What Is an Annotation?

annotation
"Annotations are the marks—underlines, highlights, and comments—you make directly on the page as you read" (The St. Martin's Guide to Writing, 2013). (Deux/Getty Images)

An annotation is a note, comment, or concise statement of the key ideas in a text or a portion of a text and is commonly used in reading instruction and in research. In corpus linguistics, an annotation is a coded note or comment that identifies specific linguistic features of a word or sentence.

One of the most common uses of annotations is in essay composition, wherein a student might annotate a larger work her or she is referencing, pulling and compiling a list of quotes to form an argument. Long-form essays and term papers, as a result, often come with an annotated bibliography, which includes a list of references as well as brief summaries of the sources.

There are many ways to annotate a given text, identifying key components of the material by underlining, writing in the margins, listing cause-effect relationships, and noting confusing ideas with question marks beside the statement in the text.

Identifying Key Components of a Text

When conducting research, the process of annotation is almost essential to retaining the knowledge necessary to understand a text's' key points and features and can be achieved through a number of means.

Jodi Patrick Holschuh  and Lori Price Aultman describe a student's goal for annotating text in "Comprehension Development," wherein the students "are responsible for pulling out not only the main points of the text but also the other key information (e.g., examples and details) that they will need to rehearse for exams."

Holschuh and Aultman go on to describe the many ways a student may isolate key information from a given text, including writing brief summaries in the student's own words, listing out characteristics and cause-and-effect relations in the text, putting key information in graphics and charts, marking possible test questions, and underlining key words or phrases or putting a question mark next to confusing concepts.

REAP: A Whole-Language Strategy

According to Eanet & Manzo's 1976 "Read-Encode-Annotate-Ponder" strategy for teaching students language and reading comprehension, annotation is a vital part of a students' ability to understand any given text comprehensively.

The process involves the following four steps: Read to discern the intent of the text or the writer's message; Encode the message into a form of self-expression, or write it out in student's own words; Analyze by writing this concept in a note; and Ponder or reflect on the note, either through introspection or discussing with peers.

Anthony V. Manzo and Ula Casale Manzo describe the notion in "Content Area Reading: A Heuristic Approach" as among the earliest strategies developed to stress the use of writing as a means of improving thinking and reading," wherein these annotations "serve as alternative perspectives from which to consider and evaluate information and ideas."