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Taking notes, annotating, highlighting, underlining, squeezing definitions into the margins of texts: every student knows the struggle. It can sometimes feel impossible to stay organized while studying. No matter your major, you will have texts that need to be annotated, and I’m here to offer some of my tried and true ways of successfully annotating texts… no matter the subject!

The first thing I like to do is determine whether I even can write within the text. If it’s a library book or some other physical book I’m borrowing from a friend, then I will open up a word doc on my laptop (or pull out a notebook if I’m feeling old school) and create a space where I can keep my ideas organized. If I can write within the text, then I’ll lay out my highlighters, decide whether I want to use a pen or pencil, gather an assortment of post-it notes, and start reading!

The process of annotating is personal and unique to everyone. However, the trusted method is to give your text one full readthrough first without highlighting or writing a single thought, and then it’s only during your second readthrough when you should be annotating. The reason for this is to allow yourself to properly understand the text without the distraction of annotating. Despite what you might think, annotating can be distracting if you’re doing it when encountering your text for the first time, and so it’s best left for once you are more familiar with what you’re reading.

While reading your text twice, or even three times, is ideal, it is not always realistic. Therefore, a quick shortcut that you can take into annotating right away is to establish a color code for post-its and highlighters, as well as a legend. For example, if you are an English major reading a full novel that you need to annotate in preparation for an essay, I’d suggest googling some prominent themes in the text, assigning a color for each theme, and then whenever that particular theme shows itself, you use the assigned color. If there are many words or terms you don’t understand, underline them with a squiggly line so you can remember to go research their definitions, and then reread them in the context of the text. Whenever new characters are introduced, put a star next to the page number and that character’s name. If one particular line stands out to you but you’re unsure if it’ll be relevant to your essay, simply underline it with a pencil so it can be easily erased later if need be.

The beauty of annotating texts is that they can be as simple or complex as you need them to be. While the flexibility and abundance of options can seem daunting, there are thankfully plenty of other resources online that can help you.

With the drastic increase of online learning, annotating texts digitally has become incredibly popular and is not only an eco-friendly way of studying, but it has the benefit of being able to use the “search” feature to easily navigate through your annotations. Some platforms I have tried and loved are Adobe Acrobat Reader, Perusall, Goodnotes, and Notability. The latter two are especially good for iPad and tablet owners with access to a stylus to write out notes by hand.

If I’m going to be perfectly honest, I don’t even feel that my annotating methods are perfect yet. Every semester I discover new ways to annotate and am constantly updating my methods in hopes that one day I’ll fall upon the superior annotating method. Until then, we will all continue to learn from each other!

Nina Cloutier

Concordia CA '23

Nina is an English Literature and Creative Writing student with a minor in German Studies at Concordia University. Some of her passions include reading, writing, baking, and language learning! In addition to being a sister in the Delta Phi Epsilon sorority, she co-runs an instagram bookclub and is an active member of the Montreal arts and literature scene.
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