How to Annotate a Book

Three Parts:Prepare Before ReadingAnnotate While ReadingFinish up after Reading

Annotating is a great way to organize the content you read so that you can go back to it later and quickly recall the general concepts, plot, and themes of the text. Actively annotating while reading also helps you develop a deeper understanding of the text, whether it is fiction or non-fiction. This article will teach you how to get the most out of your reading experience!

Part 1
Prepare Before Reading

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    Read the front and back jackets of the book. This will give you some background information on the author and the text, which will prepare you for what to expect while reading.
    • Read the author's introduction, if there is one.
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    • Check to see if there is a glossary, map, or other tool included in the book that can be referenced while reading.
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    Find a review or summary of the book. This will help you approach the book from a thematic and analytical standpoint from the onset. Determine the book's political, social, and/or historical significance as determined by other readers and critics.
    • If you are reading a fictional novel, be sure that the summary you find doesn't give the entire story away. Usually there will be a "spoiler alert" of some kind.
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    Determine your purpose. If you are reading the book for a class, for example, review the syllabus and/or any assignments that you have been given. If you have been given a list of study questions or vocabulary words, then review those and keep them on hand. If you are reading the book for pleasure, consider what drew you to the book in the first place. What do you wish to gain from reading the text?
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    Approach the book with an open mind. Remember that many authors purposely leave their works open to interpretation, so take the background information you have acquired with a grain of salt. This is especially important if you are reading a work of fiction; not every work has a definitive "answer" or "meaning."
    • Being open-minded may help you catch certain elements of the text that others have not, like hidden symbols, references, and holes in the plot. Keep your eyes open!

Part 2
Annotate While Reading

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    Highlight key information. This includes important characters, ideas, events, and/or terms. Use a highlighter color that is not too distracting or dark so that the text is still legible.
    • If you find highlighters too distracting, then use a pen or pencil to underline important text.
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    Use brackets to single out important paragraphs/sections. If the text is too long to highlight, bracketing it will help you determine which parts are worth going back and re-reading.
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    Write notes in the margins. If you chose to highlight or bracket a section, be sure to use a pen or pencil to write the significance of the text in the margins so that you can quickly remember why you highlighted a particular section without having to re-read the entire chapter or section.
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    Look up words you don't know. Have a dictionary on-hand to look up words or terms that you don't understand. You may want to write the definition into the margins so that you don't forget them when you go back and re-read.
    • If you have a computer on-hand, research the terms and concepts you don't understand.
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    Summarize the end of each chapter or section (optional). To keep your memory fresh, consider writing a short summary at the very end of each chapter that sums up the important events, ideas and concepts that were discussed in the chapter.

Part 3
Finish up after Reading

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    Do assignments promptly. If you are reading the book for a class and you have been assigned homework or an essay, do these shortly after finishing the book so that the content is still fresh in your mind.
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    Go back and review your notes. You may want to skim the entire book again, chapter-by-chapter, to refresh your memory. Read the highlighted sections and any accompanying notes you have written in the margins.
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    Correct and/or add things you may have missed. Bring your book with you to class discussions. If you discover that you have misunderstood the text and made incorrect notes, be sure to go back and change them so that you aren't confused later.


  • Make sure to read slower than you usually do. This will ensure that you won't miss any key points or ideas. If you have to, reread what you just read. This helps the brain maintain that information.
  • Make a key for example if you are highlighting an using different colors write down what each color means (ex. main point is blue).
  • Find a quiet place to read. Reading in front of the television or with loud music can be distracting, and you may miss important elements of the text.
  • If you want to take extensive notes, consider writing them on a separate piece of paper so that the book doesn't get too messy. Be sure to keep your notes in a safe place so that you don't lose them.
  • Read footnotes that are included in the text, if there are any.
  • Write a short summary on a post-it when you finish reading each chapter, and stick it on the first page of the chapter. Then you can easily flip through the chapters and immediately know what each contains.

Things You Will Need

  • Highlighter
  • Pen or pencil
  • Dictionary
  • Internet access (optional)

Article Info

Categories: Books | Homework Skills