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Throughout their education, serious students always find themselves taking notes.

Simple note-taking is very common. However, less common but more important is the practice of annotation. Learning to annotate a book is a good skill to master because simple notes will accomplish some things. Still, the annotation will give students an edge in understanding the material in a way that can be easily referenced for later use.

Remember that not all textbooks are suitable for annotation directly. However, this can be overcome by using post-it notes and placing them inside the text directly on the pages. Small post-it notes can be placed in the appropriate areas on pages, so the text does not become damaged. In some cases, it is disrespectful to deface property that does not belong to the student.

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Professional Development Log

Professional Development Log


The basics of how to annotate

When learning to annotate a book, you must assemble a few simple tools before you begin. You will need the text, and you will be using the following materials to perform annotation:

  • Any color highlighter. While you may use any color highlighter, you will need to select one that is light in color so that the text can be read easily. In most cases, the standard yellow highlighter shade is preferable. You should probably try to stick to one color of highlighter so that your annotations are easy to read and don’t become confusing later on.
  • A pen or pencil. The pen or pencil you use should be dark in color, which can also lead to ease of reading. If you’re using post-it notes, don’t use a pen that will bleed through to the paper below it.
  • Small post-it notes if you need them. Small post-it notes can be used for those texts that cannot be physically defaced.

When using the highlighter, strike the highlighter through key phrases or sentences you want to remember. Always avoid using the highlighter to highlight large blocks of text and all unnecessary words. You will also want to think about what you are reading and note your thoughts and interpretations of the text.

You will want to be as detailed as possible with the notes as they will reinforce what you are learning and in the comprehension of the material, which is the purpose of annotation. When using your pen or pencil to take notes on the text or Post-it notes, you can be creative and leave little tiny notes, single words, or bits and pieces of notes. There is no standard way to annotate a book, and it can be an exploration of your thoughts.

When you hand in the text at the end of the course, you can take out your post-it notes, and the text will remain free of any markings. It’s possible you could also use the electronic annotation program for eReaders, which can be found for free in some cases.

Preparing to do annotation

You’ll want to go to a quiet place to read free of distractions or noise. As you annotate a book, you will want to read each passage carefully and slowly absorb all of the information before you annotate. This will help you comprehend and learn the information.

One of the main purposes of annotation is to record your thoughts about the material for use in later reference or study. Make sure you understand the material thoroughly or discuss it with someone like the teacher. Understanding the material is the purpose of annotation, so please detail your notes as much as possible.

Examples of annotation

When you are performing annotation will want to divide what you are doing into sections.

These sections should be in the following format:

  • Within the inside of the front cover. Make a list of all the characters and keynotes about character development throughout the story.
  • Within the inside of the back cover. Here is where you will list the key scenes, plot-line, allusions, epiphanies, images, and all other information you deem key material.
  • At the start of each chapter. Summarize the basic action in that chapter with some key points to remember.
  • Within the top margin. Provide plot notes at the top margin area with key points to remember about the page. Make detailed notes that can use for easy reference later on.
  • Side margin and the bottom margins. Use these areas to record notes that indicate your interpretation of the material and tie the notes to the references within the back cover.

Other ways to annotate your notes include:

  • Using the letter F (signifying figurative language). Use F when you find this type of language, including personification, metaphors, and similes.
  • Using the letter I (signifying imagery). When imagery is used, it is the construction of images formed in your mind by words. When the words form a mental image, you can note this with an I symbol.
  • Using the letter T (indicating tone). The tone of a work is exceptionally important, sometimes contributing to the meaning of the overall text. Make sure to take notes on the tone of the work, as it will aid you in comprehending the material.
  • Using the letter S (signifying symbol). When you come across symbols within a work, you indicate their presence with an S, which helps tie in the work’s overall meaning as related to the symbols.
  • Using the letters Th (signifying theme). The larger picture is what every work is all about, usually including lessons about human nature or life. Taking notes on the theme of a text, including the Th symbol, will help you understand the material in a complete sense.

Here are a few annotation examples:

  • Comments or questions. You should have a dialogue with the text inflected within the notes you take with comments or questions in the annotations.
  • Connecting ideas. Use a system of arrows and lines to connect related ideas within the text. You can use vertical lines in the side margins to connect ideas there.
  • Use numbers. As points presented progress, you can indicate the sequence of points that the text often makes by using numbers as they develop.
  • Use an exclamation point or points. When coming across specific profound or very important points or ideas, make an exclamation point or points to illustrate their significance.
  • Check marks when you understand something, as when you truly comprehend some of the material, make sure to leave a checkmark next to it.
  • Use of star. For the main 10 to 20 points within the book, you should leave a star next to the word material so it can be easily referenced.
  • Circle. Circle a word if you don’t understand what a word means so you can get up later in the dictionary.
  • Box keywords and bracket key sections. When you come across keywords, draw a box around them and when you come across key sections, draw a bracket around them for later reference.

Annotation is a creative exercise

Use your interpretations of the material to leave comments and remarks or questions as you go. The best way to perform annotation is to use your imagination and insert your ideas into note-taking. If you don’t understand something, talk with a teacher or classmate and ask questions about the material. You can add more annotations after you get answers to your questions.

When making notes throughout your annotations, be as thorough as possible. Don’t spare any details or information, but keep it to those bits of key points worth noting. You don’t have to annotate every single part of a text, but you should read every part and look for key parts to note and expand upon in your annotations.

Tips when annotating a book

At the bottom of the page, make sure you summarize the material from the page in easy-to-understand terms. You want to be able to understand your notes and how they all relate to each other later on, so make sure you keep them organized and coherent. Note-taking using annotation is usually a complex exercise meant to delve into the material fully.

Some examples of annotation are in the form of questions, such as “why are all the characters so happy” or “what is Mrs. Fields driving at with her lecture”. Understanding the characters in the story becomes complicated as they tend to overlap. You can describe the relationships that characters have with each other and the social or moral value of their behavior.

Taking notes on the points within the text will help you define what the material is all about. For example, a full chapter of the text makes a certain point; with other points in other chapters, these points develop the main idea.

You can reread your annotated notes to further your understanding of the material before taking tests. Understanding the points within the text and all of the dialogue and action will help you comprehend the material further and will aid in answering test questions.

Use annotation to get all of the details you can about the material and to illustrate the ideas and information in a personal way that you specifically understand yourself. Using annotated notes is a personal exercise in comprehension that will make sure you don’t forget important material for tests, papers, and exams as they are given.