SJP ANNOTATION GUIDE
Annotating a literary text (or any text, for that matter) is a valuable skill for students to learn. Annotating can be defined as the process of taking notes directly on the literary text that you are reading. This is a skill that we in the SJP English Department want you to develop as you read your required novel this summer. In order for this to happen, you first need to know why annotating a text is useful and then how to annotate a text.
Why Annotating Is Useful
Taking notes inside a text while reading is particularly useful because it forces your brain to transact with the text while reading. Really, your brain does this all the time anyway whenever you read, but annotating provides you with the opportunity to become cognitive of your brain’s work because you are writing down thoughts as they occur to you. Also, it allows you to keep track of significant plot events, characters, conflicts, literary techniques, and themes so that you can return to them more easily at a later time. In fact, studies show that after a six-week time lapse, students with an annotated text can recall all of the key information in that text after a 15- to 30-minute review session. Finally, as the old adage goes, writing it down is learning it twice. The physical act of transcribing your thoughts while reading cements the information into your memory; once this is done, you can access it later.
How to Annotate
Annotating is a skill, and like most skills, it requires practice to develop. Because most of you are probably novices when it comes to taking notes inside the text, here are a few general guidelines to follow. Once you get comfortable with this skill, you may decide to craft your own parameters for annotation. The goal here is to give you a framework at the start. Only you know how you learn best, though, so feel free to adjust or add to this list as needed.
1. Mark key lines: Any time you read a passage that is significant to the plot or character
development, underline it and write brief notes to yourself in the margin describing the
passage and/or why it is important.
2. Ask questions: If a passage or scene is confusing, or if you want to know more about
what is occurring, bracket the passage or scene and jot your question in the margin. Then you can bring the question to class discussion for clarification.
3. React to what you read: If something in the text strikes you, surprises you, troubles you,
or even makes you laugh, mark it and write your reaction in the margin. Often these
passages are intentionally written by the author to elicit such a response, so they can prove important later.
4. Track themes: As you read, you will begin to discern the text’s threads or themes. Once
you notice them, you can begin marking them every time they occur. This is especially
valuable when it comes time to write an essay on the book.
5. Notes at the end of each chapter: If the book is broken up into chapters, you should take a few minutes at the end of each one to list its 4-5 most important plot events. Do it right there in the book, right at the physical end of the chapter itself. That way, when you remember a key plot event but do not remember where in the text it occurs, or when you cannot recall which event occurs before which, you have a resource for easy reference instead of having to thumb through the entire book, mining it for one little piece of plot.
At the beginning, you may find this process a bit laborious, but with some practice, it will become second nature to you. Ultimately, if you stick with it and concentrate on being an active note-taker while reading, you will find that you comprehend texts more fully and are better prepared to discuss and write about what you have read.
*Keep this Annotation Guide folded and in your novel for quick reference. You can also find this Annotation Guide online on the Prep website.