How does one write good annotations?

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Michael Ugulini | (Level 3) Educator

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Writing annotations is a way to ensure that you study a text, whether a novel, or some other work such as an autobiography carefully. In essence, an annotation is an analytical or illustrative note or group of notes added to a text. An annotation is a comment or an elucidation and it can relate to works beyond books and text. These would include adding an annotation to drawing or a painting, or an annotation to a written musical piece.

Take the following steps as a basic guide to write a good annotation:

1. Read thoroughly the entire text, article, or book you are studying. Make sure you comprehend what you have read before making an annotation on a specific aspect of it.

2. Concentrate on the important aspects of the work you are studying. You want to focus on the main theme or themes of the work and the main points that the writer is trying to drive home to readers.

3. Make a note of the author’s name, the book’s title and the publisher of the work. 

4. Make notes in the book if you so desire – if it is your book. If it’s a library book or someone else’s, utilize sticky notes on specific pages that you wish to annotate. Again, if it’s your book, consider using a yellow highlighter to set apart the passages you wish to annotate.

5. Make a note of words you are unsure of or unfamiliar with so you can look up their meaning when convenient for you. In addition, make a note of dates of events that you wish to perform further research on. Make a note of characters and/or names that are a key part of the work.

6. Write a summary of each section or chapter to give you a concise and quick overview of this portion of the work.

Understand that good annotations will assist you when it comes to writing further papers on the book and topic at hand. Annotations will also help you with studying for exams and tests. Annotations are a great review tool to jog your memory on important aspects of a work without having to read the whole work again or complete chapters again. I

n addition, take the time to consider who the author intended the work for and if he or she presented the topic properly to his or her intended audience. This is a way to ascertain if the author was successful in getting his or her message to intended readers. Note the authors credentials as well – why he or she is an expert in their field and what their academic and other accomplishments are in their field.

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zumba96 | Student, Grade 11 | (Level 3) Valedictorian

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Well for me in AP Lang class at first you'll learn how to do annotations marking ethos, pathos, logos and then shift to rhetorical strategies like anaphora, repetition, etc. But when I do my annotations I make sure I underline what stands out to me or an important phrase within the text. When the tone shifts is a major point to annotation. Also making a little summary of a paragraph or couple of paragraph whether you are reading a big or small text can keep your ideas concise and on track. You wouldn't lose what they are trying to tell you. 

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chrisyhsun | Student, College Freshman | (Level 1) Salutatorian

Posted on

Short answer: depends on you.

Long answer: "good" encompasses lots of different things. I'll list out certain things that I include in my annotations (and the tools I personally like to use) and you can mix and match them to see what works best for you and what helps you retain the most info.

  • Names and dates (if applicable) - I circle/underline these with a pen (several times over because I really want them to stand out). These are the basic facts that you'll have to know, so they really need to be shown in annotations.
  • Significant lines and plot turning points - I use a highlighter to make these parts pop since they're often the subjects of class discussions and assignments.
  • Large descriptive passages - I mark these sections off with a pen (a large bracket) and then write a really brief description to the side, such as "describes country setting". I also use this technique for character descriptions that extend for a long time.
  • If I haven't had one of the above markings for a long time, I'll usually write a short note (a sentence at most) about where the plot is currently. This makes it easier for me to review the story when I look back at my annotations.
  • Anything else your teacher might mention. Maybe he/she brought up specific central themes to the novel/passage. In that case, maybe use a different color of highlighter/pen to show when these themes are especially apparent.
  • With major characters that undergo major change, be sure to indicate these because again, they're often the subjects of discussion/essays.

Hope this helps!

CaitlynnReeves's profile pic

CaitlynnReeves | Student, Grade 12 | (Level 1) Salutatorian

Posted on

When it comes to making notes and writing annotations do what works for you. 

I realize this opinion will be unpopular with teachers, but use whatever method will help you retain the information and write a good essay later even if you have to deter from the method assigned. If you're going to be graded on your annotations follow the rubric. But, if you find they don't help you make your own for personal studying. 

Developing your own note taking skills takes time and a little experimentation. Cornell notes aren't a bad place to start. There's a link below.  

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rachellopez | Student, Grade 12 | (Level 1) Valedictorian

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When you are annotating, you want to pay attention to important points and points you are confused about. What I was always taught to do was to identify the speaker, occasion, audience, purpose, subject, and tone (abbreviated SOAPSTone). These will help you understand why the writer or speaker used certain techniques throughout the piece. You also should just highlight information you think is important and would be good to discuss.

I think the most important is  the questions. If you want to know more about something from the writing, or you just don't understand something, write your question to the side. You need to discuss these with the class or your teacher so you can get everything out of the lesson. 

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arrellbelle | Student, College Sophomore | (Level 1) Valedictorian

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When I was in high school, my English teacher made it a requirement to annotate every single time we read a chapter so he knew we were reading and understanding at the same time. When I annotate, I like to make little comments of what a sentence meant or if there were words that I didn't understand, I would also try to define it in my annotations. Other times, I usually wrote down major characters and why they were very important to the plot/story. If I had a question, I wrote them down in my annotations so I could discuss it with my teacher the next time we met in class.

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Wiggin42 | Student, Undergraduate | (Level 2) Valedictorian

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Good annotations are difficult to write and come with practice. If you're annotating poetry look for thing such as Diction, Imagery, Syntax, and Symbolism. If you're annotating prose you want to also focus on plot, structure, moral /  ethical meanings. Don't ever merely underline / highlight significant sections. Always jot down what is significant so you can come back to it later. 

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