Northcentral University Writing Center
Annotating While Reading

 |   |   |   | 

Writing Center

Annotating While Reading


While reading and analyzing an assigned text or source for a writing assignment, some writers passively highlight significant passages as they read through a text. As a strategy of critical reading, annotating while reading is a more specialized form of critical reading and interacting with the text. Rather than just highlighting passages, annotating requires the writer to actively read the text, to think about and analyze what has been said, and to make specific annotations in the margins of the text. In short, annotating is like having a dialogue or conversation with the author. The writer creates this conversation in the margins of the text by summarizing, asking questions, expressing confusion or ambiguity, and evaluating content.


Annotating while reading has several benefits for the writer:


·         it helps the writer to stay actively focused and involved with the text

·         it helps the writer to monitor and improve comprehension

·         it helps the writer to identify content for an annotated bibliography

·         it helps the writer to compose potential content for the summary and paraphrase

·         it helps the writer to locate significant quotes and ideas for organization


How to Annotate While Reading

Good writers will utilize the following strategies to make the most of their annotations:


  1. Reading the text quickly to preview ideas and to determine the relevance of the source.


  1. Actively reading the text and annotating while reading:

·         Locating and marking the thesis, supporting points, significant ideas.

·         Underlining important terms.

·         Marking, circling, or writing key words, meanings, and definitions in the margin.

·         Signaling where important information can be found with key words or symbols in the margin

·         Writing short summaries in the margins at the end of sub-sections.

·         Tracking or tracing steps in a process by using numbers in the margin.

·         Writing questions in the margin next to the section where the answer is found.

·         Identifying any ideas that challenge the knowledge, beliefs or attitudes of the audience.

·         Noting any personal experience with or reflection on the topic.

·         Marking, circling, or underlining any words that define voice, tone, attitude or diction.

·         Identifying any information or evidence that defines the text’s historical, biographical, or cultural context.

·         Identifying any connections to other sources already read on the topic (compare and contrast).

·         Writing down any ideas for the paper that develop while reading a source.


Some writers prefer to annotate in layers, adding further annotations after reading the text for a second or third time. Also, annotations may vary in content from text to text, depending on the writer’s purpose and the complexity of the reading material.


For help with compiling annotations into an annotated bibliography, see Cataloging with an Annotated Bibliography in the Conducting Research section of the NCU Writing CenterAdditionally, writers are also encouraged to visit the Writing Centers at Colorado, Purdue, and Chapel Hill.