The perfect colour coding and sticky labels system for students

Colour coding was a saving grace for dealing with large amounts of reading.

I will say from experience that one of the most stressful aspects of reading for an essay is when you forget which source a particular piece of evidence is in and what page.

Colour coding can become a mess, if your strategy is to colour anything that could possibly be relevant without assigning particular colours to particular purpose them you will get lost.

However, if you follow the simple strategy outlined in this blog post then you will be fine.



You will need some useful stationary to complete this task. Ideally make sure that you have the same variation of colours for each of these types of stationary.

  • Small sticky labels (small enough to attach to the outside margin of a book)
  • OR coloured pens, you can decide based on whether you are willing to leave a permanent mark on the source paper.
  • Blank A4 paper.
  • Larger sticky labels.


First Stage


If you are reading an article that you have printed then you can highlight individual pieces of text for a particular purpose (e.g. a particular sub-topic) (see top left).

Alternatively, if you have borrowed a book from the library which you should not leave a mark on then you can put the small sticky label on the page, and next to the paragraph containing the relevant information (see top right).

Importantly, you must number each point that you highlight or each label that you stick in the margins, so that you can keep track of the points in the second state.


Second Stage

Then you should take a blank piece of A4 paper and write the source title at the top. Take a larger square sticky label, write down the number of the point which you have given to the highlighted point, and then write out why the evidence is useful.

Make sure that the big sticky label is the same colour as the coloured pen (yellow in every example in this article) or small sticky labels which you have used to isolate the point in the source text.


Benefits of this system

Just like the Ideas Sheet, this system of colour coding is beneficial because it allows you to have all your best ideas and insights related to the evidence on a few pieces of paper. In turn this means that you can put them in a logical order, develop useful links between them, develop links with other evidence that you have noted from other sources using the same method, and then use these to help build a logical essay structure and coherent thread of argument.

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