In nearly all forms of academic writing, you will be asked to do some form of research. But going back and writing about long articles or textbook readings can become frustrating if you haven’t left any kind of record behind. Annotation is particularly helpful in these situations. Whether your research consists of written text, images, or even videos, you should always be sure to annotate.

According to the Writers’ Center at Eastern Washington University, annotations are “any action that deliberately interacts with a text to enhance the reader’s understanding of, recall of, and reaction to the text. Sometimes called ‘close reading,’” they include markings, writings, and highlights that you should cover your texts with before, during, and after you have finished with your readings. As you annotate, engage in a conversation with the text by asking questions, interpreting important ideas, and giving your opinions and tentative conclusions even if the big picture isn’t yet clear.

Reasons to Annotate

  • To connect and associate material to info you already know,
  • To sort information from most to least important,
  • To emphasize new concepts, vocabulary or quotes, and
  • To digest, internalize, and recall your readings with ease.

Active vs. Passive Annotation

In passive, you underline and mark; in active you ask, opine, and summarize.
Using a combination of both will get you further!

Annotating vs. Note-Taking

Annotating is different from note-taking. Note-taking mostly summarizes a text
whereas annotating will engage the text at a more critical level. The examples on
this page use both passive and active forms of annotation.

Best Practices for Annotation

  • Make sure the textbook or articles belong to you prior to annotation; if this is not the case photocopy the readings so you can make marks on the copies comfortably.
  • Color-code your highlighting; use several colors to mean different things or to keep important ideas separate.
  • Use numbers to identify the main concepts. Numbering the different parts of the paper like main points can break up a larger article into manageable pieces.
  • Underline; circle key words, jargon, or vocabulary; use asterisks to identify special words.
  • Write summaries on the margins, or comments on the top of the pages. Utilize the margins!
  • Make sure your marks and notes are consistent throughout each page; this will make your annotation quickerand your comprehension and internalization more effective.
  • Personal reactions, summaries, questions, or definitions are encouraged with annotation!
  • Draw or doodle to help visualize the content of the text.
Example of an annotated text. The reader has underlined portions of the text, made comments in the margins, asked questions in the margins, and even drawn pictures.

Note: The Learning Hub encourages the use of annotations, but how you approach it is entirely up to you. Pick the methods that will allow you to get the most out of your reading so you can retain what you’ve read and interact with the text on a deeper level.