Annotation and Close Reading*
Annotating a Text:
Annotation is a key component of close and critical reading in preparation for class discussions/seminars, writing assignments, analyses, research, and test/exam responses. Since we will annotate texts all year, you need to develop a system that works for you (within the following guidelines). Effective annotating helps you dissect difficult texts and to discern meaning from them. Many students practice a rather free-form method of annotation, making their texts look pretty, but providing little utility of understanding. Here are some common methods of annotating. The techniques are almost limitless.
Remember, marking your book is not annotating, you must include commentary – a brief explanation of why you chose to single out this word, line, or paragraph.
Use any combination of the following:
Circle or put boxes, triangles, or clouds around phrases you find pithy, representative of repetitive themes or images (motifs), and/or that reveal figurative language.
Note shifts in pronoun usage/narrative point of view.
Circle words the author uses for connotative meanings.
Circle words you don’t know and define them in the margins.
Connect important words, phrases, ideas, etc. with lines or arrows.
*Underline or highlight sentences that stand out, develop an argument or make a point. If you wish to mark an entire paragraph or passage, draw a line down the margin or use brackets.
Number related points.
Bracket important sections of text.
Use abbreviations or symbols - brackets, stars, exclamation points, question marks, numbers, etc. to develop your own code of meaning.
In the margins:
Summarize and number each paragraph (shorter pieces).
Define any unfamiliar terms.
Note any questions that come to mind.
Note possible connotative meanings of circled words.
Note any significant patterns or motifs.
Identify any outstanding language usage or writing strategies you discover.
Identify significant points or arguments.
Don’t simply mark a passage without stating why in the margins (unless it’s obvious). Don’t merely rely on your memory because you may not recall the context in which you first encountered the marked passage when you refer back to your marks.
To derive the greatest benefit from literature, you will have to be alert and focused while you read. You must read these texts closely; therefore, you will not want to put off your reading until the last minute. Many are short pieces, so you should read them more than once.
Read the text more than once.
Have a conversation with the text. Talk back to it.
Ask questions (essential to active reading).
Comment on the actions or development of a character.Does the character change? Why? How? What’s the result?
Comment on something that intrigues, impresses, amuses, shocks, puzzles, disturbs, repulses, aggravates, etc.
Comment on lines/quotations you think are especially significant, powerful, or meaningful.
Express agreement or disagreement.
Summarize key events.Make predictions.
Connect ideas to each other or to other texts and other works.
Note if you experience an epiphany.
Note anything you would like to discuss or do not understand.
Note how the author uses language and why it’s significant:
effects of word choice (diction) or sentence structure or type (syntax)—identify unusual syntax and specific diction that strikes you as significant. What effect does the author achieve by arranging the sentence that way? Why does he/she choose that specific word? Note unfamiliar words and their definitions.
repetition/patterns (motifs)—look for recurring elements within the text, including images, phrases, and situations. Ask yourself why the author may have used these repetitions. How do they affect you as a reader? How do they help accomplish the author’s purpose?
setting/historical period—read the text in context. Consider the time period in which it was written and the social and political atmosphere. How does the author reveal these contextual elements in the text? Does the author reveal a particular position on the issue? What word choices allow the author to accomplish this?
point of view/effect
reliability of narrator
motifs or cluster ideas
narrative pace/time/order of sequence of events
any other figure of speech or literary device
The most common complaint about annotating is that it slows down your reading. Yes, it does. That’s the point.
View the file: Annotation Example.pdf
*Hunter College Writing Center