How to Annotate Effectively

Annotating: dreaded by some, loved by others.

Although it may often feel like a mere hindrance to enjoying a good book, taking good annotations can make or break a reader’s understanding of any text that he or she reads, whether it be a short story or a full-length novel.

Before starting, it’s important to emphasize an often overused phrase: to each his own! As any avid reader knows, marking up pages is an art and, like any art form, is a highly subjective process. As you embark on your journey to crafting a unique annotation style, here are some tips and tricks that could help you along the way.


Taking notes directly in the book margins can improve the effectiveness of your annotations. (Credit: Entropy)

1. Ditch the Post-Its.

Although it may seem like a literary crime, writing directly in the margins of any work can be very beneficial. Unlike Post-Its, margin notes do not obscure words and phrases within a book, making it much easier for students to reread different texts without removing all of their precious notes. Not only does it conserve paper and help the environment, but writing directly into his or her own copy of a book allows a reader to “mark his own (literary) territory.”

2. Think it, write it.

As a reader, one of the most frustrating moments is completely forgetting a Pulitzer-Prize-winning idea about any text. The moment a thought, connection or theory pops into your head, make sure to jot it down to prevent that elusive idea from drifting from your memory.

3. Jot stuff down—anywhere and everywhere.

Whether it be in the margins, on the inside cover or on any blank pages in a book, don’t be afraid to totally vandalize a book (as long as you own it, of course). The more people write, the more deeply they understand a text.

Highlighting and color-coding your annotations can help you pick out and organize important information. (Credit: Reddit)

4. Highlight. Highlight. Highlight.

Encasing your favorite phrases in an eye-catching color can often be the most helpful way to remember significant sentences within any literary work. Though it may seem tempting, don’t be too generous with your highlighting. Be sure to only highlight sentences or small paragraphs at a time—not entire pages of writing.

5. Incorporate some color!

Last but not least, color-coded notes can be extremely helpful for writing an essay or a research paper on a book, article or short story. A great way to use color is by making a “color key” that defines the meaning of each color. For example, notes or markings in red could represent potential themes of a book, while a blue colored pencil could emphasize important details that support specific main ideas within a passage.


Although these points are awesome ways to mark up your pages, annotating doesn’t always have to accompany a great book. It’s also perfectly fine to kick back, relax and crack open a good read pencil, pen and highlighter-free!