How to Annotate a Book: Easy Ways to Get It Done Perfectly

Annotate a Book

For me, I love annotating my books. Well, that’s by the way. On the one hand, highlighting and writing in the margins is one superb way to interact with a given text and leave a physical reminder of how a book made you feel at a certain time.

And on the other hand, it’s pretty tasking to get over the mental brouhaha of writing a book—it can be pretty hard, and it’s also hard not to overthink what’s worth writing down. And for many of us who’s got to annotate a book or who wishes to annotate a book, the question becomes; how in the world do we annotate a book, so the marks are made more easily?

No need to fret—I got you covered! Here’s how;

Before we do that, we do need to know what it means to annotate a book.

What does it mean to annotate a book?

Annotating is any action or step which deliberately interacts with a given text to enhance the reader’s understanding of, recall of, and reaction to the text. This is also called close reading, and annotating usually involves highlighting or underlining key pieces of text and not forgetting to make your notes in the margins of the text.

Why do we need to annotate a book?

We annotate a text because it ensures that you understand what is happening in the text after you’ve read it. And as you annotate, you should also remember to note the author’s main points, shifts in a certain type of messages or perspective of the text, the key area of focus, and your thoughts as you read.

Read also, What Is a Book Preface and How to Write an Amazing Preface

Nonetheless, it isn’t just for people who feel challenged when reading academic texts when it comes to annotating. The stuff here is, even if you often understand and remember what you read, annotating is said to help you summarize the text, highlight essential pieces of information, and finally makes you prepare yourself for all kinds of discussions. Even writing prompts that your instructor might give you.

When it comes to annotating, it simply means you’re doing the hard work while reading a book, which gives you the leverage to reference your previous work and have clear points for future works.

Tools for annotating

There are numerous ways to annotate a book. For this post, I’ll list and suggest the different methods later, but you need to know there are basic tools that you’ll need to begin with.

And it all depends on the annotation method that’s chosen—which means you can use one or more of these tools.


When it comes to this for annotating, they’re as old as humanity. Classic items. If you wish to get started with underlining and writing margins but do not want to commit to the dreaded task of permanently annotating your work, especially if you’ve got a change of mind in the future, then use pencils, and thank me; later!

You can use the blunt type of pencils that work best to erase later on. And if you’re using pens, you can use varying colors of pens for different kinds of annotations.

Take notes in the margins

You can apply the margins of your texts or book to write questions or chip in short notes about the given passages you’re reading. If you need to return the book at some point, you might want to consider applying a pencil so you can clear out your markings later, if it’s necessary.

You can circle, underline or comment on any key symbols that you come across in the text or book. And again, you can always keep a separate notebook for your longer or much more detailed entries.

Notes/ Sticky tabs

Sticky tabs are simply small tabs that are applied to point to a specific line in the page. There are various kinds available such as arrow tabs, rectangular tabs, and different color tabs.

Read also, How to Write a Book Epilogue in 7 Intriguing Steps

Sticky notes can be applied when you’re thinking of writing much stuff.

Create a Key with symbols

Well, if you don’t feel like cluttering margins with comments, why not develop your keys and play symbols to indicate certain notes, maybe for symbols, key turning points, imagery, or allusions.

You can reduce the markings you make in a given text and keep a distinct set of notes that elaborate on the symbols used.


When it comes to this, there are different kinds of highlighters that you can apply. The regular highlighters work just fine if you ask me, but if you don’t like the neon or bright colors, you can use mild-liners, which are pretty helpful too. But I love the neon color, my eyes are pretty in tune when it comes to them, and it quickly brings me back to the topic of discussion.

We also have the brush pens, which are pretty nice too when it comes to highlighting.

You can also use the Tom-bow brush pens because they tend to provide more control when highlighting due to the extra thickness of the brush tips.

And when you start annotating, here are the do’s and the don’ts

Do’s and Dont’s of Annotation

1. Annotate when you feel like, and do not make it a compulsory task. Look at it this way, you’re reading for fun; what’s the fun in it when you annotate like you’re in for some final exams? IN ESSENCE, let it come smoothly from you like cream on an apple pie.

2. NEVER ASSUME THAT YOU’LL ANNOTATE THE BOOK. Make sure you go in without that wacky idea. Otherwise, reading would be no fun for you. You may end up being so perfectionist. That is, looking for lines to underline or, worst, thinking of that one thing to comment on for each paragraph—isn’t that horrific in all degrees?

My titbit is to make sure you mark sentences by underlining only if they grab your attention or feel they are particularly important for the story.

You can write comments if you’ve got something to say or if the passage made you move a bit, and you’re helpless to get back to it from time to time.

Read also, How to Write a Book Foreword for a Book In 5 Easy Steps

The stuff that needs to be overly avoided is, holding that pencil or pen in your hand and ready to mark anything of consequence—this tends to distance us from the story. Do NOT look for reasons to apply your tools to your texts or your book. Could you make sure they’re a little away?

To make it easy for you, pick them up when you react to something in the book.

And when it comes to annotating, it could feel a little bit strange and useless at times initially. Still, over time, you’ll tend to see the use of it, and the habit would be fully grown. So, don’t expect to be an all-around pro from the start. It doesn’t work that way.

Things to look out for when you want to annotate a book;

Do get your tools ready when beginning; that’s the first criteria. The stuff to look out for are;

Recurring themes and symbols;

Yes, if you do notice recurring symbols throughout the given text or book, it would be nice to underline or highlight them—and that’s even if you don’t know what they mean yet.

This tends to make important connections and locate larger themes as you continue your read.

Moreover, if you aren’t sure what these themes or symbols symbolize, why not have notes to remind you of what you need to research?


Do jot down all questions that come to mind as you proceed in reading. These could stem from a surface level like, what does the author mean in this passage? To deep reflective questions like, what does this say about me today?

When it comes to questions, they tend to serve as reminders for parts you have no inkling about or fail to understand in all entirety. With this, you can revisit or use it as discussion questions for your book club, etc.

Unfamiliar words

You can circle or highlight any words you don’t identify so that you can easily find them and look them up later. One single word might not seem like much, but it does tend to make much difference in the way you understand the passage’s main idea.

Favorite passages or quotes

You can highlight or underline any quote that resonates with you; perhaps this could be because you find them pretty inspirational. Or because they tend to represent some turning point in your plot.

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Do make notes of these passages, which will help you find them easily and quickly. In addition, when you make notes or highlight in some way, this can help you remember those key lines or little texts that resonate with you.


I reckon that you are an active reader; that’s all that matters when annotating a book. When you annotate a book, it makes you a pro when reading and gives you the added impetus in having a nice reading experience; it doesn’t matter what type of book you’re reading, whether it’s fiction or nonfiction, it would put you through; it’s that good!

Whether it’s fiction or nonfiction, you’ll be forced to slow down and take notes of essential elements that you might otherwise have missed in some way, thereby fostering your level of grasping important points and becoming a good reader with time.

Remember, be an active reader—and annotating would help you with this as time goes on.

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About the Author: Neville Goddard

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