Annotation Strategies

I feel like a copy-editor when I write in the margins of a book, but that’s only 5% of what I’m feeling most of the time. The other 95% of the time, I feel like a grave-digger, desecrating someone’s coffin, except accidentally. Like I had been carrying the shovel, tripped over my feet, and somehow lodged the shovel into the gravestone, which fell backwards and was too heavy for my to set upright and too stiff for me to dislodge the shovel. (I would expect this of myself – I’m extraordinarily clumsy.)

Either way, I still do it, talking to myself in front of a mirror in order to encourage myself to do it. It’s good practice. Good learning. I should annotate what I read in order to analyze an author’s style and figure out why it works, how it works.

To keep it speedy (and hopefully less distracting while I read), I use a serious of symbols and abbreviations. Here’s my list of them while I go:

chc – characterization

img – imagery

set – setting

cf – conflict, usually the big problem in the story

sum – summary, usually coincides with transitions, or info dump

sc – scene, usually will start with an action or dialogue

! – tense moment, high emotion, big reaction

trns – transition

cmx – climax

+ – complication, more pluses for bigger complication

❤ – I liked it

* – feels important, last time I used this was for important dialogue

While I look through my notes, I can tell you I include a lot of brackets, a lot of arrows with my symbols and abbreviations because I want to try to tell myself how long is the scene, how long is the summary. I try to keep it in the margins so it’s not distracting if I want to read or re-read the story.

A lot of the times, there’s a few fragments of thoughts too, example: I like this (<3) or is this the theme? History of the characters? Who’s this?

Happy reading!

Reading Comprehension

Before you can write, you have to learn how to read – the writer’s version of ‘before you can run, you must learn how to walk.’ Reading is an integral part of society. You do it through texts, on Facebook, from the inside of a book’s jacket as you evaluate if you should buy it or not…Once you know how to read and can evaluate for yourself what you (dis)like, then you will be on your way to becoming an English expert.

As a rule of thumb, with research for support, the more we interact with information, the more we remember it, which is why it’s important not to just to read a book but to play it out. If your goal is to learn how to write from reading, then you must comprehend others’ writing before you can comprehend your own.

Strategies to improve your analysis:

– Use post-it’s. I know when I really like a book (or when I don’t want to mark it since the marks may be distracting for me or the next reader), I use post-it’s to show/remember what I liked. I can use them to jot down initial reactions or questions to what I’m reading.

– Annotate. Use a pen, pencil, highlighter and mark up the book. For the same reasons above, we’re jotting down our responses. This is a good technique if you’re done with “light reading” and are willing to dissect your book.

– Code your book (Daniels/Zemelman 125). In the past, I have used different colored post-it’s or highlighters to represent what I’m marking. Maybe green means characterization, and red means imagery. The key is to use a sort of symbol to highlight something you might want to refer back to later.

– Another method I really liked was given to me by Daniels/Zemelman, called “multicolumn notes.” It’s a technique that uses columns to differentiate between summaries and thoughts. In their example, the left margin of a page is used to summarize ideas while the right margin was used to write down points of confusion, reactions, and questions (128).

The idea of annotations, which I will use to refer to all the previously given strategies, is that you are recording your response. If the book has elicited some sort of reaction from you, then depending on its intent, it may have been well or poorly received. For example:

Ex1: If you don’t care that somebody died, then this can be attributed to poor writing. You didn’t identify with the character and didn’t feel stereotypically sad for him. Other possible reactions include happiness or boredom. (Happiness can occur when you’re glad he died because he was that “annoying” character who you wished had disappeared at least six chapters ago. Yes, they do exist.)

Ex2: If you feel happy as somebody died but that was because your character succeeded in his plot for revenge, then this could be successful writing. You identified with the character, followed the story’s conflict, and were satisfied with the writing.

The point to annotating is that we are recording our responses in order to analyze if the author succeeded in convincing us to identify with their character or world. As informed readers, if they succeeded, we would like to replicate their techniques and record them for later use. As Mike DiMartino said, the purpose of a story is for an author to convince his readers of a certain worldview.  (Refer to the link below for Mike DiMartino’s to read more of his article. It’s really interesting.)


Daniels, Harvey, and Steven Zemelman. Subjects Matter: Exceeding Standards Through Powerful Content-Area Reading (Second Edition). Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann, 2014. Print.