How to Annotate Text

As part of any science class, you will be required to read about scientific topics, either as journal articles, news sources, and even charts and graphs. The ACT science test will assess your ability to read complex scientific texts, and hopefully by the time you get there, you will be pro at it.

One strategy for reading articles or textbooks is to ANNOTATE. Think for a moment about what that word means. It means to add notes (an-NOTE-tate) to text that you are reading, to offer explanation, comments or opinions to the author's words. Annotation takes practice, and the better you are at it, the better you will be at reading complicated articles.

First, determine how you will annotate the text you are about to read

If it is a printed article, you may be able to just write in the margins, a colored pen might make it easier to see

If it is an article posted on the web, you could also you Diigo, which is a highlighting and annotating tool that you can use on the website and even share your notes with your instructor. Your instructor may even set up an account with Diigo to make sharing easier.

If it is a textbook that you do not own (or wish to sell back), use post it notes to annotate in the margins.

annotated article

Now you will annotate the document by adding your own words, phrases, and summaries to the written text. For the examples below, the article "Guinea Worm Facts" was used.

1. Scan the document you are annotating, some obvious clues will be apparent before you read it, things such as titles or headers for sections. Read the first paragraph, somewhere there (or possibly in the 2nd paragraph) should be a BIG IDEA about what the article is going to be about. In the margins, near the top, write down the big idea of the article in your own words, this shouldn't be more than a phrase or a sentence. In composition class, this is probably called the author's thesis.

2. Underline topic sentences or phrases that express the main idea for that paragraph or section. You should never underline more than 5 words, though for large paragraphs or blocks of text, you can use brackets. Write in the margin next to these underlines a summary of the paragraph or the idea being expressed

3. Connect related ideas by drawing arrows from one idea to another, annotate those arrows with a phrase about how they are connected.

annotation connection

4. If you encounter an idea, word, or phrase you don't understand, circle it and put a question mark in the margin that indicates an area of confusion, write the question in the margin.

"Depending on the outcome of the assessment, the commission recommends to WHO which formerly endemic countries should be declared free of transmission, i.e., certified as free of the disease." --> ?? What does this mean, who is WHO?

5. Anytime the author makes a statement that you can connect with on a PERSONAL level, annotate in the margins a summary of how this connects to you. Write any comments or observations you feel appropriate to the text, you can also add your personal opinion

"Guinea worm disease incapacitates victims for extended periods of time making them unable to work or grow enough food to feed their families or attend school." --> My dad was sick for a while and couldn't work, this was hard on our family.

6. Place a box around any term or phrase that emphasizes scientific language. These could be words you are not familiar with, define those words in the margins.

" Guinea worm disease is set to become the second human disease in history, after smallpox, to be eradicated. " --> Eradicated = to put an end to, destroy

To summarize how you will annotate text:

1. Identify the BIG IDEA
2. Underline topic sentences or main ideas
3. Connect ideas with arrows
4. Ask questions
5. Add personal notes
6. Define technical words

Don't be intimidated, like many skills, annotating takes practice. Remember that the main goal for doing this is to give you a strategy for reading text that may be more complicated and technical than what you are used to. For you first assignment with annotation, you will pick a current news article that relates to something health, biology, or science related. Print or submit using diigo the article and annotate it according to the guidelines listed here. Here are some sources for scientific articles:


Scientific American

BBC News - Science and Environment

New York Times Science

Assessment Rubric

5 pts: A majority of the annotations are thoughtful, insightful, exhibits deep understanding of content,
4 pts: Most annotations are thoughtful, insightful, exhibits deep understanding of content
3 pts: Some annotations are thoughtful and show that student understands content and made an effort to read closely
2 pts: Very few annotations, at least 1-2 show that student has a rudimentary understanding of the content
1 pt: Very few annotations, irrelevant annotations, it is not apparent that student read the article

Annotations Checklist:

Asks thoughtful questions ___
Underlines author's main points ___
Summarizes or clarifies main points___
Identifies difficult or technical words ___
Adds personal connections or opinions ___