What is Annotation?

  • A systematic summary of text within the document
  • A key aspect of close reading
  • An active learning strategy that improves comprehension

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
  • Circle key concepts and phrases
  • Write brief comments and questions in the margins
  • Use abbreviations and symbols
  • Highlight/underline sparingly

As you annotate a text, ask yourself: how would I explain this to a friend? Focus on rephrasing and summarizing. The table below demonstrates this process using a geography textbook excerpt.


A common concern about annotating texts: It takes time!

Yes, it does, but that time isn’t lost—it’s invested. In return, your annotated notes will help speed up exam prep, because you can review critical concepts quickly and efficiently.

TIP: Try separating the reading and annotating processes— quickly read through a section of the text first, then go back and annotate.

Download PDF: Annotating Texts

REMEMBER: The UNC Learning Center is a great resource! Both Peer Tutoring and Academic Coaching can help you create a balanced approach to succeeding at Carolina. Our friendly staff is ready to help – drop by or make an appointment!

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 United States License. You may reproduce it for non-commercial use if you use the entire handout and attribute the source: The Learning Center, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

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.
*Example annotations use excerpts from: Press, F. (2004). Understanding earth (4th ed). New York: W.H. Freeman. 208-210.