How to Annotate an Essay

How to Annotate an Essay

Letting your views and opinions about a topic flow is the point of an annotated essay. It may make some people a little nervous, but it is actually a place where ideas can be explored and communicated. It can be an invitation to let your thoughts on a subject fly.

1 Definition of Annotating

The key is to highlight major points in the piece and note your thoughts in the margins of the piece that specifically make connections that refer back to the key points. This can assist in preparing for written or verbal exams, studying for potential pop quizzes or cramming for a final exam in an organized way. Annotating a text can also help you to compose a well-crafted written response in your own words for an essay or debate rebuttal.

2 First Steps to Annotate

After reading the piece through, go back with a highlighter in the color of your choice. Do not be hasty in taking the highlighter to the copied piece. Be frugal in what you underline, and only underscore the passages that truly speak to your opinion and support your ideas. Highlight, circle or underline the main points as you go through the piece. If certain words or phrases speak to you, make a point to highlight those. Pay attention to the vocabulary used in the piece. If a word or phrase pops up in more than one place, it can give more support to your piece. Circle important dates, names and other data that is significant to the narrative, history or tone of the piece.

3 Following Through to a Great Ending

Your margin comments serve a few purposes. They label the type of material, either chronologically or in phases that build to the conclusion. Take notes about the paragraph’s topic. Be specific, so you know if it is worth your time to return to that paragraph in pursuit of proving your idea for the full essay or piece that you write. Jot down your reactions.

If a piece moves you in a certain spot, note that for future use as a quote or how it made you feel and supports your thesis. If a piece speaks to you and your past experiences, note that connection in the margins to assist you when you scan the piece for future reference. Consider how the issues brought up in the piece raised questions with your previous notions about the subject. The margins are also a good place to ask questions of the author of the piece if you do not agree with its direction or argument.

Kimberley McGee is an award-winning journalist with 20+ years of experience writing about education, jobs, business and more for The New York Times, Las Vegas Review-Journal, Today’s Parent and other publications. She graduated with a B.A. in Journalism from UNLV. Her full bio and clips can be seen at