The art of annotation: How wrecking your textbook can help you pass a college class
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The art of annotation: How wrecking your textbook can help you pass a college class

Sample Annotation
Photo credit Aaryan Kothapalli, via

Like every college student, I had to buy books for all of my classes. And yes, they were expensive. Add in the fact that I was raised by a grade school English teacher who was adamant about proper book care, and the thought of marking up brand new books was basically sacrilegious to me!

But sometime during the first semester of my freshman year, I realized that it would be a lot easier for me to remember my thought process if I could just jot down a quick note or two in my books.

"Why not?" I thought. "I bought them, they're my books."

There's even a fancy word for it: annotation, which basically means scribbling your own notes, comments and highlights into your textbook as you read.

I started by marking or highlighting occasional passages in a novels that seemed to bear significance. Soon, I was putting question marks next to words and phrases that confused me. Eventually, I began to mark up my textbooks too, so I could quickly find information that I needed.

This method of note-taking has had a huge impact on my reading comprehension. Annotating has changed the way that I study, and I’m a more effective reader because of it.

If your'e thinking about trying it, here are some quick tips for beginning annotators:

1. Hold a pencil, pen, or highlighter as you read. Annotation is useful when you read books, textbooks, articles, poems, or basically anything else!

2. Use different colors to emphasize different information. Highlight/mark key terms in yellow, and facts and statistics in blue, for example.

3. Look up words that confuse you. Then, scribble the quick definitions or synonyms in margins.

4. Write a quick summary, thought, or opinion after a tough paragraph. After a big chunk of information, or a particularly complex thought or sentence, write a quick summary/thought/opinion of the passage off the the side, so you can go back to it later when reviewing the info.

5. If something strikes you in a particular way, mark it. Use circles, underlines, box, starts, brackets, question marks … whatever your go-to symbol is. This will help you recognize confusing information, or something you think you’ll need to know, remember, contemplate …

6. Use sticky notes. If you’re really committed to selling back your book, you can always use sticky notes to avoid wrecking the text. Or, to mark a page if you don’t want to bend the book’s corner. 

Happy annotating!

Want to know more?

For help with annotating or other study habits that will help you succeed in college, contact the Academic Peer Mentors at Briar Cliff.


Jamie Jacobsen


Jamie Jacobsen ('18) is a sophomore English major from Treynor, Iowa. She is also an Academic Peer Mentor (APM) at Briar Cliff, which means she helps other students find ways to succeed in college. If you can't find her on campus, search the trails around BCU — where she'll be logging miles to stay in shape for Charger track and cross country.

Tags: Parents, Academic Resource Commons, APM, TRIO