Writing About Literature Laboratory
Annotating | Questioning | Personalizing | Objectifying | back to Reading

Annotating is a fancy word for note-taking on the text, and it is a way to slow down the reading process and to help you engage with a work so that you better understand it. Some students don't annotate because they want to read for pleasure only. We think reading for pleasure is important and suggest the first time you read a text that you do so for enjoyment ant basic understanding. After you've read the piece through once, though, we encourage you to take notes in the margins in subsequent readings to more actively dialog with the text. Remember, you'll be reading the work multiple times so that you can write a better paper.

The other strategies discussed in the Reading section are all grounded in Annotating--Questioning, in particular, is a specialized kind of annotation, Personalizing and Objectifying the text are different ways to read, think about, and annotate a work.

When annotating a text, you basically

  • write questions, comments or phrases in the margins;
  • underline, circle, box, or star words or sentences that strike you;
  • highlight the text with different colored markers;
  • and/or use different colored post-it notes to mark their impressions of the text.

After annotating texts for a while, you'll develop your own system, which helps you analyze the piece. When you get to the exploring stage, you can look at your annotations and use the information you marked to formulate or even support your topic.

For example, one student who read Chopin's "Story of an Hour" marked it this way.

Another student annotated Hughes's "Harlem" this way.

Notice that these are both just initial, preliminary annotations. Since the students read their works several times, they added more and more annotations and notes with each reading.

For a later annotated version of "Story of an Hour" click here.

For a later annotated version of "Harlem" click here.

Here are some typical topics that people cover when they annotate works:


  • First mention of character's names, settings, dates
  • Words to be looked up in the dictionary
  • Relationships among characters

General Details

  • Descriptions that seem important-might give a key character trait, summation of a main point, signal of a writer's attitude about a subject
  • Patterns that occur-colors, movement, structural changes
  • Sentences that seem to express a particular idea really well

Personal connections

  • Sections that remind you of experiences in your own life
  • People that are similar to people you know
  • Social issues that are important to you (poverty, death penalty, etc.)
  • Spots which create a strong emotional response in you as a reader


  • Examples of setting, symbols, stage direction, etc.
  • literal spots vs. figurative spots
  • Uses of irony

Don't forget that annotation is the most fundamental of the reading strategies we'll discuss in this section. Questioning is just a special kind of annotation and for Personalizing and Objectifying to be useful, you'll have to annotate your responses as you follow these special ways of reading.


  • There will four different images of annotated texts on this page-early and late annotations of "Story" and "Harlem." These will be graphics so we can show the actual student marks.
  • It might also be useful to separate the bulleted lists on ways of annotation above onto their own page.
  • Good/bad examples of annotations
  • Good, better, best examples.

I don't think there are any interactivities for this-the questioning strategy I mention below will be one special kind.
Radio buttons asking questions about their own annotations.

Annotating | Questioning | Personalizing | Objectifying | back to Reading
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This page last modified on November 8, 2001
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