Whether you are reading a meeting brief or a demanding novel, annotating the text makes your reading more efficient. It helps you slow down and pay close attention to the words on the page, while also allowing you to remember what was important once you go back for a second reading.
Here’s how to get the most out of annotating your texts:
DO always keep a pencil handy. If you are not used to annotating texts, the first step is to get into the habit of having a pencil within reach at all times. This will allow you to jot down your thoughts immediately, and you won’t be tempted to put it off until later, when you will probably have forgotten what exactly caught your eye. If you are mostly reading books, a good idea is to use your pencil as a bookmark. In this case, e-readers are particularly useful because they already have an integrated tool for writing notes. If you mainly read documents, having a pen in every bag and on every desk works just as well.
DON’T highlight everything. Although annotation primarily focuses on note-taking, highlighting texts can be a beneficial addition to the process. As you are reading, suddenly everything seems important, and it is tempting to highlight most of the text. However, that takes away its benefits. Focus on what is most important to you and only underscore that. This does not always have to be a complete sentence; it can be just a fragment or even a single word.
DO use colours. If you choose to highlight it is a good idea to choose different colours. You could have a different colour depending on levels of importance or according to theme. To keep track of what the different colours mean, it is a good idea to note it down somewhere, preferably at the beginning of the text.
DON’T limit yourself to underlining. Underlining is not the only way to make parts of a text stand out. You might want to consider circling words of interest or using brackets to single a sentence out. Here you can also use symbols; putting an exclamation or question mark in the margin is an easy way to put down your thoughts. Flagging pages with small sticky notes can also be useful when trying to find particular passages. Again, colours can help you organise them.
DO use a ruler. I can’t say I stick to this one myself, and it’s definitely not a necessity, but if you want to be really neat, use a ruler to underline. It’s one more thing to carry around, but it makes a big difference in terms of looks. Using a ruler might be worth thinking about if it is an especially meaningful or important text.
DON’T write too much. Annotating does not replace actual, separate note-taking. Annotations are meant to be short and capture your most important thoughts and comments. Therefore, keep it to keywords and short sentences, on which you can then elaborate later on.
DO make use of the margins. Some people don’t like writing in books, but the margins offer the perfect space for your annotations. The small area forces you to be brief and stick to what is most important. You can use the blank pages at the front or back of a document for more thorough notes. If you despise writing in books or if it is not yours, you may want to use a sticky note instead.
DO stick to your technique. There is no one rule on how to annotate text; these are just a few things that tend to work well. Once you have devised your system, stick to it, and use it whenever you are annotating texts. Forming this habit will make your reading easier, more focused, and ultimately more memorable.