annotation in writing

How to Annotate Texts

Use the links below to jump directly to any section of this guide:

Annotation Fundamentals

How to start annotating , how to annotate digital texts, how to annotate a textbook, how to annotate a scholarly article or book, how to annotate literature, how to annotate images, videos, and performances, additional resources for teachers.

Writing in your books can make you smarter. Or, at least (according to education experts), annotation–an umbrella term for underlining, highlighting, circling, and, most importantly, leaving comments in the margins–helps students to remember and comprehend what they read. Annotation is like a conversation between reader and text. Proper annotation allows students to record their own opinions and reactions, which can serve as the inspiration for research questions and theses. So, whether you're reading a novel, poem, news article, or science textbook, taking notes along the way can give you an advantage in preparing for tests or writing essays. This guide contains resources that explain the benefits of annotating texts, provide annotation tools, and suggest approaches for diverse kinds of texts; the last section includes lesson plans and exercises for teachers.

Why annotate? As the resources below explain, annotation allows students to emphasize connections to material covered elsewhere in the text (or in other texts), material covered previously in the course, or material covered in lectures and discussion. In other words, proper annotation is an organizing tool and a time saver. The links in this section will introduce you to the theory, practice, and purpose of annotation. 

How to Mark a Book, by Mortimer Adler

This famous, charming essay lays out the case for marking up books, and provides practical suggestions at the end including underlining, highlighting, circling key words, using vertical lines to mark shifts in tone/subject, numbering points in an argument, and keeping track of questions that occur to you as you read. 

How Annotation Reshapes Student Thinking (TeacherHUB)

In this article, a high school teacher discusses the importance of annotation and how annotation encourages more effective critical thinking.

The Future of Annotation (Journal of Business and Technical Communication)

This scholarly article summarizes research on the benefits of annotation in the classroom and in business. It also discusses how technology and digital texts might affect the future of annotation. 

Annotating to Deepen Understanding (Texas Education Agency)

This website provides another introduction to annotation (designed for 11th graders). It includes a helpful section that teaches students how to annotate reading comprehension passages on tests.

Once you understand what annotation is, you're ready to begin. But what tools do you need? How do you prepare? The resources linked in this section list strategies and techniques you can use to start annotating. 

What is Annotating? (Charleston County School District)

This resource gives an overview of annotation styles, including useful shorthands and symbols. This is a good place for a student who has never annotated before to begin.

How to Annotate Text While Reading (YouTube)

This video tutorial (appropriate for grades 6–10) explains the basic ins and outs of annotation and gives examples of the type of information students should be looking for.

Annotation Practices: Reading a Play-text vs. Watching Film (U Calgary)

This blog post, written by a student, talks about how the goals and approaches of annotation might change depending on the type of text or performance being observed. 

Annotating Texts with Sticky Notes (Lyndhurst Schools)

Sometimes students are asked to annotate books they don't own or can't write in for other reasons. This resource provides some strategies for using sticky notes instead.

Teaching Students to Close Read...When You Can't Mark the Text (Performing in Education)

Here, a sixth grade teacher demonstrates the strategies she uses for getting her students to annotate with sticky notes. This resource includes a link to the teacher's free Annotation Bookmark (via Teachers Pay Teachers).

Digital texts can present a special challenge when it comes to annotation; emerging research suggests that many students struggle to critically read and retain information from digital texts. However, proper annotation can solve the problem. This section contains links to the most highly-utilized platforms for electronic annotation.

Evernote is one of the two big players in the "digital annotation apps" game. In addition to allowing users to annotate digital documents, the service (for a fee) allows users to group multiple formats (PDF, webpages, scanned hand-written notes) into separate notebooks, create voice recordings, and sync across all sorts of devices. 

OneNote is Evernote's main competitor. Reviews suggest that OneNote allows for more freedom for digital note-taking than Evernote, but that it is slightly more awkward to import and annotate a PDF, especially on certain platforms. However, OneNote's free version is slightly more feature-filled, and OneNote allows you to link your notes to time stamps on an audio recording.

Diigo is a basic browser extension that allows a user to annotate webpages. Diigo also offers a Screenshot app that allows for direct saving to Google Drive.

While the creators of Hypothesis like to focus on their app's social dimension, students are more likely to be interested in the private highlighting and annotating functions of this program.

Foxit PDF Reader

Foxit is one of the leading PDF readers. Though the full suite must be purchased, Foxit offers a number of annotation and highlighting tools for free.

Nitro PDF Reader

This is another well-reviewed, free PDF reader that includes annotation and highlighting. Annotation, text editing, and other tools are included in the free version.

Goodreader is a very popular Mac-only app that includes annotation and editing tools for PDFs, Word documents, Powerpoint, and other formats.

Although textbooks have vocabulary lists, summaries, and other features to emphasize important material, annotation can allow students to process information and discover their own connections. This section links to guides and video tutorials that introduce you to textbook annotation. 

Annotating Textbooks (Niagara University)

This PDF provides a basic introduction as well as strategies including focusing on main ideas, working by section or chapter, annotating in your own words, and turning section headings into questions.

A Simple Guide to Text Annotation (Catawba College)

The simple, practical strategies laid out in this step-by-step guide will help students learn how to break down chapters in their textbooks using main ideas, definitions, lists, summaries, and potential test questions.

Annotating (Mercer Community College)

This packet, an excerpt from a literature textbook, provides a short exercise and some examples of how to do textbook annotation, including using shorthand and symbols.

Reading Your Healthcare Textbook: Annotation (Saddleback College)

This powerpoint contains a number of helpful suggestions, especially for students who are new to annotation. It emphasizes limited highlighting, lots of student writing, and using key words to find the most important information in a textbook. Despite the title, it is useful to a student in any discipline.

Annotating a Textbook (Excelsior College OWL)

This video (with included transcript) discusses how to use textbook features like boxes and sidebars to help guide annotation. It's an extremely helpful, detailed discussion of how textbooks are organized.

Because scholarly articles and books have complex arguments and often depend on technical vocabulary, they present particular challenges for an annotating student. The resources in this section help students get to the heart of scholarly texts in order to annotate and, by extension, understand the reading.

Annotating a Text (Hunter College)

This resource is designed for college students and shows how to annotate a scholarly article using highlighting, paraphrase, a descriptive outline, and a two-margin approach. It ends with a sample passage marked up using the strategies provided. 

Guide to Annotating the Scholarly Article (

This is an effective introduction to annotating scholarly articles across all disciplines. This resource encourages students to break down how the article uses primary and secondary sources and to annotate the types of arguments and persuasive strategies (synthesis, analysis, compare/contrast).

How to Highlight and Annotate Your Research Articles (CHHS Media Center)

This video, developed by a high school media specialist, provides an effective beginner-level introduction to annotating research articles. 

How to Read a Scholarly Book (

In this essay, a college professor lets readers in on the secrets of scholarly monographs. Though he does not discuss annotation, he explains how to find a scholarly book's thesis, methodology, and often even a brief literature review in the introduction. This is a key place for students to focus when creating annotations. 

A 5-step Approach to Reading Scholarly Literature and Taking Notes (Heather Young Leslie)

This resource, written by a professor of anthropology, is an even more comprehensive and detailed guide to reading scholarly literature. Combining the annotation techniques above with the reading strategy here allows students to process scholarly book efficiently. 

Annotation is also an important part of close reading works of literature. Annotating helps students recognize symbolism, double meanings, and other literary devices. These resources provide additional guidelines on annotating literature.

AP English Language Annotation Guide (YouTube)

In this ~10 minute video, an AP Language teacher provides tips and suggestions for using annotations to point out rhetorical strategies and other important information.

Annotating Text Lesson (YouTube)

In this video tutorial, an English teacher shows how she uses the white board to guide students through annotation and close reading. This resource uses an in-depth example to model annotation step-by-step.

Close Reading a Text and Avoiding Pitfalls (Purdue OWL)

This resources demonstrates how annotation is a central part of a solid close reading strategy; it also lists common mistakes to avoid in the annotation process.

AP Literature Assignment: Annotating Literature (Mount Notre Dame H.S.)

This brief assignment sheet contains suggestions for what to annotate in a novel, including building connections between parts of the book, among multiple books you are reading/have read, and between the book and your own experience. It also includes samples of quality annotations.

AP Handout: Annotation Guide (Covington Catholic H.S.)

This annotation guide shows how to keep track of symbolism, figurative language, and other devices in a novel using a highlighter, a pencil, and every part of a book (including the front and back covers).

In addition to written resources, it's possible to annotate visual "texts" like theatrical performances, movies, sculptures, and paintings. Taking notes on visual texts allows students to recall details after viewing a resource which, unlike a book, can't be re-read or re-visited ( for example, a play that has finished its run, or an art exhibition that is far away). These resources draw attention to the special questions and techniques that students should use when dealing with visual texts.

How to Take Notes on Videos (U of Southern California)

This resource is a good place to start for a student who has never had to take notes on film before. It briefly outlines three general approaches to note-taking on a film. 

How to Analyze a Movie, Step-by-Step (San Diego Film Festival)

This detailed guide provides lots of tips for film criticism and analysis. It contains a list of specific questions to ask with respect to plot, character development, direction, musical score, cinematography, special effects, and more. 

How to "Read" a Film (UPenn)

This resource provides an academic perspective on the art of annotating and analyzing a film. Like other resources, it provides students a checklist of things to watch out for as they watch the film.

Art Annotation Guide (Gosford Hill School)

This resource focuses on how to annotate a piece of art with respect to its formal elements like line, tone, mood, and composition. It contains a number of helpful questions and relevant examples. 

Photography Annotation (Arts at Trinity)

This resource is designed specifically for photography students. Like some of the other resources on this list, it primarily focuses on formal elements, but also shows students how to integrate the specific technical vocabulary of modern photography. This resource also contains a number of helpful sample annotations.

How to Review a Play (U of Wisconsin)

This resource from the University of Wisconsin Writing Center is designed to help students write a review of a play. It contains suggested questions for students to keep in mind as they watch a given production. This resource helps students think about staging, props, script alterations, and many other key elements of a performance.

This section contains links to lessons plans and exercises suitable for high school and college instructors.

Beyond the Yellow Highlighter: Teaching Annotation Skills to Improve Reading Comprehension (English Journal)

In this journal article, a high school teacher talks about her approach to teaching annotation. This article makes a clear distinction between annotation and mere highlighting.

Lesson Plan for Teaching Annotation, Grades 9–12 (

This lesson plan, published by the National Council of Teachers of English, contains four complete lessons that help introduce high school students to annotation.

Teaching Theme Using Close Reading (Performing in Education)

This lesson plan was developed by a middle school teacher, and is aligned to Common Core. The teacher presents her strategies and resources in comprehensive fashion.

Analyzing a Speech Using Annotation (UNC-TV/PBS Learning Media)

This complete lesson plan, which includes a guide for the teacher and relevant handouts for students, will prepare students to analyze both the written and presentation components of a speech. This lesson plan is best for students in 6th–10th grade.

Writing to Learn History: Annotation and Mini-Writes (

This teaching guide, developed for high school History classes, provides handouts and suggested exercises that can help students become more comfortable with annotating historical sources.

Writing About Art (The College Board)

This Prezi presentation is useful to any teacher introducing students to the basics of annotating art. The presentation covers annotating for both formal elements and historical/cultural significance.

Film Study Worksheets (

This resource contains links to a general film study worksheet, as well as specific worksheets for novel adaptations, historical films, documentaries, and more. These resources are appropriate for advanced middle school students and some high school students. 

Annotation Practice Worksheet (La Guardia Community College)

This worksheet has a sample text and instructions for students to annotate it. It is a useful resource for teachers who want to give their students a chance to practice, but don't have the time to select an appropriate piece of text. 

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Annotating Texts

What is annotation.

Annotation can be:

  • A systematic summary of the text that you create within the document
  • A key tool for close reading that helps you uncover patterns, notice important words, and identify main points
  • An active learning strategy that improves comprehension and retention of information

Why annotate?

  • Isolate and organize important material
  • Identify key concepts
  • Monitor your learning as you read
  • Make exam prep effective and streamlined
  • Can be more efficient than creating a separate set of reading notes

How do you annotate?

Summarize key points in your own words .

  • Use headers and words in bold to guide you
  • Look for main ideas, arguments, and points of evidence
  • Notice how the text organizes itself. Chronological order? Idea trees? Etc.

Circle key concepts and phrases

  • What words would it be helpful to look-up at the end?
  • What terms show up in lecture? When are different words used for similar concepts? Why?

Write brief comments and questions in the margins

  • Be as specific or broad as you would like—use these questions to activate your thinking about the content
  • See our handout on reading comprehension tips for some examples

Use abbreviations and symbols

  • Try ? when you have a question or something you need to explore further
  • Try ! When something is interesting, a connection, or otherwise worthy of note
  • Try * For anything that you might use as an example or evidence when you use this information.
  • Ask yourself what other system of symbols would make sense to you.


  • Highlight or underline, but mindfully. Check out our resource on strategic highlighting for tips on when and how to highlight.

Use comment and highlight features built into pdfs, online/digital textbooks, or other apps and browser add-ons

  • Are you using a pdf? Explore its highlight, edit, and comment functions to support your annotations
  • Some browsers have add-ons or extensions that allow you to annotate web pages or web-based documents
  • Does your digital or online textbook come with an annotation feature?
  • Can your digital text be imported into a note-taking tool like OneNote, EverNote, or Google Keep? If so, you might be able to annotate texts in those apps

What are the most important takeaways?

  • Annotation is about increasing your engagement with a text
  • Increased engagement, where you think about and process the material then expand on your learning, is how you achieve mastery in a subject
  • As you annotate a text, ask yourself: how would I explain this to a friend?
  • Put things in your own words and draw connections to what you know and wonder

The table below demonstrates this process using a geography textbook excerpt (Press 2004):

A chart featuring a passage from a text in the left column and then columns that illustrate annotations that include too much writing, not enough writing, and a good balance of writing.

A common concern about annotating texts: It takes time!

Yes, it can, but that time isn’t lost—it’s invested.

Spending the time to annotate on the front end does two important things:

  • It saves you time later when you’re studying. Your annotated notes will help speed up exam prep, because you can review critical concepts quickly and efficiently.
  • It increases the likelihood that you will retain the information after the course is completed. This is especially important when you are supplying the building blocks of your mind and future career.

One last tip: Try separating the reading and annotating processes! Quickly read through a section of the text first, then go back and annotate.

Works consulted:

Nist, S., & Holschuh, J. (2000). Active learning: strategies for college success. Boston: Allyn and Bacon. 202-218.

Simpson, M., & Nist, S. (1990). Textbook annotation: An effective and efficient study strategy for college students. Journal of Reading, 34: 122-129.

Press, F. (2004). Understanding earth (4th ed). New York: W.H. Freeman. 208-210.

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How to Write an Annotated Bibliography

Writing annotations.

  • Introduction
  • New RefWorks
  • Formatting Citations
  • Sample Annotated Bibliographies

An annotation is a brief note following each citation listed on an annotated bibliography.  The goal is to briefly summarize the source and/or explain why it is important for a topic.  They are typically a single concise paragraph, but might be longer if you are summarizing and evaluating.

Annotations can be written in a variety of different ways and it’s important to consider the style you are going to use.  Are you simply summarizing the sources, or evaluating them?  How does the source influence your understanding of the topic?  You can follow any style you want if you are writing for your own personal research process, but consult with your professor if this is an assignment for a class.

Annotation Styles

  • Combined Informative/Evaluative Style - This style is recommended by the library as it combines all the styles to provide a more complete view of a source.  The annotation should explain the value of the source for the overall research topic by providing a summary combined with an analysis of the source.  

Aluedse, O. (2006). Bullying in schools: A form of child abuse in schools.  Educational Research Quarterly ,  30 (1), 37.

The author classifies bullying in schools as a “form of child abuse,” and goes well beyond the notion that schoolyard bullying is “just child’s play.” The article provides an in-depth definition of bullying, and explores the likelihood that school-aged bullies may also experience difficult lives as adults. The author discusses the modern prevalence of bullying in school systems, the effects of bullying, intervention strategies, and provides an extensive list of resources and references.

Statistics included provide an alarming realization that bullying is prevalent not only in the United States, but also worldwide. According to the author, “American schools harbor approximately 2.1 million bullies and 2.7 million victims.” The author references the National Association of School Psychologists and quotes, “Thus, one in seven children is a bully or a target of bullying.” A major point of emphasis centers around what has always been considered a “normal part of growing up” versus the levels of actual abuse reached in today’s society.

The author concludes with a section that addresses intervention strategies for school administrators, teachers, counselors, and school staff. The concept of school staff helping build students’ “social competence” is showcased as a prevalent means of preventing and reducing this growing social menace. Overall, the article is worthwhile for anyone interested in the subject matter, and provides a wealth of resources for researching this topic of growing concern.

(Renfrow & Teuton, 2008)

  • Informative Style -  Similar to an abstract, this style focuses on the summarizing the source.  The annotation should identify the hypothesis, results, and conclusions presented by the source.

Plester, B., Wood, C, & Bell, V. (2008). Txt msg n school literacy: Does texting and knowledge of text abbreviations adversely affect children's literacy attainment? Literacy , 42(3), 137-144.

Reports on two studies that investigated the relationship between children's texting behavior, their knowledge of text abbreviations, and their school attainment in written language skills. In Study One, 11 to 12 year-old children reported their texting behavior and translated a standard English sentence into a text message and vice versa. In Study Two, children's performance on writing measures were examined more specifically, spelling proficiency was also assessed, and KS2 Writing scores were obtained. Positive correlations between spelling ability and performance on the translation exercise were found, and group-based comparisons based on the children's writing scores also showed that good writing attainment was associated with greater use of texting abbreviations (textisms), although the direction of this association is not clear. Overall, these findings suggest that children's knowledge of textisms is not associated with poor written language outcomes for children in this age range. 

(Beach et al., 2009)

  • Evaluative Style - This style analyzes and critically evaluates the source.  The annotation should comment on the source's the strengths, weaknesses, and how it relates to the overall research topic.

Amott, T. (1993). Caught in the Crisis: Women in the U.S. Economy Today . New York: Monthly Review Press.

A very readable (140 pp) economic analysis and information book which I am currently considering as a required collateral assignment in Economics 201. Among its many strengths is a lucid connection of "The Crisis at Home" with the broader, macroeconomic crisis of the U.S. working class (which various other authors have described as the shrinking middle class or the crisis of de-industrialization).

(Papadantonakis, 1996)

  • Indicative Style - This style of annotation identifies the main theme and lists the significant topics included in the source.  Usually no specific details are given beyond the topic list . 


Gambell, T.J., & Hunter, D. M. (1999). Rethinking gender differences in literacy. Canadian Journal of Education , 24(1) 1-16.

Five explanations are offered for recently assessed gender differences in the literacy achievement of male and female students in Canada and other countries. The explanations revolve around evaluative bias, home socialization, role and societal expectations, male psychology, and equity policy.

(Kerka & Imel, 2004)

Beach, R., Bigelow, M., Dillon, D., Dockter, J., Galda, L., Helman, L., . . . Janssen, T. (2009). Annotated Bibliography of Research in the Teaching of English.  Research in the Teaching of English,   44 (2), 210-241. Retrieved from

Kerka, S., & Imel, S. (2004). Annotated bibliography: Women and literacy.  Women's Studies Quarterly,  32 (1), 258-271. Retrieved from

Papadantonakis, K. (1996). Selected Annotated Bibliography for Economists and Other Social Scientists.  Women's Studies Quarterly,   24 (3/4), 233-238. Retrieved from

Renfrow, T.G., & Teuton, L.M. (2008). Schoolyard bullying: Peer victimization an annotated bibliography. Community & Junior College Libraries, 14(4), 251-­275. doi:10.1080/02763910802336407

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This handout provides information about annotated bibliographies in MLA, APA, and CMS.


A bibliography is a list of sources (books, journals, Web sites, periodicals, etc.) one has used for researching a topic. Bibliographies are sometimes called "References" or "Works Cited" depending on the style format you are using. A bibliography usually just includes the bibliographic information (i.e., the author, title, publisher, etc.).

An annotation is a summary and/or evaluation. Therefore, an annotated bibliography includes a summary and/or evaluation of each of the sources. Depending on your project or the assignment, your annotations may do one or more of the following.

For more help, see our handout on paraphrasing sources.

For more help, see our handouts on evaluating resources .

  • Reflect : Once you've summarized and assessed a source, you need to ask how it fits into your research. Was this source helpful to you? How does it help you shape your argument? How can you use this source in your research project? Has it changed how you think about your topic?

Your annotated bibliography may include some of these, all of these, or even others. If you're doing this for a class, you should get specific guidelines from your instructor.

Why should I write an annotated bibliography?

To learn about your topic : Writing an annotated bibliography is excellent preparation for a research project. Just collecting sources for a bibliography is useful, but when you have to write annotations for each source, you're forced to read each source more carefully. You begin to read more critically instead of just collecting information. At the professional level, annotated bibliographies allow you to see what has been done in the literature and where your own research or scholarship can fit. To help you formulate a thesis: Every good research paper is an argument. The purpose of research is to state and support a thesis. So, a very important part of research is developing a thesis that is debatable, interesting, and current. Writing an annotated bibliography can help you gain a good perspective on what is being said about your topic. By reading and responding to a variety of sources on a topic, you'll start to see what the issues are, what people are arguing about, and you'll then be able to develop your own point of view.

To help other researchers : Extensive and scholarly annotated bibliographies are sometimes published. They provide a comprehensive overview of everything important that has been and is being said about that topic. You may not ever get your annotated bibliography published, but as a researcher, you might want to look for one that has been published about your topic.

The format of an annotated bibliography can vary, so if you're doing one for a class, it's important to ask for specific guidelines.

The bibliographic information : Generally, though, the bibliographic information of the source (the title, author, publisher, date, etc.) is written in either MLA or APA format. For more help with formatting, see our MLA handout . For APA, go here: APA handout .

The annotations: The annotations for each source are written in paragraph form. The lengths of the annotations can vary significantly from a couple of sentences to a couple of pages. The length will depend on the purpose. If you're just writing summaries of your sources, the annotations may not be very long. However, if you are writing an extensive analysis of each source, you'll need more space.

You can focus your annotations for your own needs. A few sentences of general summary followed by several sentences of how you can fit the work into your larger paper or project can serve you well when you go to draft.

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Annotating text: The complete guide to close reading

Annotating text: The complete guide to close reading

As students, researchers, and self-learners, we understand the power of reading and taking smart notes . But what happens when we combine those together? This is where annotating text comes in.

Annotated text is a written piece that includes additional notes and commentary from the reader. These notes can be about anything from the author's style and tone to the main themes of the work. By providing context and personal reactions, annotations can turn a dry text into a lively conversation.

Creating text annotations during close readings can help you follow the author's argument or thesis and make it easier to find critical points and supporting evidence. Plus, annotating your own texts in your own words helps you to better understand and remember what you read.

This guide will take a closer look at annotating text, discuss why it's useful, and how you can apply a few helpful strategies to develop your annotating system.

What does annotating text mean?

Annotating text: yellow pen and a yellow notebook

Text annotation refers to adding notes, highlights, or comments to a text. This can be done using a physical copy in textbooks or printable texts. Or you can annotate digitally through an online document or e-reader.

Generally speaking, annotating text allows readers to interact with the content on a deeper level, engaging with the material in a way that goes beyond simply reading it. There are different levels of annotation, but all annotations should aim to do one or more of the following:

  • Summarize the key points of the text
  • Identify evidence or important examples
  • Make connections to other texts or ideas
  • Think critically about the author's argument
  • Make predictions about what might happen next

When done effectively, annotation can significantly improve your understanding of a text and your ability to remember what you have read.

What are the benefits of annotation?

There are many reasons why someone might wish to annotate a document. It's commonly used as a study strategy and is often taught in English Language Arts (ELA) classes. Students are taught how to annotate texts during close readings to identify key points, evidence, and main ideas.

In addition, this reading strategy is also used by those who are researching for self-learning or professional growth. Annotating texts can help you keep track of what you’ve read and identify the parts most relevant to your needs. Even reading for pleasure can benefit from annotation, as it allows you to keep track of things you might want to remember or add to your personal knowledge management system .

Annotating has many benefits, regardless of your level of expertise. When you annotate, you're actively engaging with the text, which can help you better understand and learn new things . Additionally, annotating can save you time by allowing you to identify the most essential points of a text before starting a close reading or in-depth analysis.

There are few studies directly on annotation, but the body of research is growing. In one 2022 study, specific annotation strategies increased student comprehension , engagement, and academic achievement. Students who annotated read slower, which helped them break down texts and visualize key points. This helped students focus, think critically , and discuss complex content.

Annotation can also be helpful because it:

  • Allows you to quickly refer back to important points in the text without rereading the entire thing
  • Helps you to make connections between different texts and ideas
  • Serves as a study aid when preparing for exams or writing essays
  • Identifies gaps in your understanding so that you can go back and fill them in

The process of annotating text can make your reading experience more fruitful. Adding comments, questions, and associations directly to the text makes the reading process more active and enjoyable.

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How do you annotate text?

2 pens and 2 notebooks

There are many different ways to annotate while reading. The traditional method of annotating uses highlighters, markers, and pens to underline, highlight, and write notes in paper books. Modern methods have now gone digital with apps and software. You can annotate on many note-taking apps, as well as online documents like Google Docs.

While there are documented benefits of handwritten notes, recent research shows that digital methods are effective as well. Among college students in an introductory college writing course, those with more highlighting on digital texts correlated with better reading comprehension than those with more highlighted sections on paper.

No matter what method you choose, the goal is always to make your reading experience more active, engaging, and productive. To do so, the process can be broken down into three simple steps:

  • Do the first read-through without annotating to get a general understanding of the material.
  • Reread the text and annotate key points, evidence, and main ideas.
  • Review your annotations to deepen your understanding of the text.

Of course, there are different levels of annotation, and you may only need to do some of the three steps. For example, if you're reading for pleasure, you might only annotate key points and passages that strike you as interesting or important. Alternatively, if you're trying to simplify complex information in a detailed text, you might annotate more extensively.

The type of annotation you choose depends on your goals and preferences. The key is to create a plan that works for you and stick with it.

Annotation strategies to try

When annotating text, you can use a variety of strategies. The best method for you will depend on the text itself, your reason for reading, and your personal preferences. Start with one of these common strategies if you don't know where to begin.

  • Questioning: As you read, note any questions that come to mind as you engage in critical thinking . These could be questions about the author's argument, the evidence they use, or the implications of their ideas.
  • Summarizing: Write a brief summary of the main points after each section or chapter. This is a great way to check your understanding, help you process information , and identify essential information to reference later.
  • Paraphrasing: In addition to (or instead of) summaries, try paraphrasing key points in your own words. This will help you better understand the material and make it easier to reference later.
  • Connecting: Look for connections between different parts of the text or other ideas as you read. These could be things like similarities, contrasts, or implications. Make a note of these connections so that you can easily reference them later.
  • Visualizing: Sometimes, it can be helpful to annotate text visually by drawing pictures or taking visual notes . This can be especially helpful when trying to make connections between different ideas.
  • Responding: Another way to annotate is to jot down your thoughts and reactions as you read. This can be a great way to personally engage with the material and identify any areas you need clarification on.

Combining the three-step annotation process with one or more strategies can create a customized, powerful reading experience tailored to your specific needs.

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7 tips for effective annotations

HIGHLIGHT spelled using letter tiles

Once you've gotten the hang of the annotating process and know which strategies you'd like to use, there are a few general tips you can follow to make the annotation process even more effective.

1. Read with a purpose. Before you start annotating, take a moment to consider what you're hoping to get out of the text. Do you want to gain a general overview? Are you looking for specific information? Once you know what you're looking for, you can tailor your annotations accordingly.

2. Be concise. When annotating text, keep it brief and focus on the most important points. Otherwise, you risk annotating too much, which can feel a bit overwhelming, like having too many tabs open . Limit yourself to just a few annotations per page until you get a feel for what works for you.

3. Use abbreviations and symbols. You can use abbreviations and symbols to save time and space when annotating digitally. If annotating on paper, you can use similar abbreviations or symbols or write in the margins. For example, you might use ampersands, plus signs, or question marks.

4. Highlight or underline key points. Use highlighting or underlining to draw attention to significant passages in the text. This can be especially helpful when reviewing a text for an exam or essay. Try using different colors for each read-through or to signify different meanings.

5. Be specific. Vague annotations aren't very helpful. Make sure your note-taking is clear and straightforward so you can easily refer to them later. This may mean including specific inferences, key points, or questions in your annotations.

6. Connect ideas. When reading, you'll likely encounter ideas that connect to things you already know. When these connections occur, make a note of them. Use symbols or even sticky notes to connect ideas across pages. Annotating this way can help you see the text in a new light and make connections that you might not have otherwise considered.

7. Write in your own words. When annotating, copying what the author says verbatim can be tempting. However, it's more helpful to write, summarize or paraphrase in your own words. This will force you to engage your information processing system and gain a deeper understanding.

These tips can help you annotate more effectively and get the most out of your reading. However, it’s important to remember that, just like self-learning , there is no one "right" way to annotate. The process is meant to enrich your reading comprehension and deepen your understanding, which is highly individual. Most importantly, your annotating system should be helpful and meaningful for you.

Engage your learning like never before by learning how to annotate text

Learning to effectively annotate text is a powerful tool that can improve your reading, self-learning , and study strategies. Using an annotating system that includes text annotations and note-taking during close reading helps you actively engage with the text, leading to a deeper understanding of the material.

Try out different annotation strategies and find what works best for you. With practice, annotating will become second nature and you'll reap all the benefits this powerful tool offers.

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Understanding & Interacting with a Text

Annotations, definition and purpose.

annotation in writing

Annotating literally means taking notes within the text as you read.  As you annotate, you may combine a number of reading strategies—predicting, questioning, dealing with patterns and main ideas, analyzing information—as you physically respond to a text by recording your thoughts.  Annotating may occur on a first or second reading of the text, depending on the text’s difficulty or length. You may annotate in different formats, either in the margins of the text or in a separate notepad or document. The main thing to remember is that annotation is at the core of active reading. By reading carefully and pausing to reflect upon, mark up, and add notes to a text as you read, you can greatly improve your understanding of that text.

Think of annotating a text in terms of having a conversation with the author in real time. You wouldn’t sit passively while the author talked at you. You wouldn’t be able to get clarification or ask questions.  Your thought processes would probably close down and you would not engage in thinking about larger meanings related to the topic. Conversation works best when people are active participants. Annotation is a form of active involvement with a text.

Reasons to Annotate

There are a number of reasons to annotate a text:

  • Annotation ultimately saves reading time. While it may take more time up front as you read, annotating while you read can help you avoid having to re-read passages in order to get the meaning. That’s because…
  • Annotation improves understanding. By pausing to reflect as you read, annotating a text helps you figure out if you’re understanding what you’re reading. If not, you can immediately re-read or seek additional information to improve your understanding. This is called “monitoring comprehension.”
  • Annotation increases your odds of remembering what you’ve read, because you write those annotations in your own words, making the information your own. You also leave behind a set of notes that can help you find key information the next time you need to refer to that text.
  • Annotation provides a record of your deeper questions and thoughts as you read, insights related to analyzing, interpreting, and going beyond the text into related issues.  Annotations such as these will be useful when you’re asked to respond to a text through reacting, applying, analyzing, and synthesizing, since these types of annotations record your own thoughts.  Much academic work in college is intended to get you to offer your own, informed thoughts (as opposed to simple recall and regurgitation of information); annotating a text helps you capture key personal, analytical insights as you read.

The following video offers a brief, clear example of annotating a text.

What to Annotate

You’ll find that you’re annotating differently in different texts, depending on your background knowledge of the topic, your own ease with reading the text, and the type of text, among other variables.  There’s no single formula for annotating a text.  Instead, there are different types of annotations that you may make, depending on the particular text.

  • Mark the thesis or main idea sentence, if there is one in the text.  Or note the implied main idea.  In either case, phrase that main idea in your own words.
  • Mark places that seem important, interesting, and/or confusing.
  • Note your agreement or disagreement with an idea in the text.
  • Link a concept in the text to your own experience.
  • Write a reminder to look up something – an unknown word, a difficult concept, or a related idea that occurred to you.
  • Record questions you have about what you are reading. These questions generally fall into two different categories, to clarify meaning and to evaluate what you’ve read.
  • Note any biases unstated assumptions (your own included).
  • Paraphrase a difficult passage by putting it into your own words.
  • Summarize a lengthy section of a text to extract the main ideas–again in your own words.
  • Note important transition words that show a shift in thought; transitions show how the author is linking ideas.  This is especially important if you’re reading and annotating a text intended to persuade the reader to a particular point of view, as it allows you to clarify and evaluate the author’s line of reasoning.
  • Note repeated words or phrases; it’s likely that such emphasis relates to a key concept or main idea.
  • Note the writer’s tone—straightforward, sarcastic, sincere, witty—and how it influences the ideas presented.
  • Note idea linkages between this text and another text.
  • Note idea linkages between this text and key concepts or theories of a discipline. For example, does the author offer examples relating to theories of motivation that you’re studying in a psychology class?
  • And more…again, annotations vary according to the text and your background in the text’s topic.

View the following video, which reviews reading strategies for approximately the first three minutes and then moves into a comprehensive discussion of the types of things to annotate in non-fiction texts.

How to Annotate

Make sure to annotate through writing.  Do not – do not –  simply highlight or underline existing words in the text.  While your annotations may start with a few underlined words or sentences, you should always complete your thoughts through a written annotation that identifies why you underlined those words (e.g., key ideas, your own reaction to something, etc.). The pitfall of highlighting is that readers tend to do it too much, and then have to go back to the original text and re-read most of it.  By writing annotations in your own words, you’ve already moved to a higher level in your conversation with the text.

If you don’t want to write in a margin of a book or article, use sticky notes for your annotations.  If the text is in electronic form, then the format itself may have built-in annotation tools, or write in a Word document which allows you to paste sentences and passages that you want to annotate.

You may also want to create your own system of symbols to mark certain things such as main idea (*), linkage to ideas in another text (+), confusing information that needs to be researched further (!), or similar idea (=). The symbols and marks should make sense to you, and you should apply them consistently from text to text, so that they become an easy shorthand for annotation. However, annotations should not consist of symbols only; you need to include words to remember why you marked the text in that particular place.

Above all, be selective about what to mark; if you end up annotating most of a page or even most of a paragraph, nothing will stand out, and you will have defeated the purpose of annotating.

Here’s one brief example of annotation:

Sample Annotation

What follows is a sample annotation of the first few paragraphs of an article from CNN, “One quarter of giant panda habitat lost in Sichuan quake,” July 29, 2009. Sample annotations are in color. 

“The earthquake in Sichuan, southwestern China, last May left around 69,000 people dead and 15 million people displaced. Now ecologists have assessed the earthquake’s impact on biodiversity look this word up and the habitat for some of the last existing wild giant pandas.

According to the report published in “Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment,” 23 percent of the pandas’ habitat in the study area was destroyed, and fragmentation of the remaining habitat could hinder panda reproduction. How was this data gathered? Do we know that fragmentation will hinder panda reproduction?  

The Sichuan region is designated as a global hotspot for biodiversity, according to Conservation International. Home to more than 12,000 species of plants and 1.122 species of vertebrates, the area includes more than half of the habitat for the Earth’s wild giant panda population, said study author Weihua Xu of the Chinese Academy of Sciences in Beijing.” So can we assume that having so much of the pandas/ habitat destroyed will impact other species here?

Link to two additional examples of what and how to annotate

  • Invention: Annotating a Text from Hunter College, included as a link in Maricopa Community College’s Reading 100 open educational resource. There’s a very clearly-annotated sample text at the end of this handout.
  • Ethnic Varieties by Walt Wolfram, included as a link in Let’s Get Writing.

Summary: Annotation = Making Connections

The video below offers a review of reading concepts in the first part, focused on the concept of reading as connecting with a text.  From approximately mid-way to the end, the video offers a good extended example and discussion of annotating a text.

Note: if you want to try annotating an article and find the one in the video difficult to read, you may want to practice on a similar article about the same topic, “ Tinker V. Des Moines Independent Community School District: Kelly Shackelford on Symbolic Speech ” on the blog of the U.S. Supreme Court.

Read the paragraphs from “ Cultural Relativism ” that deal with the sociological perspective. Annotate the paragraphs with insights, questions, and thoughts that occur to you as you read.

  • Annotations, includes material adapted from Excelsior College Online Reading Lab, Let's Get Writing, UMRhetLab, Reading 100, and Basic Reading and Writing; attributions below. Authored by : Susan Oaks. License : CC BY-NC-SA: Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike
  • Annotating: Creating an Annotation System. Provided by : Excelsior College. Located at : . Project : Excelsior College Online Reading lab. License : CC BY: Attribution
  • Chapter 1 - Critical Reading. Authored by : Elizabeth Browning. Provided by : Virginia Western Community College. Located at : . Project : Let's Get Writing. License : CC BY-NC-SA: Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike
  • Strategies for Active Reading. Authored by : Guy Krueger.. Provided by : University of Mississippi. Located at : . Project : UMRhetLab. License : CC BY: Attribution
  • Annotating a Text (from Hunter College). Provided by : Maricopa Community College. Located at : . Project : Reading 100. License : CC BY: Attribution
  • Summary Skills. Provided by : Lumen Learning. Located at : . Project : Basic Reading and Writing. License : CC BY: Attribution
  • image of open book with colored tabs and colored pencils. Authored by : Luisella Planeta . Provided by : Pixabay. Located at : . License : CC0: No Rights Reserved
  • video Textbook Reading Strategies - Annotate the Text. Authored by : DistanceLearningKCC. Provided by : Kirkwood Community College. Located at : . License : Other . License Terms : YouTube video
  • video Annotating Non-Fiction Texts. Authored by : Arri Weeks. Located at : . License : Other . License Terms : YouTube video
  • video Making Connections During Reading. Provided by : WarnerJordanEducation. Located at : . License : Other . License Terms : YouTube video

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Frequently asked questions

How do i write an annotation for a source.

Each annotation in an annotated bibliography is usually between 50 and 200 words long. Longer annotations may be divided into paragraphs .

The content of the annotation varies according to your assignment. An annotation can be descriptive, meaning it just describes the source objectively; evaluative, meaning it assesses its usefulness; or reflective, meaning it explains how the source will be used in your own research .

Frequently asked questions: Citing sources

A scientific citation style is a system of source citation that is used in scientific disciplines. Some commonly used scientific citation styles are:

  • Chicago author-date , CSE , and Harvard , used across various sciences
  • ACS , used in chemistry
  • AMA , NLM , and Vancouver , used in medicine and related disciplines
  • AAA , APA , and ASA , commonly used in the social sciences

There are many different citation styles used across different academic disciplines, but they fall into three basic approaches to citation:

  • Parenthetical citations : Including identifying details of the source in parentheses —usually the author’s last name and the publication date, plus a page number if available ( author-date ). The publication date is occasionally omitted ( author-page ).
  • Numerical citations: Including a number in brackets or superscript, corresponding to an entry in your numbered reference list.
  • Note citations: Including a full citation in a footnote or endnote , which is indicated in the text with a superscript number or symbol.

A source annotation in an annotated bibliography fulfills a similar purpose to an abstract : they’re both intended to summarize the approach and key points of a source.

However, an annotation may also evaluate the source , discussing the validity and effectiveness of its arguments. Even if your annotation is purely descriptive , you may have a different perspective on the source from the author and highlight different key points.

You should never just copy text from the abstract for your annotation, as doing so constitutes plagiarism .

Most academics agree that you shouldn’t cite Wikipedia as a source in your academic writing , and universities often have rules against doing so.

This is partly because of concerns about its reliability, and partly because it’s a tertiary source. Tertiary sources are things like encyclopedias and databases that collect information from other sources rather than presenting their own evidence or analysis. Usually, only primary and secondary sources are cited in academic papers.

A Wikipedia citation usually includes the title of the article, “Wikipedia” and/or “Wikimedia Foundation,” the date the article was last updated, and the URL.

In APA Style , you’ll give the URL of the current revision of the article so that you’re sure the reader accesses the same version as you.

There’s some disagreement about whether Wikipedia can be considered a reliable source . Because it can be edited by anyone, many people argue that it’s easy for misleading information to be added to an article without the reader knowing.

Others argue that because Wikipedia articles cite their sources , and because they are worked on by so many editors, misinformation is generally removed quickly.

However, most universities state that you shouldn’t cite Wikipedia in your writing.

Hanging indents are used in reference lists in various citation styles to allow the reader to easily distinguish between entries.

You should apply a hanging indent to your reference entries in APA , MLA , and Chicago style.

A hanging indent is used to indent all lines of a paragraph except the first.

When you create a hanging indent, the first line of the paragraph starts at the border. Each subsequent line is indented 0.5 inches (1.27 cm).

APA and MLA style both use parenthetical in-text citations to cite sources and include a full list of references at the end, but they differ in other ways:

  • APA in-text citations include the author name, date, and page number (Taylor, 2018, p. 23), while MLA in-text citations include only the author name and page number (Taylor 23).
  • The APA reference list is titled “References,” while MLA’s version is called “ Works Cited .”
  • The reference entries differ in terms of formatting and order of information.
  • APA requires a title page , while MLA requires a header instead.

A parenthetical citation in Chicago author-date style includes the author’s last name, the publication date, and, if applicable, the relevant page number or page range in parentheses . Include a comma after the year, but not after the author’s name.

For example: (Swan 2003, 6)

To automatically generate accurate Chicago references, you can use Scribbr’s free Chicago reference generator .

APA Style distinguishes between parenthetical and narrative citations.

In parenthetical citations , you include all relevant source information in parentheses at the end of the sentence or clause: “Parts of the human body reflect the principles of tensegrity (Levin, 2002).”

In narrative citations , you include the author’s name in the text itself, followed by the publication date in parentheses: “Levin (2002) argues that parts of the human body reflect the principles of tensegrity.”

In a parenthetical citation in MLA style , include the author’s last name and the relevant page number or range in parentheses .

For example: (Eliot 21)

A parenthetical citation gives credit in parentheses to a source that you’re quoting or paraphrasing . It provides relevant information such as the author’s name, the publication date, and the page number(s) cited.

How you use parenthetical citations will depend on your chosen citation style . It will also depend on the type of source you are citing and the number of authors.

APA does not permit the use of ibid. This is because APA in-text citations are parenthetical and there’s no need to shorten them further.

Ibid. may be used in Chicago footnotes or endnotes .

Write “Ibid.” alone when you are citing the same page number and source as the previous citation.

When you are citing the same source, but a different page number, use ibid. followed by a comma and the relevant page number(s). For example:

  • Ibid., 40–42.

Only use ibid . if you are directing the reader to a previous full citation of a source .

Ibid. only refers to the previous citation. Therefore, you should only use ibid. directly after a citation that you want to repeat.

Ibid. is an abbreviation of the Latin “ibidem,” meaning “in the same place.” Ibid. is used in citations to direct the reader to the previous source.

Signal phrases can be used in various ways and can be placed at the beginning, middle, or end of a sentence.

To use signal phrases effectively, include:

  • The name of the scholar(s) or study you’re referencing
  • An attributive tag such as “according to” or “argues that”
  • The quote or idea you want to include

Different citation styles require you to use specific verb tenses when using signal phrases.

  • APA Style requires you to use the past or present perfect tense when using signal phrases.
  • MLA and Chicago requires you to use the present tense when using signal phrases.

Signal phrases allow you to give credit for an idea or quote to its author or originator. This helps you to:

  • Establish the credentials of your sources
  • Display your depth of reading and understanding of the field
  • Position your own work in relation to other scholars
  • Avoid plagiarism

A signal phrase is a group of words that ascribes a quote or idea to an outside source.

Signal phrases distinguish the cited idea or argument from your own writing and introduce important information including the source of the material that you are quoting , paraphrasing , or summarizing . For example:

“ Cognitive psychologist Steven Pinker (1994) insists that humans possess an innate faculty for comprehending grammar.”

If you’re quoting from a text that paraphrases or summarizes other sources and cites them in parentheses , APA and Chicago both recommend retaining the citations as part of the quote. However, MLA recommends omitting citations within a quote:

  • APA: Smith states that “the literature on this topic (Jones, 2015; Sill, 2019; Paulson, 2020) shows no clear consensus” (Smith, 2019, p. 4).
  • MLA: Smith states that “the literature on this topic shows no clear consensus” (Smith, 2019, p. 4).

Footnote or endnote numbers that appear within quoted text should be omitted in all styles.

If you want to cite an indirect source (one you’ve only seen quoted in another source), either locate the original source or use the phrase “as cited in” in your citation.

In scientific subjects, the information itself is more important than how it was expressed, so quoting should generally be kept to a minimum. In the arts and humanities, however, well-chosen quotes are often essential to a good paper.

In social sciences, it varies. If your research is mainly quantitative , you won’t include many quotes, but if it’s more qualitative , you may need to quote from the data you collected .

As a general guideline, quotes should take up no more than 5–10% of your paper. If in doubt, check with your instructor or supervisor how much quoting is appropriate in your field.

To present information from other sources in academic writing , it’s best to paraphrase in most cases. This shows that you’ve understood the ideas you’re discussing and incorporates them into your text smoothly.

It’s appropriate to quote when:

  • Changing the phrasing would distort the meaning of the original text
  • You want to discuss the author’s language choices (e.g., in literary analysis )
  • You’re presenting a precise definition
  • You’re looking in depth at a specific claim

To paraphrase effectively, don’t just take the original sentence and swap out some of the words for synonyms. Instead, try:

  • Reformulating the sentence (e.g., change active to passive , or start from a different point)
  • Combining information from multiple sentences into one
  • Leaving out information from the original that isn’t relevant to your point
  • Using synonyms where they don’t distort the meaning

The main point is to ensure you don’t just copy the structure of the original text, but instead reformulate the idea in your own words.

“ Et al. ” is an abbreviation of the Latin term “et alia,” which means “and others.” It’s used in source citations to save space when there are too many authors to name them all.

Guidelines for using “et al.” differ depending on the citation style you’re following:

To insert endnotes in Microsoft Word, follow the steps below:

  • Click on the spot in the text where you want the endnote to show up.
  • In the “References” tab at the top, select “Insert Endnote.”
  • Type whatever text you want into the endnote.

If you need to change the type of notes used in a Word document from footnotes to endnotes , or the other way around, follow these steps:

  • Open the “References” tab, and click the arrow in the bottom-right corner of the “Footnotes” section.
  • In the pop-up window, click on “Convert…”
  • Choose the option you need, and click “OK.”

To insert a footnote automatically in a Word document:

  • Click on the point in the text where the footnote should appear
  • Select the “References” tab at the top and then click on “Insert Footnote”
  • Type the text you want into the footnote that appears at the bottom of the page

Footnotes are notes indicated in your text with numbers and placed at the bottom of the page. They’re used to provide:

  • Citations (e.g., in Chicago notes and bibliography )
  • Additional information that would disrupt the flow of the main text

Be sparing in your use of footnotes (other than citation footnotes), and consider whether the information you’re adding is relevant for the reader.

Footnotes appear at the bottom of the page they refer to. This is convenient for the reader but may cause your text to look cluttered if there are a lot of footnotes.

Endnotes appear all together at the end of the whole text. This may be less convenient for the reader but reduces clutter.

Both footnotes and endnotes are used in the same way: to cite sources or add extra information. You should usually choose one or the other to use in your text, not both.

An in-text citation is an acknowledgement you include in your text whenever you quote or paraphrase a source. It usually gives the author’s last name, the year of publication, and the page number of the relevant text. In-text citations allow the reader to look up the full source information in your reference list and see your sources for themselves.

If you are reusing content or data you used in a previous assignment, make sure to cite yourself. You can cite yourself just as you would cite any other source: simply follow the directions for that source type in the citation style you are using.

Keep in mind that reusing your previous work can be considered self-plagiarism , so make sure you ask your professor or consult your university’s handbook before doing so.

A credible source should pass the CRAAP test  and follow these guidelines:

  • The information should be up to date and current.
  • The author and publication should be a trusted authority on the subject you are researching.
  • The sources the author cited should be easy to find, clear, and unbiased.
  • For a web source, the URL and layout should signify that it is trustworthy.

Peer review is a process of evaluating submissions to an academic journal. Utilizing rigorous criteria, a panel of reviewers in the same subject area decide whether to accept each submission for publication. For this reason, academic journals are often considered among the most credible sources you can use in a research project– provided that the journal itself is trustworthy and well-regarded.

Academic dishonesty can be intentional or unintentional, ranging from something as simple as claiming to have read something you didn’t to copying your neighbor’s answers on an exam.

You can commit academic dishonesty with the best of intentions, such as helping a friend cheat on a paper. Severe academic dishonesty can include buying a pre-written essay or the answers to a multiple-choice test, or falsifying a medical emergency to avoid taking a final exam.

Academic dishonesty refers to deceitful or misleading behavior in an academic setting. Academic dishonesty can occur intentionally or unintentionally, and varies in severity.

It can encompass paying for a pre-written essay, cheating on an exam, or committing plagiarism . It can also include helping others cheat, copying a friend’s homework answers, or even pretending to be sick to miss an exam.

Academic dishonesty doesn’t just occur in a classroom setting, but also in research and other academic-adjacent fields.

To apply a hanging indent to your reference list or Works Cited list in Word or Google Docs, follow the steps below.

Microsoft Word:

  • Highlight the whole list and right click to open the Paragraph options.
  • Under Indentation > Special , choose Hanging from the dropdown menu.
  • Set the indent to 0.5 inches or 1.27cm.

Google Docs:

  • Highlight the whole list and click on Format >  Align and indent >  Indentation options .
  • Under  Special indent , choose Hanging from the dropdown menu.

When the hanging indent is applied, for each reference, every line except the first is indented. This helps the reader see where one entry ends and the next begins.

For a published interview (whether in video , audio, or print form ), you should always include a citation , just as you would for any other source.

For an interview you conducted yourself , formally or informally, you often don’t need a citation and can just refer to it in the text or in a footnote , since the reader won’t be able to look them up anyway. MLA , however, still recommends including citations for your own interviews.

The main elements included in a newspaper interview citation across APA , MLA , and Chicago style are the names of the interviewer and interviewee, the interview title, the publication date, the name of the newspaper, and a URL (for online sources).

The information is presented differently in different citation styles. One key difference is that APA advises listing the interviewer in the author position, while MLA and Chicago advise listing the interviewee first.

The elements included in a newspaper article citation across APA , MLA , and Chicago style are the author name, the article title, the publication date, the newspaper name, and the URL if the article was accessed online .

In APA and MLA, the page numbers of the article appear in place of the URL if the article was accessed in print. No page numbers are used in Chicago newspaper citations.

Untitled sources (e.g. some images ) are usually cited using a short descriptive text in place of the title. In APA Style , this description appears in brackets: [Chair of stained oak]. In MLA and Chicago styles, no brackets are used: Chair of stained oak.

For social media posts, which are usually untitled, quote the initial words of the post in place of the title: the first 160 characters in Chicago , or the first 20 words in APA . E.g. Biden, J. [@JoeBiden]. “The American Rescue Plan means a $7,000 check for a single mom of four. It means more support to safely.”

MLA recommends quoting the full post for something short like a tweet, and just describing the post if it’s longer.

The main elements included in image citations across APA , MLA , and Chicago style are the name of the image’s creator, the image title, the year (or more precise date) of publication, and details of the container in which the image was found (e.g. a museum, book , website ).

In APA and Chicago style, it’s standard to also include a description of the image’s format (e.g. “Photograph” or “Oil on canvas”). This sort of information may be included in MLA too, but is not mandatory.

The main elements included in a lecture citation across APA , MLA , and Chicago style are the name of the speaker, the lecture title, the date it took place, the course or event it was part of, and the institution it took place at.

For transcripts or recordings of lectures/speeches, other details like the URL, the name of the book or website , and the length of the recording may be included instead of information about the event and institution.

The main elements included in a YouTube video citation across APA , MLA , and Chicago style are the name of the author/uploader, the title of the video, the publication date, and the URL.

The format in which this information appears is different for each style.

All styles also recommend using timestamps as a locator in the in-text citation or Chicago footnote .

Any credible sources on your topic can be included in an annotated bibliography . The exact sources you cover will vary depending on the assignment, but you should usually focus on collecting journal articles and scholarly books . When in doubt, utilize the CRAAP test !

An annotated bibliography is an assignment where you collect sources on a specific topic and write an annotation for each source. An annotation is a short text that describes and sometimes evaluates the source.

The elements included in journal article citations across APA , MLA , and Chicago style are the name(s) of the author(s), the title of the article, the year of publication, the name of the journal, the volume and issue numbers, the page range of the article, and, when accessed online, the DOI or URL.

In MLA and Chicago style, you also include the specific month or season of publication alongside the year, when this information is available.

In APA , MLA , and Chicago style citations for sources that don’t list a specific author (e.g. many websites ), you can usually list the organization responsible for the source as the author.

If the organization is the same as the website or publisher, you shouldn’t repeat it twice in your reference:

  • In APA and Chicago, omit the website or publisher name later in the reference.
  • In MLA, omit the author element at the start of the reference, and cite the source title instead.

If there’s no appropriate organization to list as author, you will usually have to begin the citation and reference entry with the title of the source instead.

The main elements included in website citations across APA , MLA , and Chicago style are the author, the date of publication, the page title, the website name, and the URL. The information is presented differently in each style.

When you want to cite a specific passage in a source without page numbers (e.g. an e-book or website ), all the main citation styles recommend using an alternate locator in your in-text citation . You might use a heading or chapter number, e.g. (Smith, 2016, ch. 1)

In APA Style , you can count the paragraph numbers in a text to identify a location by paragraph number. MLA and Chicago recommend that you only use paragraph numbers if they’re explicitly marked in the text.

For audiovisual sources (e.g. videos ), all styles recommend using a timestamp to show a specific point in the video when relevant.

The abbreviation “ et al. ” (Latin for “and others”) is used to shorten citations of sources with multiple authors.

“Et al.” is used in APA in-text citations of sources with 3+ authors, e.g. (Smith et al., 2019). It is not used in APA reference entries .

Use “et al.” for 3+ authors in MLA in-text citations and Works Cited entries.

Use “et al.” for 4+ authors in a Chicago in-text citation , and for 10+ authors in a Chicago bibliography entry.

Check if your university or course guidelines specify which citation style to use. If the choice is left up to you, consider which style is most commonly used in your field.

  • APA Style is the most popular citation style, widely used in the social and behavioral sciences.
  • MLA style is the second most popular, used mainly in the humanities.
  • Chicago notes and bibliography style is also popular in the humanities, especially history.
  • Chicago author-date style tends to be used in the sciences.

Other more specialized styles exist for certain fields, such as Bluebook and OSCOLA for law.

The most important thing is to choose one style and use it consistently throughout your text.

The main elements included in all book citations across APA , MLA , and Chicago style are the author, the title, the year of publication, and the name of the publisher. A page number is also included in in-text citations to highlight the specific passage cited.

In Chicago style and in the 6th edition of APA Style , the location of the publisher is also included, e.g. London: Penguin.

A block quote is a long quote formatted as a separate “block” of text. Instead of using quotation marks , you place the quote on a new line, and indent the entire quote to mark it apart from your own words.

The rules for when to apply block quote formatting depend on the citation style:

  • APA block quotes are 40 words or longer.
  • MLA block quotes are more than 4 lines of prose or 3 lines of poetry.
  • Chicago block quotes are longer than 100 words.

In academic writing , there are three main situations where quoting is the best choice:

  • To analyze the author’s language (e.g., in a literary analysis essay )
  • To give evidence from primary sources
  • To accurately present a precise definition or argument

Don’t overuse quotes; your own voice should be dominant. If you just want to provide information from a source, it’s usually better to paraphrase or summarize .

Every time you quote a source , you must include a correctly formatted in-text citation . This looks slightly different depending on the citation style .

For example, a direct quote in APA is cited like this: “This is a quote” (Streefkerk, 2020, p. 5).

Every in-text citation should also correspond to a full reference at the end of your paper.

A quote is an exact copy of someone else’s words, usually enclosed in quotation marks and credited to the original author or speaker.

The DOI is usually clearly visible when you open a journal article on an academic database. It is often listed near the publication date, and includes “” or “DOI:”. If the database has a “cite this article” button, this should also produce a citation with the DOI included.

If you can’t find the DOI, you can search on Crossref using information like the author, the article title, and the journal name.

A DOI is a unique identifier for a digital document. DOIs are important in academic citation because they are more permanent than URLs, ensuring that your reader can reliably locate the source.

Journal articles and ebooks can often be found on multiple different websites and databases. The URL of the page where an article is hosted can be changed or removed over time, but a DOI is linked to the specific document and never changes.

When a book’s chapters are written by different authors, you should cite the specific chapter you are referring to.

When all the chapters are written by the same author (or group of authors), you should usually cite the entire book, but some styles include exceptions to this.

  • In APA Style , single-author books should always be cited as a whole, even if you only quote or paraphrase from one chapter.
  • In MLA Style , if a single-author book is a collection of stand-alone works (e.g. short stories ), you should cite the individual work.
  • In Chicago Style , you may choose to cite a single chapter of a single-author book if you feel it is more appropriate than citing the whole book.

Articles in newspapers and magazines can be primary or secondary depending on the focus of your research.

In historical studies, old articles are used as primary sources that give direct evidence about the time period. In social and communication studies, articles are used as primary sources to analyze language and social relations (for example, by conducting content analysis or discourse analysis ).

If you are not analyzing the article itself, but only using it for background information or facts about your topic, then the article is a secondary source.

A fictional movie is usually a primary source. A documentary can be either primary or secondary depending on the context.

If you are directly analyzing some aspect of the movie itself – for example, the cinematography, narrative techniques, or social context – the movie is a primary source.

If you use the movie for background information or analysis about your topic – for example, to learn about a historical event or a scientific discovery – the movie is a secondary source.

Whether it’s primary or secondary, always properly cite the movie in the citation style you are using. Learn how to create an MLA movie citation or an APA movie citation .

To determine if a source is primary or secondary, ask yourself:

  • Was the source created by someone directly involved in the events you’re studying (primary), or by another researcher (secondary)?
  • Does the source provide original information (primary), or does it summarize information from other sources (secondary)?
  • Are you directly analyzing the source itself (primary), or only using it for background information (secondary)?

Some types of source are nearly always primary: works of art and literature, raw statistical data, official documents and records, and personal communications (e.g. letters, interviews ). If you use one of these in your research, it is probably a primary source.

Primary sources are often considered the most credible in terms of providing evidence for your argument, as they give you direct evidence of what you are researching. However, it’s up to you to ensure the information they provide is reliable and accurate.

Always make sure to properly cite your sources to avoid plagiarism .

Common examples of secondary sources include academic books, journal articles , reviews, essays , and textbooks.

Anything that summarizes, evaluates or interprets primary sources can be a secondary source. If a source gives you an overview of background information or presents another researcher’s ideas on your topic, it is probably a secondary source.

Common examples of primary sources include interview transcripts , photographs, novels, paintings, films, historical documents, and official statistics.

Anything you directly analyze or use as first-hand evidence can be a primary source, including qualitative or quantitative data that you collected yourself.

The Scribbr Citation Generator is developed using the open-source Citation Style Language (CSL) project and Frank Bennett’s citeproc-js . It’s the same technology used by dozens of other popular citation tools, including Mendeley and Zotero.

You can find all the citation styles and locales used in the Scribbr Citation Generator in our publicly accessible repository on Github .

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How to Prepare an Annotated Bibliography: The Annotated Bibliography

  • The Annotated Bibliography
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Explanation, Process, Directions, and Examples

What is an annotated bibliography.

An annotated bibliography is a list of citations to books, articles, and documents. Each citation is followed by a brief (usually about 150 words) descriptive and evaluative paragraph, the annotation. The purpose of the annotation is to inform the reader of the relevance, accuracy, and quality of the sources cited.

Annotations vs. Abstracts

Abstracts are the purely descriptive summaries often found at the beginning of scholarly journal articles or in periodical indexes. Annotations are descriptive and critical; they may describe the author's point of view, authority, or clarity and appropriateness of expression.

The Process

Creating an annotated bibliography calls for the application of a variety of intellectual skills: concise exposition, succinct analysis, and informed library research.

First, locate and record citations to books, periodicals, and documents that may contain useful information and ideas on your topic. Briefly examine and review the actual items. Then choose those works that provide a variety of perspectives on your topic.

Cite the book, article, or document using the appropriate style.

Write a concise annotation that summarizes the central theme and scope of the book or article. Include one or more sentences that (a) evaluate the authority or background of the author, (b) comment on the intended audience, (c) compare or contrast this work with another you have cited, or (d) explain how this work illuminates your bibliography topic.

Critically Appraising the Book, Article, or Document

For guidance in critically appraising and analyzing the sources for your bibliography, see How to Critically Analyze Information Sources . For information on the author's background and views, ask at the reference desk for help finding appropriate biographical reference materials and book review sources.

Choosing the Correct Citation Style

Check with your instructor to find out which style is preferred for your class. Online citation guides for both the Modern Language Association (MLA) and the American Psychological Association (APA) styles are linked from the Library's Citation Management page .

Sample Annotated Bibliography Entries

The following example uses APA style ( Publication Manual of the American Psychological Association , 7th edition, 2019) for the journal citation:

Waite, L., Goldschneider, F., & Witsberger, C. (1986). Nonfamily living and the erosion of traditional family orientations among young adults. American Sociological Review, 51 (4), 541-554. The authors, researchers at the Rand Corporation and Brown University, use data from the National Longitudinal Surveys of Young Women and Young Men to test their hypothesis that nonfamily living by young adults alters their attitudes, values, plans, and expectations, moving them away from their belief in traditional sex roles. They find their hypothesis strongly supported in young females, while the effects were fewer in studies of young males. Increasing the time away from parents before marrying increased individualism, self-sufficiency, and changes in attitudes about families. In contrast, an earlier study by Williams cited below shows no significant gender differences in sex role attitudes as a result of nonfamily living.

This example uses MLA style ( MLA Handbook , 9th edition, 2021) for the journal citation. For additional annotation guidance from MLA, see 5.132: Annotated Bibliographies .

Waite, Linda J., et al. "Nonfamily Living and the Erosion of Traditional Family Orientations Among Young Adults." American Sociological Review, vol. 51, no. 4, 1986, pp. 541-554. The authors, researchers at the Rand Corporation and Brown University, use data from the National Longitudinal Surveys of Young Women and Young Men to test their hypothesis that nonfamily living by young adults alters their attitudes, values, plans, and expectations, moving them away from their belief in traditional sex roles. They find their hypothesis strongly supported in young females, while the effects were fewer in studies of young males. Increasing the time away from parents before marrying increased individualism, self-sufficiency, and changes in attitudes about families. In contrast, an earlier study by Williams cited below shows no significant gender differences in sex role attitudes as a result of nonfamily living.

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Reading and Study Strategies

What is annotating and why do it, annotation explained, steps to annotating a source, annotating strategies.

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What is Annotating?

Annotating is any action that deliberately interacts with a text to enhance the reader's understanding of, recall of, and reaction to the text. Sometimes called "close reading," annotating usually involves highlighting or underlining key pieces of text and making notes in the margins of the text. This page will introduce you to several effective strategies for annotating a text that will help you get the most out of your reading.

Why Annotate?

By annotating a text, you will ensure that you understand what is happening in a text after you've read it. As you annotate, you should note the author's main points, shifts in the message or perspective of the text, key areas of focus, and your own thoughts as you read. However, annotating isn't just for people who feel challenged when reading academic texts. Even if you regularly understand and remember what you read, annotating will help you summarize a text, highlight important pieces of information, and ultimately prepare yourself for discussion and writing prompts that your instructor may give you. Annotating means you are doing the hard work while you read, allowing you to reference your previous work and have a clear jumping-off point for future work.

1. Survey : This is your first time through the reading

You can annotate by hand or by using document software. You can also annotate on post-its if you have a text you do not want to mark up. As you annotate, use these strategies to make the most of your efforts:

  • Include a key or legend on your paper that indicates what each marking is for, and use a different marking for each type of information. Example: Underline for key points, highlight for vocabulary, and circle for transition points.
  • If you use highlighters, consider using different colors for different types of reactions to the text. Example: Yellow for definitions, orange for questions, and blue for disagreement/confusion.
  • Dedicate different tasks to each margin: Use one margin to make an outline of the text (thesis statement, description, definition #1, counter argument, etc.) and summarize main ideas, and use the other margin to note your thoughts, questions, and reactions to the text.

Lastly, as you annotate, make sure you are including descriptions of the text as well as your own reactions to the text. This will allow you to skim your notations at a later date to locate key information and quotations, and to recall your thought processes more easily and quickly.

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Annotating a text, or marking the pages with notes, is an excellent, if not essential, way to make the most out of the reading you do for college courses. Annotations make it easy to find important information quickly when you look back and review a text. They help you familiarize yourself with both the content and organization of what you read. They provide a way to begin engaging with ideas and issues directly through comments, questions, associations, or other reactions that occur to you as you read. In all these ways, annotating a text makes the reading process an active one, not just background for writing assignments, but an integral first step in the writing process.

A well-annotated text will accomplish all of the following:

  • clearly identify where in the text important ideas and information are located
  • express the main ideas of a text
  • trace the development of ideas/arguments throughout a text
  • introduce a few of the reader’s thoughts and reactions

Ideally, you should read a text through once before making major annotations. You may just want to circle unfamiliar vocabulary or concepts. This way, you will have a clearer idea about where major ideas and important information are in the text, and your annotating will be more efficient.

A brief description and discussion of four ways of annotating a text— highlighting/underlining, paraphrase/summary of main ideas, descriptive outline, and comments/responses —and a sample annotated text follow:


Highlighting or underlining key words and phrases or major ideas is the most common form of annotating texts. Many people use this method to make it easier to review material, especially for exams. Highlighting is also a good way of picking out specific language within a text that you may want to cite or quote in a piece of writing. However, over-reliance on highlighting is unwise for two reasons. First, there is a tendency to highlight more information than necessary, especially when done on a first reading. Second, highlighting is the least active form of annotating. Instead of being a way to begin thinking and interacting with ideas in texts, highlighting can become a postponement of that process.

On the other hand, highlighting is a useful way of marking parts of a text that you want to make notes about. And it’s a good idea to highlight the words or phrases of a text that are referred to by your other annotations.


Going beyond locating important ideas to being able to capture their meaning through paraphrase is a way of solidifying your understanding of these ideas. It’s also excellent preparation for any writing you may have to do based on your reading. A series of brief notes in the margins beside important ideas gives you a handy summary right on the pages of the text itself, and if you can take the substance of a sentence or paragraph and condense it into a few words, you should have little trouble clearly demonstrating your understanding of the ideas in question in your own writing.


A descriptive outline shows the organization of a piece of writing, breaking it down to show where ideas are introduced and where they are developed. A descriptive outline allows you to see not only where the main ideas are but also where the details, facts, explanations, and other kinds of support for those ideas are located.

A descriptive outline will focus on the function of individual paragraphs or sections within a text. These functions might include any of the following:

  • summarizing a topic/argument/etc.
  • introducing an idea
  • adding explanation
  • giving examples
  • providing factual evidence
  • expanding or limiting the idea
  • considering an opposing view
  • dismissing a contrary view
  • creating a transition
  • stating a conclusion

This list is hardly exhaustive and it’s important to recognize that several of these functions may be repeated within a text, particularly ones that contain more than one major idea.

Making a descriptive outline allows you to follow the construction of the writer’s argument and/or the process of his/her thinking. It helps identify which parts of the text work together and how they do so.


You can use annotation to go beyond understanding a text’s meaning and organization by noting your reactions—agreement/disagreement, questions, related personal experience, connection to ideas from other texts, class discussions, etc. This is an excellent way to begin formulating your own ideas for writing assignments based on the text or on any of the ideas it contains.

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How to Write an Annotated Bibliography - APA Style (7th Edition)

What is an annotation, how is an annotation different from an abstract, what is an annotated bibliography, types of annotated bibliographies, descriptive or informative, analytical or critical, to get started.

An annotation is more than just a brief summary of an article, book, website, or other type of publication. An annotation should give enough information to make a reader decide whether to read the complete work. In other words, if the reader were exploring the same topic as you, is this material useful and if so, why?

While an abstract also summarizes an article, book, website, or other type of publication, it is purely descriptive. Although annotations can be descriptive, they also include distinctive features about an item. Annotations can be evaluative and critical as we will see when we look at the two major types of annotations.

An annotated bibliography is an organized list of sources (like a reference list). It differs from a straightforward bibliography in that each reference is followed by a paragraph length annotation, usually 100–200 words in length.

Depending on the assignment, an annotated bibliography might have different purposes:

  • Provide a literature review on a particular subject
  • Help to formulate a thesis on a subject
  • Demonstrate the research you have performed on a particular subject
  • Provide examples of major sources of information available on a topic
  • Describe items that other researchers may find of interest on a topic

There are two major types of annotated bibliographies:

A descriptive or informative annotated bibliography describes or summarizes a source as does an abstract; it describes why the source is useful for researching a particular topic or question and its distinctive features. In addition, it describes the author's main arguments and conclusions without evaluating what the author says or concludes.

For example:

McKinnon, A. (2019). Lessons learned in year one of business.  Journal of Legal Nurse Consulting ,  30 (4), 26–28. This article describes some of the difficulties many nurses experience when transitioning from nursing to a legal nurse consulting business. Pointing out issues of work-life balance, as well as the differences of working for someone else versus working for yourself, the author offers their personal experience as a learning tool. The process of becoming an entrepreneur is not often discussed in relation to nursing, and rarely delves into only the first year of starting a new business. Time management, maintaining an existing job, decision-making, and knowing yourself in order to market yourself are discussed with some detail. The author goes on to describe how important both the nursing professional community will be to a new business, and the importance of mentorship as both the mentee and mentor in individual success that can be found through professional connections. The article’s focus on practical advice for nurses seeking to start their own business does not detract from the advice about universal struggles of entrepreneurship makes this an article of interest to a wide-ranging audience.

An analytical or critical annotation not only summarizes the material, it analyzes what is being said. It examines the strengths and weaknesses of what is presented as well as describing the applicability of the author's conclusions to the research being conducted.

Analytical or critical annotations will most likely be required when writing for a college-level course.

McKinnon, A. (2019). Lessons learned in year one of business.  Journal of Legal Nurse Consulting ,  30 (4), 26–28. This article describes some of the difficulty many nurses experience when transitioning from nursing to a nurse consulting business. While the article focuses on issues of work-life balance, the differences of working for someone else versus working for yourself, marketing, and other business issues the author’s offer of only their personal experience is brief with few or no alternative solutions provided. There is no mention throughout the article of making use of other research about starting a new business and being successful. While relying on the anecdotal advice for their list of issues, the author does reference other business resources such as the Small Business Administration to help with business planning and professional organizations that can help with mentorships. The article is a good resource for those wanting to start their own legal nurse consulting business, a good first advice article even. However, entrepreneurs should also use more business research studies focused on starting a new business, with strategies against known or expected pitfalls and issues new businesses face, and for help on topics the author did not touch in this abbreviated list of lessons learned.

Now you are ready to begin writing your own annotated bibliography.

  • Choose your sources - Before writing your annotated bibliography, you must choose your sources. This involves doing research much like for any other project. Locate records to materials that may apply to your topic.
  • Review the items - Then review the actual items and choose those that provide a wide variety of perspectives on your topic. Article abstracts are helpful in this process.
  • The purpose of the work
  • A summary of its content
  • Information about the author(s)
  • For what type of audience the work is written
  • Its relevance to the topic
  • Any special or unique features about the material
  • Research methodology
  • The strengths, weaknesses or biases in the material

Annotated bibliographies may be arranged alphabetically or chronologically, check with your instructor to see what he or she prefers.

Please see the  APA Examples page  for more information on citing in APA style.

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Creating an Annotated Bibliography

  • Writing an Annotation
  • Introduction
  • How Is an Annotated Bibliography Useful?

Writing the Annotation

  • A Sample Annotated Bibliography

Writing the annotation is the most difficult part of creating an annotated bibliography. Creating a bibliography in itself is fairly straightforward and is described in numerous writing style manuals, including the APA's and the MLA's style manuals. A writer needs only to be careful in documenting the facts about the source being listed and in properly formatting the information about the source to create a simple bibliography or reference list.

Providing annotations for the sources is a different thing entirely. The researcher must not only identify the sources, but must also read them in their entirety or at least review key portions of the entire works to arrive at a critical assessment of the value. Although the annotation might include information on article or book content, one of its aims is to evaluate the article or book. Things to observe might include the availability of statistical data, inclusion of photographs or illustrations, author's qualifications, presence of a reference list, historical significance of the material, etc. In short, review the source's content and features and evaluate it in relation to the topic you are covering. A collection of essays may only have one relevant essay. In evaluating the collection, you need only comment on the relevant information rather than try to cover the entire book. If an entire book has information relevant to your topic, hit the highlights rather than trying to cover the entire book in an annotation. Comment on the most useful chapters, on features of the book that proved useful (references, illustrations, statistics, etc.), and on the author's qualifications for writing such a book. For journal articles, focus on author qualifications, special features, recency, and references.

Keep in mind that the overall purpose of the annotated bibliography is to provide other researchers with enough information about the sources you've gathered to help them evaluate and select from among them.

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  • How to Write an Annotation

One of the greatest challenges students face is adjusting to college reading expectations.  Unlike high school, students in college are expected to read more “academic” type of materials in less time and usually recall the information as soon as the next class.

The problem is many students spend hours reading and have no idea what they just read.  Their eyes are moving across the page, but their mind is somewhere else. The end result is wasted time, energy, and frustration…and having to read the text again.

Although students are taught  how to read  at an early age, many are not taught  how to actively engage  with written text or other media. Annotation is a tool to help you learn how to actively engage with a text or other media.

View the following video about how to annotate a text.

Annotating a text or other media (e.g. a video, image, etc.) is as much about you as it is the text you are annotating. What are YOUR responses to the author’s writing, claims and ideas? What are YOU thinking as you consider the work? Ask questions, challenge, think!

When we annotate an author’s work, our minds should encounter the mind of the author, openly and freely. If you met the author at a party, what would you like to tell to them; what would you like to ask them? What do you think they would say in response to your comments? You can be critical of the text, but you do not have to be. If you are annotating properly, you often begin to get ideas that have little or even nothing to do with the topic you are annotating. That’s fine: it’s all about generating insights and ideas of your own. Any good insight is worth keeping because it may make for a good essay or research paper later on.

The Secret is in the Pen

One of the ways proficient readers read is with a pen in hand. They know their purpose is to keep their attention on the material by:

  • Predicting  what the material will be about
  • Questioning  the material to further understanding
  • Determining  what’s important
  • Identifying  key vocabulary
  • Summarizing  the material in their own words, and
  • Monitoring  their comprehension (understanding) during and after engaging with the material

The same applies for mindfully viewing a film, video, image or other media.

Annotating a Text

Review the video, “How to Annotate a Text.”  Pay attention to both how to make annotations and what types of thoughts and ideas may be part of your annotations as you actively read a written text.

Example Assignment Format: Annotating a Written Text

For the annotation of reading assignments in this class, you will cite and comment on a minimum of FIVE (5) phrases, sentences or passages from notes you take on the selected readings.

Here is an example format for an assignment to annotate a written text:

Example Assignment Format: Annotating Media

In addition to annotating written text, at times you will have assignments to annotate media (e.g., videos, images or other media). For the annotation of media assignments in this class, you will cite and comment on a minimum of THREE (3) statements, facts, examples, research or any combination of those from the notes you take about selected media.

Here is an example format for an assignment to annotate media:

  • Provided by : Lumen Learning. Located at : . License : CC BY: Attribution
  • Authored by : Paul Powell . Provided by : Central Community College. Project : Kaleidoscope Open Course Initiative. License : CC BY: Attribution
  • Authored by : Elisabeth Ellington and Ronda Dorsey Neugebauer . Provided by : Chadron State College. Project : Kaleidoscope Open Course Initiative. License : CC BY: Attribution
  • Annotating a Text. Authored by : HaynesEnglish. Located at : . License : All Rights Reserved . License Terms : Standard YouTube license
  • How to Annotate a Text. Authored by : Kthiebau90. Located at : . License : All Rights Reserved . License Terms : Standard YouTube License
  • Table of Contents

Instructor Resources (Access Requires Login)

  • Overview of Instructor Resources

An Overview of the Writing Process

  • Introduction to the Writing Process
  • Introduction to Writing
  • Your Role as a Learner
  • What is an Essay?
  • Reading to Write
  • Defining the Writing Process
  • Videos: Prewriting Techniques
  • Thesis Statements
  • Organizing an Essay
  • Creating Paragraphs
  • Conclusions
  • Editing and Proofreading
  • Matters of Grammar, Mechanics, and Style
  • Peer Review Checklist
  • Comparative Chart of Writing Strategies

Using Sources

  • Quoting, Paraphrasing, and Avoiding Plagiarism
  • Formatting the Works Cited Page (MLA)
  • Citing Paraphrases and Summaries (APA)
  • APA Citation Style, 6th edition: General Style Guidelines

Definition Essay

  • Definitional Argument Essay
  • How to Write a Definition Essay
  • Critical Thinking
  • Video: Thesis Explained
  • Effective Thesis Statements
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Narrative Essay

  • Introduction to Narrative Essay
  • Student Sample: Narrative Essay
  • "Shooting an Elephant" by George Orwell
  • "Sixty-nine Cents" by Gary Shteyngart
  • Video: The Danger of a Single Story
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  • Writing for Success: Narration

Illustration/Example Essay

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  • "She's Your Basic L.O.L. in N.A.D" by Perri Klass
  • "April & Paris" by David Sedaris
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Compare/Contrast Essay

  • Introduction to Compare/Contrast Essay
  • "Disability" by Nancy Mairs
  • "Friending, Ancient or Otherwise" by Alex Wright
  • "A South African Storm" by Allison Howard
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Cause-and-Effect Essay

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  • "Cultural Baggage" by Barbara Ehrenreich
  • "Women in Science" by K.C. Cole
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Argument Essay

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  • Rogerian Argument
  • "The Case Against Torture," by Alisa Soloman
  • "The Case for Torture" by Michael Levin
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CNW:3633 Personal Writing - Bonner, Spring 2024: Annotated Bibliography

Annotated bibliography.

What is an Annotated Bibliography? 

A bibliography, as you know, is a list of sources that you’ve used when researching your topic (vs works cited, which will include only the sources cited in the essay). An annotated bibliography includes a brief summary and evaluation of the usefulness of each source. Like the mind maps and outlines we used for the first essay, annotated bibliographies are a valuable way to organize your ideas for a research paper; they give you an overview of what has already been said and areas you could contribute.

Annotations are written in paragraph form. Each annotation should include the following information:

1. Medium (book, movie, article, etc.)

2. Purpose of the source (what did the creator of the source want you to take away?)

3. Summary of the key features or arguments in the source

4. Information on the author/creator and related credentials. Is it in a peer-reviewed journal? Is it a fan on YouTube? (Both of these are valuable, but would be used differently in your essay)

5. Failures or shortcomings of the source. Did it overlook something major?

6. The value of this source to your essay. How does it help you?

For the first assignment, you will create an annotated bibliography with 3 sources ; each annotation will be about one paragraph (150 words), so your final annotated bib will be about 450 words. These annotations will be in MLA format. You must include two web sources and one book. 

If you are looking for information on annotated bibliographies, these resources provide an overview and examples:

  • Purdue OWL - Annotated Bibliographies
  • Cornell University Libraries - How to Prepare an Annotated Bibliography
  • University of Nevada - Reno - Writing an Annotated Bibliography
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11.2: Annotation

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  • Athena Kashyap & Erika Dyquisto
  • City College of San Francisco via ASCCC Open Educational Resources Initiative

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Why annotate?

Writing notes can make reading more enjoyable.  Reading doesn't have to be passive; we can find our own voices as we begin a conversation with the text. As a step in the writing process, annotation can be invaluable. As we have seen in this book, most college writing assignments ask us to respond to other arguments.  e don't have to pull our ideas out of thin air. Early in the writing process, we can get ideas by rereading and making notes on any text we are going to write about. These notes will help us come up with specific points to make in our essay. We may even be able to copy and paste whole sentences of annotation into an essay first draft.

A young woman taking notes in a book.

Annotate to engage

Annotating can help us stay focused on, and emotionally and intellectually connected to, what we are reading. It suggests that we feel empowered to speak back to the text.

Annotate to understand

As we saw in Section 2.3: Making Notes on the Writer's Claims , paraphrasing the points next to the text can help us understand fully. It can also help us prepare to write a summary, as we saw in Chapter 3 . Noting any difficulties we have with understanding can remind us to ask or research the question later, and it can also get our minds working on solving the problem.

Annotate to assess, respond, and compare

If we are going to write an assessment of the text as we discussed in Chapter 4 or an original response as we discussed in Chapter 5 , annotating can help us get started.  We can note any possible strengths and weaknesses in the argument so we can later reflect more fully on the argument's validity.  Often these notes about possible strengths and weaknesses will point us toward our own original responses, suggestions, or counterarguments. 

Annotate to find evidence

Once we have an essay assignment, a topic, or an outline, we may know more specifically what it is we need from the text.  We can take notes specifically for the purpose of identifying points or quotations to incorporate in an essay.

Tools and formats for annotation

  • Underline or highlight words, sentences, and passages that stand out.
  • Write notes by hand on the margins of the text.
  • Consider using differently colored pens or highlighters to make the notes stand out or to identify different kinds of notes. 
  • Attach post-it notes with comments to the text.
  • Write a list of notes on a separate sheet of paper with the page numbers they refer to.
  • If your source is electronic, use the highlighting and commenting functions available in many e-readers.
  • If your source is a web page or PDF, use a digital annotation platform such as Hypothesis .
  • Keep a reading journal where you reflect in full sentences or paragraphs.
  • Keep a double-entry journal where you divide pages into two or more columns by the type of response.  For example, in the first column you might include quotation or paraphrases and in the second, you might include your questions, opinions. Be sure to include the page number or link to the part of the reading you were referencing.

An open book with extensive highlights and margin notes.


Adapted by Anna Mills from "MLA In-Text Citations," included in  Writing and Critical Thinking through Literature  by Heather Ringo & Athena Kashyap,  ASCCC Open Educational Resources Initiative . Ringo and Kashyap cite "MLA In-Text Citations" as adapted from the following sources:

  • English Composition 2 , provided by   Lumen Learning. CC BY-SA .
  • Successful College Composition  by   Kathryn Crowther, Lauren Curtright, Nancy Gilbert, Barbara Hall, Tracienne Ravita, and Kirk Swenson, provided by Galileo, Georgia's Virtual Library. CC-NC-SA-4.0 .
  • EDUC 1300: Effective Learning Strategies , provided by Lumen Learning. Public Domain: No Known Copyright
  • Writing for Success , provided by the Saylor Foundation. CC-NC-SA 3.0
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Annotated Bibliographies

  • Annotated Bibliography Using RefWorks

Sample Annotated Bibliography

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Formatting Annotated Bibliographies

  • Title your annotated bibliography either "Annotated Bibliography" or "[Topic]: Annotated Bibliography." Make the title bold and centered on the page. Confirm title requirements with your instructor.
  • Format your sources according to the guidelines for a typical APA References Page .
  • On the line beneath each entry, write your annotation. Indent the entire annotation 0.5 inch from the left margin, as you would any lines in the citation after the first line. The first line of the annotation should not be indented more than any of the other lines. 
  • Generally, annotations should be a paragraph long. If they are longer, make sure to indent each of the following paragraphs 1 inch from the left margin. Do not add a space between the paragraphs. Confirm length requirements with your instructor.

Writing Annotations

  • Always check with your instructor to confirm whether they would like your annotation to be  summative  (describing a source's content),  evaluative  (evaluating the usefulness or relevance of the source to your work), or for it to include  both description and evaluation .
  • Always check with your instructor to confirm the required length of annotations, and whether you should use phrases or complete sentences.

Demir, K., & Güraksin, G. E. (2022). Determining middle school students' perceptions of the concept of artificial intelligence: A metaphor analysis.  Participatory Educational Research , 9 (2), 297-312, .              In this article, Demir and Güraksin report on a study completed in 2019-2020 in Turkey. The researchers collected data on 339 middle school students' perceptions of AI. While this study was completed before the rise of popular generative AI chatbots such as ChatGPT, it can still give me important context and background on middle school students' perspectives on AI and could serve as a point of comparison to current attitudes.

[If you were writing a second paragraph, it would be indented like this one is].

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WR 153 Boston Homelessness Now (Spring 2024)

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Resources on Writing Annotated Bibliographies

  • Citing Your Sources
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  • Writing an Annotated Bibliography (University of Toronto)

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Take Your Reading Habit To The Next Level & Start Annotating Your Books

F or a minute there, it looked like books — and especially physical copies — might be going the way of the dinosaurs. But reading has taken on a whole new glamor thanks to the wild popularity of online communities like #booktok  and #bookstagram . With so much inspiring book content now making the rounds, many people are flocking back to reading or looking for tricks to engage with this hobby in whole new ways.

Enter book annotation, the perfect activity to take your reading habit to the next level. Annotation is all about analyzing and responding to the books you consume, turning your passive reading experience into a truly interactive hobby.

Maybe you're already a regular bookworm who wants to get even more out of your reading time and bring your own insight and creativity to the table. Annotation provides the outlet you're looking for. Or perhaps you're an aspiring reader looking for habits that will help you read more . After all, many of us struggle to just relax and enjoy a book. Even if we do have the time, a tendency toward toxic productivity may mean that our attention span keeps wandering back to our to-do list and other responsibilities.

Wherever you are in your current reading journey, annotation can help you feel a sense of progress and focus when you pick up a book. This, in turn, can encourage you to dedicate more time to your reading hobby. Sound too good to be true? Try it for yourself! Here's everything you need to know about annotating books, and how to get started.

What Is Book Annotation, Exactly?

Book annotation is a way of recording your own thoughts and reactions to the text you're reading, whether you're marking ideas to return to later or simply emphasizing a turn of phrase you particularly loved. Often, these notes are written directly into the book itself or added with bookmarks and sticky notes.

Annotation is a helpful tool for close reading and analysis, as it turns reading into an active experience. Instead of just riding the wave of the narrative, your brain starts looking for opportunities to make observations, keeping your attention more focused. This can help improve your memory and comprehension of the text. But while annotation has traditionally been a learning technique used for studying and academia, it can also be used to connect more fully with a book you're reading for entertainment.

You can use various techniques to mark up your text, depending on your style and goals. Some common approaches include highlighting or underlining significant passages, writing brief notes in the margins, and bookmarking pages to revisit. But these are just the tip of the iceberg. Many book enthusiasts prefer finding their own ways to annotate, such as adding doodles, iconography, or even full summaries at the end of a chapter. The world — or in this case, the book — is your oyster.

Reasons To Annotate Your Books

Wondering whether annotation is really worth your time? Let's put it this way: Annotation is a fantastic method to get more out of any book. For instance, say you're trying to learn something. You can annotate books you're reading for school, work, or your own self-improvement to better remember and internalize information. Whether it's a volume on American history or discussing reliable ways to build new habits , annotation enables you to highlight the information that seems most important and lock it into your memory banks.

Book annotation also helps you interact with your just-for-fun reads on a deeper level. Have you ever read a sentence that made your heart and mind scream internally? Grab a highlighter and preserve that moment for posterity. This kind of reading is like the literary equivalent of mindful eating, letting you savor the book from beginning to end. Plus, next time you read this copy of the book, your notes will make it feel like you're re-experiencing the whole journey hand-in-hand with your past self.

Annotation can even help you become a more analytical reader to improve your own writing. Annotate books you love to identify what makes them work, from character development and plot progression to the beauty of descriptive language. Picking apart the mechanics hidden in your favorite books will make you a more thoughtful writer and suggest new elements to examine in your own work.

Annotation Is Perfect For Any Type Of Text

If you're only accustomed to taking notes on books you read for school, annotation may not seem quite natural at first. But this technique can be adapted to almost any kind of book. For instance, annotating a nonfiction book like a memoir or how-to guide is only a short jump from studying your textbooks of yore.

Annotation is also a great way to enhance your connection with fiction, encouraging you to look deeper into the story and characters. This can enrich your experience with any novel. You can even annotate texts like stage plays or books of poetry. Use close reading to really delve into the themes and language, annotating the phrases or imagery that resonate with you the most.

You don't even have to like a book to enjoy annotating it. Just as you might enjoy mocking a bad movie with friends, use annotation to roast a truly awful read. It can be cathartic and satisfying to scrawl your critiques into the margins, whether you're frustrated with unlikable characters or problems in the writing itself.

On the flip side, it can be a lot of fun annotating a book you love and want to share with a friend. Leaving behind notes, exclamations, and highlighted passages will create instant points of conversation as the book's next reader follows in your footsteps. This is especially entertaining if you have a regular reading buddy, as you can both annotate and swap books back and forth almost like trading notes in class.

Can You Annotate Books Without Writing In Them?

If you're the type of reader who won't even fold down page corners, then the idea of writing in a book may give you the heebie-jeebies. Fortunately, there are plenty of ways to annotate and personalize your copy of a favorite text without doing any permanent damage. One of the easiest and most popular ways to annotate a book without writing in it is the liberal use of sticky notes and tabs. Just scribble down your notes or questions and stick them to the page like an annotation bookmark.

If you have a lot to say, you can also pick up a separate notebook or bullet journal to serve as a one-stop shop for all your annotations. Record your thoughts, copy entire quotations, and take notes on informative content. For an even quicker, more helpful reference, jot down the page or chapter numbers you're referring to. Just keep in mind that page numbering may vary between editions of a particular text. Keeping a separate annotation notebook is especially handy if you prefer to read a lot of library books rather than purchasing your own copies. You may have to return a library book, but you can keep your annotation notebook in perpetuity. 

But what if you're an aficionado of e-books? Good news, tech-savvy reader: You can also annotate digital copies of all your favorite tomes. Whether you're a fan of Amazon's Kindle, the Barnes & Noble Nook, or a third-party e-reader, chances are good that your app has annotation capabilities. These may include adding notes, bookmarks, and even highlighting passages. While annotating an e-book may not be as intimate and visceral as decorating a physical text, it still provides you with an outlet to track your thoughts and reactions.

How To Start Annotating Books

Once you decide to start experimenting with book annotation, a lot of it will be intuitive and specific to you. But before you get started, it can help to set yourself a few goals and ground rules to guide the arc of your annotation strategy. First, determine what kind of notes you want to make. Are you annotating purely for the joy of it? Then maybe your scribbled marginalia will be full of exclamations like "I love this!" and excited circles around your favorite phrases or moments.

If you're trying to emulate a book in your own writing, pick out a few specific facets you want to analyze and mark them as you go — whether you're more interested in big ideas like theme and structure or small flourishes like imagery and word choice. And if you're studying an educational book, you may want to start your annotation with an eye for unfamiliar terminology, key concepts, or useful explanations.

It can also help to create your own annotation color key before you begin, especially if you'll be making several different types of notes or remarks. For instance, use your favorite colored pen or highlighter to illuminate a phrase you loved, an aggressively neon color for things you want to remember, or a color you dislike for mistakes you'd want to avoid in your own writing.

You can also use colors to differentiate notes by purpose, such as using one hue to denote new vocabulary and another to highlight moments where the author cleverly derailed your expectations. Get creative and build this color code around your own annotation goals to make it work for you!

Book Annotation Supplies For Beginners

How you choose to annotate your book collection will obviously depend on your goals and style. But certain tools and supplies may be useful to keep on hand. After all, you don't want to miss a flash of inspiration just because you can't find a pen. And the more eye-catching you make your annotations, the more memorable and inspiring they'll become. To that end, your book annotation kit should probably include most or all of the following supplies.

First and foremost, treat yourself to some nice pens in various colors. Make sure they're pleasant to write with, but won't bleed through the page. Felt-tipped pens may be too heavy, so consider colorful ballpoints or classic gel pens. A ruler is also handy to help keep any arrows and underlining neat. A 12-inch ruler can be a bit unwieldy, though, so keep an eye out for shorter options, like a miniature six-inch ruler. You may also want to grab a pack of assorted highlighters, which are great for easily color-coding noteworthy phrases or paragraphs.

To take your book annotations further, consider including sticky notes, note cards, and annotation tabs among your supplies. These are all useful tools for including longer thoughts without cramming a page or making annotations without physically marking up the text. Plus, book annotation tabs make it fast and convenient to find sections where you left a lot of notes. Or, if you're trying to keep your notes entirely separate, don't forget a notebook for all your observations.

Annotating Informative Texts

When you're reading any kind of educational or informative book, annotation helps engage your brain by making studying more interactive. Plus, leaving yourself notes and bookmarks essentially creates a study guide as you go, so you know which chapters, pages, and passages to revisit when you want to review what you've learned.

To get the most out of an informative text, here are a few key ways to use annotation to your advantage. First, be sure to highlight any must-remember points. You can also mark passages you need clarification on, so you know where to dive deep or ask for outside help. By the same token, consider underlining moments where an explanation clicked for you, so you can cement the whole concept in your brain.

Sometimes, you may run across new ideas that aren't explained in the book itself. Mark any references you want to research more later, like unfamiliar scientific principles, mythological figures, or historical events. You can even broaden your vocabulary this way by tagging new words you didn't know before. In no time at all, your book will become more than the sum of its parts as you turn it into an index for your own education and growth.

Annotating Books Just For Fun

When it comes to annotating a book just for funsies, the options are nearly limitless. Highlight a favorite quote or a sensory detail that made your breath catch. Note down examples of successfully paced dialogue. Point out moments when someone seemed to behave out of character, and why you think so. Underline recurring imagery and motifs, then see if you can identify their significance as you read.

You can also record bigger ideas in your annotations, like plot predictions. Think you know who committed the murder or how the author is going to reveal a big twist? Make a note. Later, you can look back and see if you got it right. Sometimes, a book may even give you an idea for your own project. Go ahead and write it down in your annotations so you can keep reading without losing that spark of inspiration. And if you're the artistic type, there's no rule saying you can't draw in the pages of a book. Turn your favorite tome into a one-of-a-kind illuminated manuscript by doodling in the corners and margins.

In the end, book annotation is what you make of it. There are no hard and fast rules, just the gut feeling that something matters. Anytime a word, phrase, or plot development makes you pause, think about why it caught your attention. It's probably worth annotating!

Read this next: 13 Ways To Declutter And Organize Your Closet

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annotation in writing

The Best Annotation Tools for Readers

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Tirzah Price

Most of Tirzah Price's life decisions have been motivated by a desire to read as many books as humanly possible. Tirzah holds an MFA in Writing for Children & Young Adults from Vermont College of Fine Arts, and has worked as an independent bookseller and librarian. She’s also the author of the Jane Austen Murder Mysteries, published by HarperTeen, and Bibliologist at TBR: Tailored Book Recommendations . Follow her on Twitter @TirzahPrice .

View All posts by Tirzah Price

I know many of us are taught from a young age that we aren’t supposed to write in or mark up books, and while I do agree that should be the case with library books (as a librarian, please don’t do it!) or books you borrow from other people, I am a firm believer in marking up books you own — and not just for books you’re studying for school!

While I first learned about the joy of marking up my books when I was an English major, I think annotating books can be beneficial beyond educational or studying purposes! It can be a good way to experience what you read and a way to actively participate in the reading process by expressing yourself creatively.

While it’s true that all you need to get started is a book and a writing utensil, no fancy tools necessary, there are so many great tools to transform your books into colorful spreads of personal notes. And the tools out there aren’t just fluorescent highlighters and plastic tabs from your school days — there are so many kits and beautiful supplies, as well as smart tools like transparent sticky notes and stickers that simulate highlighters without having to actually highlight in a straight line. If you love to mark up your reading, or want to get started, then check out these beautiful tools!

Annotation Starter Kit ($13): These cute little starter kits with matching flags, pens, and bonus stickers are a great way to start out on your annotation journey.

An array of bookish flags in various colors with matching pens and bookish stickers

Genre Book Tabs ($8+): Choose the set that best matches your favorite genres, with options like magic systems, spice levels, and plot twists.

Four different bookmarks with various colored flags that are labelled with book appeal terms

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For My Bookish Shit Annotation Skit ($24): If you want a sweet annotation kit that slides right into a zippered case to bring with you wherever you go, this is the one!

A canvas zipper pouch with flags, annotation strops, and pens.

Annotation Bookmark Tabs ($11+): If you aren’t fussy and just want to keep your flags close, then grab these bookmarks with built-in tabs!

Three bookers with ten different colored tabs for various themes and appeals.

Floral Book Annotation Kit ($20): Do you want to take notes in addition to annotating your reading? Then these pretty floral kits are just the thing! They include flags, a coordinating pen and highlighter, a notebook, stickers, and a keychain.

A set of three different floral annotation kits, including pen and highlighter, flags, a notebook, stickers, and a keychain

Color Coordinated Annotation Kit ($9): Need to start small or need to refill your own kits? These coordinating tabs, pen and highlighter, and stickers are cute and affordable!

Various sets of tab kits with coordinating pens and highlighters, with bookish stickers

Annotation Stickers ($12): If you don’t like highlighting your books but still want the colorful effect, these clear stickers make your pages and notes pop!

A set of three clear stickers in lines squares, and hearts

Reading Log and Annotation Kit ($9): If you like to keep track of your overall reading and make notes, this reading log bookmark with annotation supplies is perfect.

reading log bookmark, highlighter, flat, and a magnetic bookmark

Library Card Sticky Notes ($4): Not keen on writing directly on your books? Use these sticky notes to make your notes!

sticky note pads designed to look like library checkout cards

Annotation Kit Mystery Grab Bag ($10): Not picky about perfect color coordination? Then buy this kit, which includes a grab bag of stickers, pens, highlighters, and tabs!

A colorful array of pens, flags, and stickers

Deluxe Book Lovers’ Annotation Kit ($25): Want to go all out? Get this kit, which includes pens and highlights, clear sticky notes, tabs, library notecards, bookmarks, and more!

brown box containing bookmarks, library notecards, flags, pens ad highlighters, and stationery

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Type Annotations! A guide to writing Luau code that is actually good

This tutorial aims to help people understand Luau’s type annotation feature, and how to write code that’s smarter and easier for other experienced developers to pick up and understand within Roblox’s ecosystem today!

IMPORTANT CAVEAT Roblox Studio has a bug where hovering over instance variables will sometimes misreport their typename as any . Fortunately studio’s autocomplete does recognize what the types are supposed to be, you just may have to manually annotate what their type is to make sure things work correctly. This tutorial will assume one of two things: You’re using Luau in Visual Studio Code, which handles this correctly. (Requires the Luau Language Server extension) Roblox has enabled their “ Luau Knows The DataModel Feature ” (via FFlagLuauKnowsTheDataModel3 )

What are Type Annotations?

Type annotations are a feature of Luau that allow you to define constraints to the variables in your code. They provide contextual clues to how your code is intended to be used, and blueprints for how to structure data. When these constraints are violated, warnings will be emitted by Luau’s analyzer suggesting that you fix them.

To make the most effective use of type annotations, it’s highly recommended that you add this comment to the top of your script:

It ensures variables will always try to give you a properly inferred type instead of falling back to the default “ any ” type.

Basic Usage

When you mouse over a variable, a tooltip should appear that describes what the variable’s type is.

You can explicitly define the type of a variable by writing them as such:

When annotations are explicitly defined, they will emit warnings if you attempt to assign values to them which don’t match their defined types:

Null Types and Refinement

Type names can be suffixed with a question mark ( ? ) to mark them as potentially nil . For example, Instance:FindFirstChild returns a type of Instance? to indicate that it may not have found a child with the specified name.

Attempting to index the fields of a nullable type will produce a warning. You must conditionally evaluate the variable’s existence. The nice thing is that Luau will automatically refine the type on the spot when this evaluation happens.

Consider the following example:

There are several ways to refine the nullability of this type:

Option 1: Inline refinement

Option 2: if statement refinement, option 3: return (or break/continue) refinement, option 4: assertion refinement, built-in types.

Luau has 9 built-in type names defined:

There are types for function and table as well, but they have a different structure which will be described later.

The last 3 types: any , never , and unknown , are special in that they don’t represent specific primitive types in Luau’s VM. They instead represent certain sets of all types in Luau:

any can store any type of value, effectively muting the type annotation system. You shouldn’t use this unless you have no choice.

unknown must have it’s type evaluated through the type / typeof functions in order to be stored or used as any other variable type besides unknown . However, it can still be assigned to any value directly:

never cannot be refined into any type. It’s usually not defined directly, instead appearing when attempting to do a type refinement deemed impossible:

Concrete Types

Roblox’s Luau environment defines “ concrete ” types for each defined engine type in the API Reference .

Concrete types are statically defined and can extend from one another, but they cannot be defined by Luau code directly. They are declared by the Luau vendor (i.e. Roblox) at runtime.

Concrete types can be refined from any / unknown through the use of Luau’s typeof function:

All of Roblox’s top-level concrete types are listed in the datatypes documentation.

Refining Concrete Types via “Magic Functions”

Consider the following:

Why does this print Instance instead of Part ? Well, it turns out the typeof function will only describe top-level concrete types !

For concrete types that are extensions of top-level concrete types, you’ll need to use certain magic functions in Luau to refine these extended types. ( “Magic” in this case being a hack on the C++ end, but it works™)

An example of this is Roblox’s Instance:IsA function:

Function Types

When declaring functions, you can annotate their arguments with types to make them more explicitly defined:

Return Types

You can explicitly annotate a function’s return type:

This is helpful when authoring a function knowing what it will return in advance. Luau will make sure to enforce that you’ve returned the correct type:

If you have a function that returns multiple values, you can wrap their return types in parentheses comma-separated as such:

If your function doesn’t return anything, you can leave the contents of the parentheses empty:

You can typecheck variadic functions by annotating the ... argument of the function:

Functions that return a variable amount of some type can annotated as ...T

Function Type Annotating

A function variable is type annotated by wrapping the typenames of the function’s arguments and return types in parenthesis, separated by an arrow -> .

One basic example to start with is a function that takes no arguments and returns nothing. It would use the following type name: () -> ()

Annotating Arguments and Returns

Function arguments and return types are defined in a similar way to how they are directly declared. They also may be optionally given argument names to help contextualize their use:

Nullable Functions

If you want to define a function as nullable, you can put a question mark next to the return type:

HOWEVER , there are a few places where you need to be careful with how you define them.

For example: (Instance, string) -> Part? is not a nullable function type, it’s a function that returns a nullable Part . You can fix this by putting parenthesis in the right place:

((Instance, string) -> Part)?

Tupled Arguments and Returns

Functions that take variadic arguments are written as ...T , and are not allowed to have a named argument:

Functions as Arguments

You can define the type of a function argument as a function type annotation:

Arrays in Luau’s type checker are defined by wrapping a type name in curly braces {} . For example, the return type of Instance:GetChildren() is defined as { Instance }

You can define what kind of values an array expects by annotating their type:


Dictionary types are a bit more in-depth. There are two ways you can define dictionary fields, both of which can be used at the same time.

Indexer Type

Array types in Luau are actually just a shorthand for a number dictionary indexer. In practice this means {T} is a shorthand for { [number]: T } which is how dictionary indexers are defined:

(Note: The typecast operator :: will be explained more later, it’s being used here to make the table declaration look a little cleaner)

You can define the indexer to be any type! For example, here’s a way to map Player objects to their positions:

Explicit Fields & Type Declarations

Type declarations are a core feature of Luau that I’ve refrained from talking about so far because their best use case is with dictionaries. You can use them to create concisely shaped structures for your tables!

Dictionaries are types in the same way that functions and other primitives are types. If you want to declare a table that starts nil but will exist later, you can do that!

Here are a few real use-cases:

Metatable Types and Object Oriented -ish Modules!

Metatables can facilitate artificial object-oriented classes, and they are supported in Luau’s type annotations! The syntax for it is a little strange, but the benefits of it outweigh the quirkiness by a long shot.

Here’s a simple Person ModuleScript example to start with:

There’s a LOT to unpack here, so here’s all the technical details if you’re interested to know more:

  • When we create an “instance” of the Person type using , this will allow us to call person:GetFullName() , because it will look for that function in the Person table!
  • local Person = require(script.Parent.Person)
  • type Person = Person.Class
  • This is useful for aliasing types with special behavior that can’t be defined with Luau syntax alone (i.e. concrete types, Roblox instances tied to the DataModel , and the magic type returned by setmetatable )
  • This is allowed because of some internal Luau jank. setmetatable ’s first argument type is a magic “generic table” type that is allowed to be typecasted into any table type, regardless of its contents. As such, there’s no reason to put any fields into the empty table since it’s better to define the fields with their respective types explicitly.
  • The evaluated return type of setmetatable is a magic type that tags the provided table type with the provided metatable type, and typeof scopes this all back into a type.
  • This resolves ambiguity that Luau has regarding what the type of self is, at the cost of needing to define the function with a . instead of a : .
  • There is an alternate way described in Luau’s official typechecking documentation (see the AccountImpl type) but it requires you to manually define a type for the metatable which I personally don’t think is as ergonomic as this strategy.

With all of that out of the way, now you can require this Person module from another script, import its Class type, and use it in both functions and dictionary types as we see fit!

Here’s a super lazy example of a School using the Person type we created:


So what was the deal with that :: operator earlier? This is a feature of Luau called typecasting, which allows you to override what the automatically inferred type of a value is.

Typecasts are allowed if the provided type can be converted into the target type. There are a few rules and points to be made of this:

  • Do this with caution understanding what you’re trying to do, because this effectively bypasses Luau’s type contracting and puts the responsibility onto you and whoever may maintain your code in the future to ensure it complies.
  • As soon as Luau gets a contextual clue to what the type is, the type will become inferred and cannot be inferred as another type.
  • Concrete types can be casted up into their base classes (i.e. BasePart → PVInstance → Instance ), but not the other way around.

Inline Typing

Consider the following untyped definition:

If we want to convert this to type annotations, we could declare the type explicitly like this:

This is fine, but we might only use this PlayersData type annotation once for the data variable, so we could just inline the type instead of defining a type alias for it:

As you can see though… this looks a little bit rough. It’s not very hygenic to have a multi-line type inline like this.

This is where typecasting empty tables comes in handy:

Now we effectively have the same type behavior, but in a more compact and readable structure on-site!

Unsafe Dynamic Access

At the moment, Luau warns when trying to perform dynamic table indexing on concrete types. If you absolutely know what you’re doing is fine, you can use a cast to any to get around this.

For example:

That’s all (for now) folks!

This isn’t every aspect of Luau, but it’s a lot of the core stuff I desperately felt was in need of a full proper best-practices tutorial. I’ll definitely update this more in the future if people would like to see more areas covered (such as generics and type unioning).

Feel free to check out Roblox’s official typechecking documentation as well for coverage of additional things I may not have covered here yet: Type checking - Luau

If it’s any help, I also have a few open source projects and modules that are fully --!strict Feel free to check them out:

  • Character Realism
  • BinarySearchTree
  • Terrain Generator
  • Parallel Worker
  • sm64-roblox

If you have any questions or addendums, feel free to reply. I’ll keep an eye on this post so long as there’s interest.

I am not really a developer (more so a retired clothing designer). But I cannot wait to see how fellow small developers use these to create awesome games for us users to enjoy.

Thanks for the sources you created! Hope to see amazing things come out of it!

max you’ve enlightened me godspeed

Thanks for this amazing tutorial, Worth the time.

It is really good, thanks for the tutorial. You explained it very clear. I read this topic carefully. I didn’t understand anything but it isn’t your fault. I’m dumb.

Thank’s Max for taking the time to write this guide. Very helpful

This isn’t a bug moreso a “known limitation”. The only reason the Luau VSCode extension doesn’t have this is because we made the design decision to use the types “seen in the eyes of the autocomplete system” for hover as well, whilst Studio chooses types “seen in the eyes of the diagnostics system”. You will notice that in both Studio and VSCode, you won’t get type errors for DataModel types right now.

For a bit more context, see Types a and Player cannot be compared because they do not have the same metatable · Issue #83 · JohnnyMorganz/luau-lsp · GitHub

Welp, that’s annoying. Hopefully this tutorial is still useful in principle as long as I was correct about autocomplete figuring things out.


Although I was already implementing type annotations into my daily code, I am excited to see this start to be adopted within the development community. Overall, I really enjoyed reading this tutorial, however, there did not seem to be a further elaboration on the :: operator, which I think would have been helpful.

After reading everything, I must say that it is pretty neat!

I am curious to know whenever you need to use these type annotations and how you can connect between Roblox APIs such as TweenService

I agree, I’ll definitely add a section about its other use cases.

With dictionaries, it basically comes down to my own personal preference. If I’m only going to use a type annotation to declare a variable’s structure once, then I can inline it in two ways:

The explicit way:

Or the implicit typecasted way (my preference):

Either is completely valid.

I just like having auto-complete and order to the chaos of dynamic typing. It’s the same reason TypeScript exists, because JavaScript has the same problem.

Great tutorial!

This thread sparked up an issue I had but threw in the backburner when creating types with variadic types. It’s a very simple issue and it goes as such:

Basically, even though a variadic generic is defined for foo , it seems as though the linter doesn’t allow a type and another variadic generic to exist simultaneously. This type of type definition can already be seen in things like OnServerEvent , where a type and a varag exist together.

Would you consider this achievable or is it just a limitation of Luau as of now?

I think you can wrap string, B… in parenthesis to make them act as one pack argument.

my typehack lives on! (i might not have been the first person to discover it).

One thing I want to add of note, if you do a generic type and use typeof, the generic params can be used insde that typeof statement.

I haven’t tested this yet but I wonder if a type involving generics and newproxy() coercion haha funny bug would work for metatables?

Bookmarked! This is such a great resource for strict typed luau!

Thanks clone trooper!

Metatables type definitions are the bane of my existence. However, I am pretty intrigued by this particular format by Slietnick (or whoever made it first, I just happened to stumble across this one):

I’ve incorporated this kind of metatable definition into all of my codebase. The unique part about defining metatable types like this is that you’re not forced to use the typeof keyword to define your types. Personally speaking, typeof is very “dirty” in the sense that its’ behavior isn’t always expected. Defining the metatable type with this method removes the use of typeof and thus makes the type “cleaner”.

There is one caveat, however. You must do a little intellisense trickery to actually have it working as intended:

The main issue I have with this strategy is that it doesn’t strictly enforce the contract of the implementation. The author/maintainer of the module has to make sure the manually defined type is synchronized with the implementation itself.

In other words, there’s no warning produced if you deviate from the type description. The only reason I’d see this being reasonable is if there’s a bug going on with generics and metatables necessitating this… which might be the case if it’s related to this bug I reported:

Either way, it’s not safe unless it’s contractually enforced. Casting to unknown breaks this contract.


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    Annotation is like a conversation between reader and text. Proper annotation allows students to record their own opinions and reactions, which can serve as the inspiration for research questions and theses.

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    Annotation is a tool to help you learn how to actively engage with a text or other media. View the following video about how to annotate a text. Annotating a text Annotating a text or other media (e.g. a video, image, etc.) is as much about you as it is the text you are annotating. What are YOUR responses to the author's writing, claims and ideas?

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  15. How to Write an Annotated Bibliography, With Examples

    Place annotations underneath the citation. Indent your annotation an additional 1 inch from the start of the entry (2 inches from the edge of the page). This differentiates it from the citation's first indent (1 inch from the edge of the page) and its hanging indent (1.5 inches from the edge of the page).

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    A brief description and discussion of four ways of annotating a text— highlighting/underlining, paraphrase/summary of main ideas, descriptive outline, and comments/responses —and a sample annotated text follow: HIGHLIGHTING/UNDERLINING Highlighting or underlining key words and phrases or major ideas is the most common form of annotating texts.

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    Write the citation and annotation - When writing your annotation, the complete citation should always come first and the annotation follows. Depending on the type of annotated bibliography you are writing, you will want to include some or all of the following: The purpose of the work; A summary of its content; Information about the author(s)

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    Writing the annotation is the most difficult part of creating an annotated bibliography. Creating a bibliography in itself is fairly straightforward and is described in numerous writing style manuals, including the APA's and the MLA's style manuals. A writer needs only to be careful in documenting the facts about the source being listed and in ...

  20. How to Write an Annotation

    Annotating a text or other media (e.g. a video, image, etc.) is as much about you as it is the text you are annotating. What are YOUR responses to the author's writing, claims and ideas? What are YOU thinking as you consider the work? Ask questions, challenge, think!

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    Like the mind maps and outlines we used for the first essay, annotated bibliographies are a valuable way to organize your ideas for a research paper; they give you an overview of what has already been said and areas you could contribute. Annotations are written in paragraph form. Each annotation should include the following information: 1.

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    Why annotate? Writing notes can make reading more enjoyable. Reading doesn't have to be passive; we can find our own voices as we begin a conversation with the text. As a step in the writing process, annotation can be invaluable. As we have seen in this book, most college writing assignments ask us to respond to other arguments.

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    Tirzah holds an MFA in Writing for Children & Young Adults from Vermont College of Fine Arts, and has worked as an independent bookseller and librarian. ... For My Bookish Shit Annotation Skit ($24): If you want a sweet annotation kit that slides right into a zippered case to bring with you wherever you go, this is the one!

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