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Writers' Center

Eastern Washington University

Reading and Study Strategies

Use the tabs to find guides to help you read academic texts in a way that helps you remember and use the information.

What is Annotating and Why do it?

What is Annotating?

Annotating is 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," annotating usually involves highlighting or underlining key pieces of text and making notes in the margins of the text. This page will introduce you to several effective strategies for annotating a text that will help you get the most out of your reading.

Why Annotate?

By annotating a text, you will ensure that you understand what is happening in a text after you've read it. As you annotate, you should note the author's main points, shifts in the message or perspective of the text, key areas of focus, and your own thoughts as you read. However, annotating isn't just for people who feel challenged when reading academic texts. Even if you regularly understand and remember what you read, annotating will help you summarize a text, highlight important pieces of information, and ultimately prepare yourself for discussion and writing prompts that your instructor may give you. Annotating means you are doing the hard work while you read, allowing you to reference your previous work and have a clear jumping-off point for future work.

Annotation Explained

Steps to Annotating a Source

1. Survey: This is your first time through the reading

•Look through the article/chapter/book.
•Ask if the article is a useful and trustworthy source. (Who wrote it? Who published it? Who is the audience?)
•Note the title--what does it tell you about the article’s topic/argument?
•Is there an Abstract (paragraph that summarizes topic, questions, research methods, findings)?
•Subheadings--what do they tell you?
•Note bold/italicized terms.
2. Skim: This is your second time through the reading
•Read the first few sentences of the first few paragraphs
•Identify the main thesis.
•Underline the thesis (the main argument or viewpoint, one or two sentences) and write it in your own words in the margin.
•Continue reading the first sentence or two of the body paragraphs.
•Highlight the point of each paragraph and summarize it in the margin in your own words.
3. Read: This is your third time through the reading
•Now that you have a good idea of the article’s thesis, read through the entire article and look for more details. Highlight supporting evidence.
•Write any questions you have in the margins.
•Circle any words you don’t recognize, look them up in a dictionary, and write their meanings in the margins.

Annotating Strategies

You can annotate by hand or by using document software. You can also annotate on post-its if you have a text you do not want to mark up. As you annotate, use these strategies to make the most of your efforts:

  • Include a key or legend on your paper that indicates what each marking is for, and use a different marking for each type of information. Example: Underline for key points, highlight for vocabulary, and circle for transition points.
  • If you use highlighters, consider using different colors for different types of reactions to the text. Example: Yellow for definitions, orange for questions, and blue for disagreement/confusion.
  • Dedicate different tasks to each margin: Use one margin to make an outline of the text (thesis statement, description, definition #1, counter argument, etc.) and summarize main ideas, and use the other margin to note your thoughts, questions, and reactions to the text.

Lastly, as you annotate, make sure you are including descriptions of the text as well as your own reactions to the text. This will allow you to skim your notations at a later date to locate key information and quotations, and to recall your thought processes more easily and quickly.