A Guide to Annotating Your Text (Middle School to College Level)

Whether it is for open-book exams, reading, or writing papers, annotating your text is a method for making your studies all the more easier to complete. What does annotating a text mean? Annotating a text is a method, or sometimes a system, of marking or writing next to certain portions of a text in order to have convenient and quick access to them for a variety of uses. Although it can be a little inconvenient, annotating while you read is overall recommended over going back and trying to annotate your text after having read it for the reason that the significance of a certain passage or section can be forgotten or lost after having read it. Below are some steps to consider or follow in annotating your text...

1) Underlining and Bolding Underneath the Text: As your are reading and think you have just read over something important, go ahead and underline it; doing this makes the underlined passage stick out. And if you think you have read over something very important, boldly underline it so that the underlined passage sticks out more so than just a simple underlined passage. (Or, in place of boldly underlining, you can draw an exclamation point or star in the margins by the text.)

2) Circling Unknown Words: Whenever you come across a word you do not know the meaning of, go ahead and underline it. After you are done reading, go back and look for any circled words and look them up in a dictionary. If you think the word is important or you believe you might forget the definition, go ahead and write the definition along the margins next to the word.

3) Create a Color Coding Post-it Flags System: In that stationary section of your local store, you can find different packs of color coded, small sticker flags which usually come in at least five colors; and the most common colors collected together are blue, green, yellow, red, and orange. You can uses these colors to create a system of annotating your text for quick reference for open-book exams and writing papers. The choice is entirely yours for as to what each flag color can stand for but I recommend the following (for fiction)...

Blue Flag: Important Event Relating to the Plot
Green Flag: Instance of Reoccurring Theme
Yellow Flag: Instance of Reoccurring Motif
Red Flag: Something Not Understood or Something That Raises a Question
Orange Flag: Important Event Relating to a/the Character(s)

So, when you come across, say an important event relating to the plot, just stick a blue flag where the event begins on the text. It is usually a better practice to stick the colored flag with most of the sticky part and the flag itself on the page to leave very little sticking out of the book itself; this is because the colored flags fall out more easily the more the flag is sticking out of the book.

4) Using More than One Colored Pen: Sometimes, a passage which you find significant or notice is different from a passage your teacher finds significant or notices. A teacher can point out such passages in class to you during a lecture and you can be sure that if a teacher brings a certain passage to your attention that that passage is important. It can be a good idea to have such passages stand out from other passages which you may have or have not underlined. In order to ensure this, underline and write in your text with one pen color (preferably black) and underline and write in your text observations which your teacher points out to you in a different color (preferably red but blue can also work.) So, when it comes time to review or use your text for an essay or exam, the passages which your teacher pointed out to you stand out against those which you noticed.

5) Writing in the Margins: Finally, as long as you do not overdo it, writing notes on the margins of observations or questions can be an additional aid in further understanding a text. Underlining and using colored flags, while helpful, can not recapture your exact thinking process when you stumble across a passage which causes you to raise questions about the author or the character. Writing your observations or questions in the margins is a good way to remind yourself to bring your observation or question to your teacher's attention. Also, if your teacher points out something which you feel is important about a certain passage which you have not annotated, go ahead and write the teacher's observation next to the passage in question.  This way, you do not only have underlined what your teacher pointed out as important but also why the teacher thought the passage was important.


Ruben T.

Certified English Teacher

100+ hours
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