Most of us read a considerable amount of information online on a daily basis, whether it’s for pleasure or for work. Organizing and reading all the content you come across every day, in itself, can be an overwhelming task.

But what about the being able to remember what we read? 

We recently explored why scanning is replacing word-by-word reading, so I thought it would be cool to investigate how well you remember what you read and techniques you can use to retain more.

Science Says Online Content Is Harder to Remember 

As a blogger and community manager, an essential part of my day is going through all the cool stuff the online space puts out daily and finding ways to share it with our community. It’s important for me to remember what I read – whether it’s from the same day or from months ago.

When I first started this job, I noticed that sometimes it was difficult to recall content that I’d read just a few minutes before. If I happened to close a tab too soon, it often led to a lengthy search through my browser history to try and unearth the lost page. It was embarrassing considering that in college I’d been able to find citations I needed for academic papers in my books in a matter of minutes.

But according to science – this makes sense.

A 2011 study by doctoral candidates at the University of Oregon found that readers who read their news in print remember “significantly more” than online readers. The authors tested a group of 45 students. 25 read the print edition of The New York Times, and the remaining 20 read the newspaper online. Afterwards, each group was tested on what they read.

The paper offered up the following as one of the reasons for the difference between the two groups:

“Unlike print news, online news is ephemeral; it can appear and disappear without warning, thus creating an element of distraction.”

Another article in Scientific America  by Ferris Jabr argues that reading off screens and e-readers fails to create the same tactile experience of paper reading and makes it harder to navigate longer texts. As a result, our reading comprehension can be affected. Jabr claims that although digital reading allows us a seamless experience, this same convenience restricts our ability to pick out a single passage within the body of the text.

The Right Techniques Can Help You Retain More 

With research against us, what can we do as online readers to improve our retention when we read?

Here’s 5 things you can do to improve how much you remember:

1) Strengthen Your Reading Skills 

A strong foundation never hurts. If you don’t follow good reading practices in the first place, consuming a lot of information can be overwhelming.

Here’s how I try to approach reading material:

  • Find your purpose: Ask yourself why you’re reading and what you want to find out.
  • Scan first: This helps me recognize the main idea quickly (and make sure you want to keep reading).
  • Read it again: Use your first read through to identify ideas and focus on the important information your second time through.  Rereading material a second time is always a good idea if you want to increase your chances of remembering it.
  • Focus on the text you do read: Make sure you really focus on the words you are reading. This might seem like stating the obvious, but I find my mind sometimes unconsciously wanders away from the page.

2) Take Notes

Take notes, make a mindmap connecting articles and ideas, or even write a short summary of what you just read. Similar to making a to-do list, writing down key concepts uses a different part of our brain and reinforces them for a second time, which increases how well we remember things.

I’ve also found it helpful to create an outline for yourself. This tip is usually more helpful for long articles, but it also works well for shorter pieces that are crammed full of data.  Outlines will help you understand the content better, which means you’re more likely to remember what you’ve read.

3) Be Alert 

It’s pretty hard to do anything when you’re tired. We all have certain times of the day that we are more alert.  For example, I tend to get sluggish (even drowsy) right after lunch and I avoid reading or writing during this time.You want your mind to be free to focus on what you’re reading so you can remember it. Identify your most productive times of the day and try to schedule your reading tasks with them in mind.

4) Reflect on What You’ve Read

Give yourself time to think about what you’re reading when you reread. It’s harder to grasp content when you rush from being to end without stopping. If you give yourself time to reflect, you’re processing the information more than once, which helps you retain better. When you hit an important point that you’d like to remember, stop reading and try to commit it to memory.

These pauses are also a good time to jot down some notes.

5) Create Your Own Database 

Your memory might be good for a quick  brainstorm or informal reference, but the reality is that you won’t always be completely accurate. So use a tool to help you out and create a personal database.

I like to use the Pocket Extension for Chrome and FlowReader‘s Save for later function to bookmark articles I need to remember and tag them by content for easy organization. Other useful tools for collecting quotes and sources include: Day OneWorkFlowy, and Evernote. As a team we’re also big fans of  Google Docs. It’s an easy, flexible option for creating and storing outlines, notes, article snippets, and ideas.

Do you have other techniques you use to help you remember what you read?

Share with us here or on Facebook. You can also tweet to us directly, @flow_reader.