Writing Notes While Reading Will Improve Your Writing

Annotating Strategies

As a former English Literature student and even as a Writing Professor, I read tons of books and articles all the time. It is hard to not confuse the material if you are reading different material for different classes. However writing notes while you read can truly help you retain the information.

Writing notes while you read is also referred to as annotating.

Annotation is summing up information in a text or article by writing brief key points in the margins. It is an active reading strategy that improves comprehension and is the beginning of the learning and remembering process. It requires that the student take time to understand what he or she is reading and then put it into his or her own words.

Students who annotate their text read to make meaning rather than read just to complete the assignment. Though annotation takes more time, student actually spend less time studying because they are actually learning the material while they are annotating.

The difference between passive and active reading is like the difference between hearing and listing. You can hear what someone says without listening to the words, and you can read words passively without actively engaging in understanding what they mean” (The Write Stuff 23).

Active reading involves communication between you and the text; it’s a dialogue, not a monologue.

Here are the rules for writing notes:

  • There are NO rules!
  • It is important for you to understand that there is no right or wrong way to take notes. Take notes however you see fit.

  • Do not be afraid to write on your text. Many people are afraid of writing in their books. If you are one of these people, you can keep a journal and write in that. However, by writing directly in your text, you create a direct reference with the written material. The referenced material is easier to find in a book than in a journal full of notes. However, do what works for you.
  • But, DO-NOT over annotate. You do not want to highlight or take notes on everything. This will do a disservice for you when you have to go back and review your notes. You want to make things easier for yourself, not harder.
  • Develop a system. Experiment with what works for you and commit to it.
So you are probably still wondering what is writing notes and annotating all about right? Well, let me explain further.

  • Annotation simply means making a critical or explanatory note. In other words, it is a comment that you may choose to write down in the margins of a text.
  • Highlighting, underlining, circling a word, writing a definition or a comment in the margins are all examples of ways you can annotate.
  • Annotating and writing notes while you read is not only a tool for students, it is a useful tool for everyone. Whether you are reading a romance novel, an article, a business proposal or whatever, annotating will help you remember what you have read. We are all busy and can use a little help retaining the information we read.

Here are some benefits of annotating:

  • Provides a purpose for reading
  • Improves comprehension
  • Offers an immediate test of understanding and analysis
  • Increases concentration
  • Seldom necessity to reread the material. You can easily find passages in the text if you need to look it up later.
  • Creates a study tool
  • Helps you remember what you have just read

There are many different ways you can annotate. Here is just one way you may decide to annotate.

The Six Steps for writing notes:

  1. Preview the reading: Skim the title, the introduction, any bold face wording and pictures. Do this quickly to get a sense of what the material may be about.
  2. Think about what you already know about the topic: Tap into your prior memory about the subject. Can you relate to this topic or have you heard anything about it?
  3. Create questions to begin your dialogue with the text: Turn the titles and subheading into questions. See if you can create questions using who, what, where, when, and how.
  4. Read in blocks: Read 1-2 paragraphs or chapters at a time.
  5. Write in blocks: Write directly after you have read 1-2 paragraphs or chapters. Highlight, underline, circle, make comments, or ask questions about the text.
  6. Review: After you have finished reading. review the information. Go back and see if you can answer your initial questions you made. Do you have new questions about the text or new ideas? If so, write them down so you can share them with your teacher or classmates later.

Click here for a sample text that I annotated. Please note this is just an example of how I annotate. Everyone annotates differently. This sample is used only as an example.

Remember: Annotating and writing notes while you read takes time. These six steps will take longer than reading passively the first time you try it. However with practice, you will be able to do these steps faster and possibly do some of the steps in your head. You may even realize that what works for you is to only do steps 1, 4 and 5. And that is ok.

Do what works for you and stick to it so you can improve your reading comprehension.

Always annotate because...

  • It will help you become a more engaged active reader.
  • You will retain more of the information you are reading.
  • It saves you time by not having to go back and re-read the material again.
  • You will have notes later to review for class discussions, homework, quizzes and for writing assignments.
  • And remember: there are NO rules when annotating. However, it is strongly recommended that you do not over annotate.

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