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Annotating Digitally


Annotate as defined by Merriam-Webster means to make or furnish critical or explanatory notes or comments.

Annotating allows you to actively engage with text in a meaningful way. There are two basic ways to annotate a document:

  1. marking up the text by underlining, highlighting or circling words, phrases and passages, and
  2. writing notes in the margin.

Why Annotate?

  • Better understanding of the text. 
  • Remember key content.
  • Visualize the material.
  • Identify areas of interest.
  • Make connections.
  • Question and explore content for further follow-up.
  • Stay focused by fighting off distraction and fatigue when reading.

When Annotating Do…

Make your annotations meaningful. Several ways to accomplish this are:

  • Make connections to other areas of the text, other resources, or to your own work.
  • Interpret and analyze content that may need an explanation.
  • Summarize by identifying basic concepts and putting them in your own words.
  • Ask questions. If there's something in the text you don't understand, make a note of it. It will remind you to search for answers.

When Annotating Avoid…

  • Highlighting without context – Don't just highlight text, write out why you think it is important.
  • Highlighting everything! – It can be easy to get carried away and identify everything as important so be selective as you go through the text. You don't want to go back to a document that is just a giant yellow blob.
  • One or two word comments – Don't just write "good point" or "confusing". Expand on the note to identify why you think it's good or confusing.

The basic concept of annotation remains the same regardless of whether you are doing it manually with an actual highlighter and post-it notes, or digitally with an online tool. Below are guides for getting started with four different free tools that can help you annotate digital text. Not sure which one is right for you? Check out the Which Tool is Right for Me? section to see where you should start.


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