This is huge. It’s something I’ve used extensively. I keep a separate document for every eBook I read, and I copy all the highlights into them. I used to do this manually for (paper) books I thought were particularly valuable. Now it’s done automatically for me. I go back to these notes and use them when someone asks me what a book was about, or when I need to find an illustration or quotation that stuck out to me.

    • Let me see what I can do…

      • John Connell says:

        Also, with reference to Note 7, I would like to see what your notes file looks like. The only way I can see the entire highlight is to choose “Quotes.” In that view I get each highlight twice. In Compact, Full, and Split I only get truncated notes.

    • Quote: “Now a tip that is unique to Logos: remember that if you make a highlight Logos saves it. Open up your highlighter palettes and click the dropdown next to each one. Tell it to save those highlights to a “Resource-specific note file.” Everything you highlight will be saved as a text clipping in a note file dedicated to each book.”

      Hi John,

      That would be great! However, I can’t find that option in the drop down menu right to the highlight palet.

      I don’t have the option to add a screenshot, but these options are given in the menu for the Double Underline Palet:

      – Duplicate (greyed out)
      – Rename (greyed out)
      – Edit (greyed out)
      – Move (greyed out)
      – Delete (greyed out)
      – Restyle annotations
      – Shortcut key: U
      – Clear shortcut

      Would you please explain a little more how to find that saving option?


    • I was confused at first, too. The pull down menu referred to here is beside the palette heading, ie: SOLID COLORS, HIGHLIGHTER PENS, etc. Not the pull down beside each color. The last item on the this menu is: “Save in:” and the default is “Palette Specific File”. Mouse over that and another menu comes down which includes “Resource specific file”. On some of the palette types, I had to try it a couple times to get it changed from palette to resource, but it worked eventually.

  2. Michael Keller says:

    This article was very helpful. No longer do I have to open the Highlighter Drawer and have is open while reading. It wasn’t a problem to do that. However, this system is much nicer. Thank you! I do have a question related to #8. I have set up my own specific highlighters. However, I was not able to set up the red question marks like you show or the yellow glow. Can you tell me how you did that?

    • I thought I might get this question. I’m glad you asked. Just edit the highlighting style (click the dropdown next to it) and you’ll see something like what I have below. Add the question marks to the “Text After” box:

      • Michael Keller says:

        Thanks for replying to my question. What you explained worked! Now, I need to know how to get the numbers to appear in the text when there are no numbers for a list. This would be the pink “1. Point 1” highlighter. Mine will highlight the text pink but not add the number.

        • This time just add the text into the “Text Before” field. Let me know if you need more help.

          • Michael Keller says:

            That worked!

          • When putting in “1.” in the Text Before for highlighting Point 1, it won’t highlight the “1. ” as it does in your example. Can you tell me how to get it look like yours?

          • Note that the 1. itself has to have “background” styling, in this case a pink natural highlighter, and the 1. has to have “capsule” checked:

  3. Larry Gjernes says:

    When I black out text I want to “boycott” I use the term LOWLIGHTING as opposed to HIGHLIGHTING.

  4. Love what you are demonstrating here thank you!
    Am I correct in thinking you have geared this system toward highlighting of resource books etc as against Bible text?
    if so, what system do you use for highlighting Bible text?

    • I don’t have a system for the whole Bible. I adapt my basic system for different needs. I do highlight in yellow things that jump out at me. But I also will set up little highlighting schemes for studying individual portions of Scripture. One time, for example, I marked in green (for “go”) all God’s commands to Abraham in the Abrahamic covenant passages, and I placed in yellow and orange all God’s promises (yellow and orange to distinguish them because they tended to follow each other):

      If I’m diligent I leave a little note at the head of the passage explaining my system to my future self—especially if I think I’ll want to access it later.

  5. Brian Morgan says:

    Very helpful brother. Thank you! I recently was asking myself the very question of how I might use different colors to improve my review technique. I will give this a whirl.

  6. don wallace says:

    Hi Mark, thanks a million for sharing this with us. My self, i highlight every thing that sticks out in yellow. Then the whole page is highlighted, and so on through out the book, then when i am finished i have a yellow printed book. I look forward to trying your method out, thankyou.

  7. Hi Mark,

    Thank you for this post. I did already highlight my books, but now found that I can even use shortkeys for that, which makes the whole thing much more user friendly.

    I do have another question: when I started highlighting I was confused whether to (automatically) send all the highlights to:
    1. a highlighting note file for each separate book
    2. one highlighting note file for all highlights in every book
    3. a highlighting note file for a certain domain or topic

    I still wonder what would be the best way from the perspective of the ‘user of highlights’. At the one side I think option 1 is the best, but at the other side it creates thousands of separate note files that will mess up your list of documents. Is there a way to add a new ‘type’ of documents which is called ‘Highlightings’ or so to distinguish them from the real notes you make in the margins of the book?

    Would you please offer your insights on this?

    Thank you,

    • I like option 1 as well. Personally, when I’m finished reading a book I export the highlights and keep them in Evernote. Although Logos can certainly keep track of your book notes for you, I have book notes from outside the Logos ecosystem, too, and it’s convenient to put them all in one place. I also like to add an image to each Evernote book file so I can see the cover in the list view. (Here’s a screenshot.) OneNote would also be good. Then when you’re done with a note file in Logos, just delete it. Does that help?

      • Steve McKinley says:

        If you delete the note file, doesn’t that also mean that you would be deleting all your highlights which are supposed to aid your future self? You would have notes in a separate program, but then how would you match those notes to the book when you are reading or skimming through it again again?

  8. I can see the use of Tip #7, but I can’t figure out how to find that note file for individual books. How do I navigate to it while in the book … and how do I see a list of all the note files for every and any book that I’ve read?

  9. Did anyone else you get “Rick-rolled” when you click on the link for “National Read a Book Minute Week”?

    Very classy. I haven’t seen that in a while.

  10. Ed Taylor says:

    Question re saving highlights file. I recall somewhat vaguely from years past that highlights seem to be lost if a resource was updated, and, I believe, if I re-installed Logos. Is either of these still true now that Logos is in the cloud?

  11. Judith Notestine says:

    I’m confused. I am interested in creating the resource-specific files, but the option is not available. According to Logos help, the function is only available in version 6.4 or later. However, I just installed new updates and the newest version is 6.12 SR-2. This doesn’t make any sense.

  12. Joshua Tan says:

    I’m going to have to give the black highlighter a go some day. Thanks for the tips! ;)

  13. don wallace says:

    Hi, i seem to have a problem, i can get the point number one to work in the text, but what i save it to,does not show as point number one, i click on it and it goes to point number one in the book,

  14. Wayne L says:

    Two questions:

    … even though we create these new palettes pointing to palette-specific note files, must they remain (not be deleted) in order for the document highlights to remain?

    … what would be an example palette pointing to a resource-specific note file?

    • 1.) If you give it a little thought in advance, you probably won’t want to delete any palettes. But if you do, the software will not let you do so until none of the highlighters on the palette are in use. If you try to delete a highlighter, you’ll get a dialogue asking you to shift those highlights to a different highlighting style:

      After you reassign those highlights, you can delete the highlighter and then ultimately the palette. Your highlights and notes are not lost.

      2.) I’m not sure I’m following your second question. I pointed all my palettes to go to resource-specific note files. I want my automatically generated notes documents to be organized by book, not by highlighter palette.

  15. I always love seeing other people’s methods for studying the Word! Thanks for sharing :)

  16. Frank Shiffer says:

    When I highlight an entire paragraph I use what I call a power tick. I only drag the marker from eithertop left or right of the paragraph to the bottom. Saves ink, and leaves the text untouched, yet it in essence highlights the entire paragraph.

    • I usually draw a vertical line on the left edge of the paragraph. But I don’t have a cool name like “power tick” for my practice. =)

  17. These are some great ideas! When studying a book methodically, I usually use “Precept” symbols and highlighting. I have a problem though- why won’t my customized highlighting lists display in the menu in alphabetical order?

  18. Donald McMahon says:

    My color code: yellow-general interest; purple-divine things; red-serious warning; orange-caution; green & blue: positive

  19. Fred Littlefield says:

    Thanks so much for that lesson on Highlighting. Very useful. Since you write these types of blogs frequently, do you think you would be interested in writing something on methods of saving notes/documents in Logos? Since Notes and Highlighting are related topics it would be a good thing to extend this blog with. I heard one trainer say that you should take notes using the Bible Passage, but I have not found that to be very useful except when specifically studying a Bible Book and taking notes on that Book. Instead I have been using a system that designates the TYPE of note, then the TOPIC or title. For Example:
    Book – Josephus, Works of
    Book – Prophecies of Daniel and Revelation
    Outline – Genesis
    Outline – Exodus
    Person – Esau
    Person – Jacob
    Search – Bible Searches
    Sermon – How Shall We Worship God?
    Sermon – Famine in the Land
    Symbol – Bride
    Symbol – Light
    Symbol – Woman
    Topic – Angels
    Topic – Babylon
    Topic – Faith
    Topic – Grace

    This is my system, but I would like to hear of other better ways to do it. What is the Best method of keeping notes, etc … Logos or otherwise.

    In an answer to another question above you mentioned that you copy your notes to Evernote and then delete the notes from Logos. What is the reason for Deleting notes from Logos? Do notes slow things down, what could the reason be?

    Thanks again for you Blog,

    • I’ll share my system and will look forward to hearing from others. Mine is a combination of things I have heard from others and things which work for me. I keep track of all my notes in the favorites menu. Each folder typically contains a combination of notes, clippings (minimal), and collections. I try to link every note to a Bible passage or resource. The folder structure looks something like this:

      -General Bible Notes (these notes are all yellow squares)
      ——–Old Testament
      ——–New Testament
      -Passage Studies (these notes are all pink squares)
      —————Passage specific folders
      —————-Series specific folders
      -Topical Studies
      ——–Topic specific folders
      -Biblical Theology
      ——–Topic specific folders
      -Systematic Theology (these notes are all triangles colored by topic)
      ——–Topic specific folders
      -Historical Theology
      -A smattering of other folders with topics that interest me.
      -Sentence Diagrams
      ——–Old Testament
      ——–New Testament
      -Visual Filters
      – Collections

      I am very light on resource specific notes. I think I’ll add a folder for that and begin to take notes as described in this post.

  20. I liked the idea of saving all highlights in a book to a note file; however, for my purposes, I’d love a way to save all custom highlights to their own notes. Like I have a highlight for things about Judaism, Sabbath, Baptism, etc. (I have them all under the same group, but as different “highlighters”). I use them in whatever book I’m reading. I’d like for a way to collect all notes on Baptism from all books read into one note file. Any way to do this easily?

    • Yes, you can do that. You’d have to create a separate highlighter palette for each topic, then assign the highlights from each palette to be saved to a palette-specific note file:

      Make sense?