Annotating Texts: Learn How to Study More Easily

Ginger Abbot

Apr 13, 2022
Annotating Texts

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Students have to juggle so many subjects at any given time. You’ll read through more books than you thought possible every semester, which might overload your brain with information that slips through the cracks. Annotating texts makes it easier to keep track of each lesson and remember everything. This guide will show you how to start using this helpful reading method.

What Is Annotating?

When you’re sitting in class or listening to a lecture, you’re likely taking notes on everything your professor says. Notes come in handy when it’s time to study because you can highlight or indicate what you need to review and any main points in the lectures.

Annotating is a way to make those notes in real-time. As you read through each assignment or chapter, you’ll record your immediate reactions or impressions of the text. Sometimes people do that with pencils, while others take notes on their computers.

Why Is Annotating Helpful?

You might worry that making new notes in your reading materials will add time to your study sessions. It may look like extra work, but annotating quickly becomes second nature to anyone who practices it.

The primary benefit of annotating is recalling the most important parts of your readings. When you read something without much focus and only review it in the hours before an exam, research shows that you’ll lose 50% of your text-related memory even if you tried to study it.

Annotated notes give you bullet points to review before tests, exams, or essays. They also require your entire focus while reading, so you’ll ground yourself in the text and naturally absorb more information. Taking notes is already a proven method to study better, so write your thoughts within each text and your grades will improve.

Which Texts Can You Annotate?

Are there certain subjects where annotating is more or less valuable? The good news is that anyone on any career path can use this method to learn better in real time.

Any book or chapter with paragraphs is a contender for annotation. The only time you might struggle to note your thoughts in the margins could be when there are bullet points. Those are already summarized, so your notes would consist mainly of a word or two.

Methods of Annotating Texts

There are many ways to convey your thoughts, so check out the best ways to make annotations in any textbook or assigned reading. Trying each method will help you find which strategy works best for your study methods.

Writing Margin Summaries

Every book has margins. They make reading easier and organize the on-page text. The blank space is the perfect place to annotate, especially because you can draw arrows to specific sentences and elaborate on why those words are important. Keep them short to fit them in each margin and make them easy to review when it’s time to study.

After finishing a chapter of margin notes, use them to bolster your preferred study method. If your memory responds best to flashcards, transfer your annotations to individual index cards. They won’t consist of more than a sentence or two, so the information can fit on any study supplies.

Highlighting or Underlining Sentences

If you have to read multiple chapters and get ready for a test the next day, highlighting or underlining will draw your eye to essential information when reviewing before the exam. Test your pen or highlighter on a corner of the page to see if it bleeds through, then tackle the text.

Paraphrase Each Paragraph

Every paragraph has a point, so paraphrase it in the margins. You could also use sticky notes or a journal to record the main points in each chapter by writing one sentence for each paragraph. Writing notes in your own words improves your note-taking abilities because they’re in your unique dialogue structure. You’ll also have a quick outline that breaks down each concept that’s easy to study.

Scribble Your Lightbulb Moments

Whenever you read something that suddenly makes sense, write that moment down. Whether you prefer writing in your textbook or making notes in a bullet journal, those lightbulb moments will come to mind more quickly during tests. They connect essential points and make a more significant impression, so they’re more helpful to annotate than your stream of consciousness.

Record Your Disagreements

Sometimes you’ll read something that doesn’t make sense or clashes with your understanding of the world. It could require follow-up research or a conversation with your professor. That’s another form of studying, so note anything that strikes you as strange and you’ll remember finding the answer while reviewing your notes in a study session.

Note Your Immediate Reactions

If something surprises or interests you, that’s another thing you should annotate. When you read through your notes, you’ll relive those impressions and they’ll cement themselves in your memory. Text grounded in emotional weight will remain in your memory long term, like a first impression.

Even if your first impression turns out to be wrong, the time you’ll invest in finding out why will be another form of studying. This annotation technique is always helpful so embrace your stream of consciousness and learn more effectively.

Tips to Remember

As you experiment with annotation methods, remember these helpful tips to guide your thoughts. You’ll have a better experience by diving into additional advice.

Take Notes During Your First Reading

Entering a reading session while you feel exhausted, stressed or distracted makes your reading purposeless. You won’t remember as much because your mind is elsewhere. Annotate during your first reading to better process the information by hooking your mind onto the page.

Don’t worry if your assigned reading comes in the form of a PDF instead of a physical textbook. Every computer can make notes directly on PDF files with the help of programs you likely already have downloaded, like OneNote. Check for programs that also create digital sticky notes if you prefer those off-line too.

Go Over the Text Again

Review your notes once you finish reading. Your first round of notes is helpful, but you may better understand the text once you get the whole picture. Check for accuracy and revise your annotations as needed so they don’t accidentally cause you to learn inaccurate information.

It may take a few more minutes at the library, but reviewing your notes is part of studying. When you need to return to the text for a hardcore review, the information will naturally come to the front of your mind.

Work With Pencils or Your Computer

Consider how you’ve studied throughout your high school or college career. Do you naturally prefer to handwrite your notes or type them into a digital document? Unless your study routine isn’t working, stick with what you know. Annotate with a pencil so you can erase and update your notes or play around with digital note-taking methods to discover what works best for each of your courses.

Erase Your Textbook Annotations

No one wants to hold onto old textbooks after their semester ends. You’ll either return your rental books to the bookstore or sell them to incoming students. They won’t appreciate personalized margin notes they can’t understand or don’t need. Schedule time to erase your annotations before passing your textbooks on to the next generation of students.

Start Annotating Text Today

Students who learn about annotating texts have an easier time understanding reading materials and memorizing them. You’ll have a new way to take notes and form outlines for study sessions. Try the different annotation methods to see what works best for your studying and course subjects.

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