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Reading Nook: A Guide to Annotating

To comprehend what we read, we should not only spend time with our material, but we should also engage with the text on some level. There aren't many better strategies for more robust

reading comprehension than annotation.

Often, this process generates our best ideas for an essay or a response.

Ideally, you’ll be jotting quick notes a phrase to a few sentences long, slowing you down a minimal amount.

Read through this article, and you'll be annotating like a superstar! And getting a lot more out of your required reading.

Annotation consists of three main elements: active participation with the text, curiosity about the text, and engagement with the text. But what does that really mean?

Active Participation

When we are active readers, we are reading and considering how we feel about the text. Beyond analyzing what is being said, we can note what we think of the arguments or situations presented to us. This, in turn, engrains the ideas we're reading about deeper into our memory because we're forming opinions and discovering something about ourselves as we go.

  • [Question: This argument doesn't sit right with me – example of slippery slope fallacy?]


When we annotate, we should respond to the text. We should ask questions off to the side to remember later if things are unclear to us. And after every paragraph or so, we should try to summarize what's just been presented, as ongoing recaps are essential for building strong memorization. We should also feel the freedom to express ourselves, writing down the immediate emotions we experience to connect back to them later.

  • [Commentary: Mr. Bingley – How could he do something like this!]


When we engage with the text, we show we're paying attention to more subtle details. The author's tone and word choice may change as the mood of their piece changes. Take note of that, and what you believe the desired effect of certain parts of the language are. And, if you find any vocabulary that you're not familiar with, you can take note of it through annotation, and instead of skimming past it, you can remind yourself to look for the definition. The dictionary definition might differ from how it's being used within the piece's context, which can be a significant bit of material to examine later.

So now you’re ready and eager to tackle this piece, how should you do it? What are some main ways to format your annotations to make them easier to look through, besides color coding? I would suggest putting a keyword first.



These should be written at the very top of the excerpt or chapter. What do you think will happen next? What do you think, based on the title, or the previous

chapter, this will be about?

  • [Prediction: This speech is going to be used to convince people he’s the right candidate for president.]


What do you know about the author? What do you know about where this was written? What do you know about when it was written?

  • [Context: This was written in the Victorian era, when many people, educated or not, would’ve been really familiar with Ancient Greek mythology and stories.]


Text to Self – This connects to your personal life.

  • [Connection: TTS – I am always worried about this issue.]

Text to Text – This connects to something else you’ve

read or seen in other media

  • [Connection: TTT – Similar imagery is used in The Hobbit to represent evil and corruption by pride.]

Text to World – This connects to something happening in the world today, in American society, or globally.

  • [Connection: TTW – This issue is still pervasive around the world, and hasn’t yet been solved, and is always up for debate.]


Identify the problem areas you had with the text to quickly identify it when you’re asking your instructor or a tutor for help understanding a passage. Being specific can help you do your own research as well.

  • [Challenge: I can’t figure out what Chopin means here – I’ve never heard about what the expectations of a wife were at this time.]


Ask questions about what you’re reading, literally and


  • [Question: Is the message supposed to be that men can abandon their families whenever they choose?]

  • [Question: What does ‘schadenfreude’ mean?]


This can be the indicator that you’re giving your once or twice a paragraph wrap-up. You can also use this to indicate that you’ve identified the thesis or the main point of the excerpt you’re reading!

  • [Clarify: So far – oil industry specialists are claiming that it’s in the best interest of the country to be making these pipelines.]


Be sure to take moments while reading to take note of anything that stands out to you, that you find interesting or emotionally engaging, and note why.

  • [Commentary: This is such a betrayal by Mr. Smith, but he’s in a rough position too. I hadn’t expected there to be such moral grey area about this issue.]


At the very end of the passage, reflect. This is about how this text made you think, and whether or not you think you might include it as research or evidence in your assignment in the future. What notes that you made throughout do you think are going to be the best to remember for later, and why? It should be a paragraph or so, after you’ve made all your notes off to

the side.

For your extra work, you will be rewarded with rich material for assignments!

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