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Mater Christi College Learning Commons : Annotating a text


Why do we annotate a text?

To create trails 
When we are studying a text we need to take the time to understand more than just the storyline. During your second reading, any comments made during the first reading (marginal comments or summaries) will quickly give you the gist of your first reading, so that you can take advantage of your second.

To interact with the author
Without annotating, books are like lectures. Make reading a conversation by jotting down reactions as well as any new thoughts that a passage leads me to. When you read or refer to the book again, your earlier, written realizations or ideas will often add to your understanding of the text.

To learn what the book teaches
By the time you have read and then re-read a book, your understanding will expand beyond the books facts and opinions. You will develop new ideas or consider new ideas. By annotating, you take ownership over the message that the book is trying to make.

To learn to write
When you read widely, your brain is exposed to different ways in which a sentence or paragraph is written. There are patterns in the use of nouns, pronouns, verbs and other parts of speech; there are patterns in syntax and in sentence variation; and there are patterns in sound devices, such as alliteration and assonance. You can annotate these with different symbols or colors, and develop understanding as patterns emerge, and style emerges from patterns. To read like a writer, you need to annotate like one, too.


Are you studying a piece of Literature?


If you are studying a piece of literature, then consider keeping a Commonplace book. This is a notebook where you record your thoughts, ideas, quotes and wisdom gained from reading your book. It encourages you to create a fertile environment where you can allow your ideas and thoughts to percolate.

Video: Showing how to annotate a text

Highlighters to annotate


More Information

Where do you annotate?

You can annotate your book using a pencil by underlining or highlighting the text or making notes in the margins. Some students also like to record notes in their workbooks using the page number as their reference.

  • Interlineations are notes you insert between the text’s lines (difficult to do in most books). 
  • Marginalia are notes you write in the text’s margins.

How to annotate your text

Use marks such as question marks to show what is unclear or confusing. Use exclamation marks or smiley faces to show your agreement or delight. Employ other marks, and invent others with their own significance!

Marginal comments
Summarizing a passage’s message in the margins can help you find information quickly and can help you go beyond a first-draft reading quickly the next time you read a passage. Stating your agreements and disagreements with the text helps keep your reading more conversational and may give you material for use in essays and discussions. Reflecting on associations you’re making with the text – associations such as other books and movies, personal memories, and current events the text reminds you of – makes the reading more personal and more valuable to you in the long run. Your book’s margins may begin to resemble a shorthand journal or diary! Associations, such as a song, a dream, or a stray memory, may seem random, but they may carry more psychic weight than you may realize at first. When you connect the dots during a subsequent reading, those connections can be powerful!

Highlight, bracket, or underline text you think will be the most significant to you when you read those pages again later. Consider labeling the text that you highlighted, bracketed, or underlined: you’d be leaving a better trail for yourself for subsequent readings.

Circle words you’re not familiar with, look them up, and write their definitions in the margins beside them. Consider creating on a blank page in the book’s front or back matter a running glossary complete with the page numbers where the new words can be found in context.