Annotating: why, what and how

Why should you annotate?

  • Annotating saves time later on. When you need to study a text, annotating creates a shortcut way to review a text and its graphics.
  • Annotating helps you understand now. When you initially read a text, annotating helps you understand it better.  You mark what’s important.  You connect ideas.  You paraphrase.  You sequence information clearly.
  • Annotating helps you retain information. The more senses you use to learn, the more likely you are to remember.  With annotating you don’t just read a text with your eyes (one sense—sight).  You write, underline, number, color code, and draw arrows with your hands and your eyes (two senses—sight and touch), and if you speak aloud to yourself as you work, you use another sense (listening).
  • Annotating makes the source material and your notes one document. If you write on your text, your notes and the text are forever together.  You can go back and forth as needed to check the original and to add more notes, more depth as you become aware.
  • Annotating makes you aware of your own learning. Sometimes you read on automatic pilot, and after a while, you realize nothing went in.  With annotating, you have to think about the material.  You stay focused.
  • Annotating puts difficult ideas or vocabulary into your own words. By paraphrasing, you learn whether you understand a text or not.

What do you annotate?

  • Main ideas. Often you can find these in the first sentence, in the last sentence of the first paragraph, in the last paragraph, and in titles, headlines and subheadings,
  • Subtopic ideas. These are often the first sentences of the body paragraphs.
  • How a text is organized. Chronological?  Most important to least important?  Sequential?  Something else?
  • Findings for scientific texts.
  • Evidence in persuasive and argumentative texts.
  • Themes, symbols, motifs, main characters, inciting action, problem to be solved and climax in fiction.
  • Ideas which when linked form a summary.
  • Vocabulary that seems important or that you don’t know.
  • Inferences, both obvious and suspected.
  • Figures of speech.
  • Patterns.

How do you annotate?

  • Identify important words or ideas. Usually these are verbs and nounsUnderline them with clearly visible ink or highlight them with a light enough color so they are easy to read.  Limit your underlines to only important information, not details.  If you underline almost everything, the underlines are wasted.  (See these paragraphs as examples.)
  • Use margins for your words. Draw conclusions, define words, ask questions, make inferences.
  • Number ideas. Some labels become buried in the midst of paragraphs. Make them obvious by numbering ideas boldly or drawing arrows from one idea to the next.
  • Draw question marks in margins. Box or bracket confusing information, and then put a question mark in the margin. Ask your teacher to explain that part.
  • Use abbreviations.  Use text message short cuts.  Or develop your own.  For example, I write the words “most important” or “very important” as “VIP” when I take notes.  If I hurry, I don’t cross t’s or dot i’s.  I write “about” as @.

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