Critically Reading and Annotating a Text

This exercise is adapted (by Keridiana Chez with Kate Jenkins, Writing Fellows 2010) from R.M. Howard’s Writing Matters: A Handbook for Writing and Research (New York: McGraw-Hill, 2010).

Every text needs to be read a few times (as many times as necessary) for in-depth comprehension, and each time you read, you will discover new connections across the text itself and with your own developing ideas.

Reflecting refers to the important transition between getting the gist of a text and fully coming to terms with a text. Steps in reflecting on a text may include annotating it, which this tutorial guides you to do.

How to Annotate

A first step in reflecting upon a text is to reread it with a pencil or pen in hand (or a computer at the ready).

As you annotate, focus on some or all of the following:

  • Definitions. Look up and write down definitions of unfamiliar words.
  • Concepts. Underline what you think are the most important, interesting, or difficult concepts.
  • Tone. Note the writer’s tone–sarcastic, sincere, witty, shrill.
  • Biases. Look out for the writer’s biases and unstated assumptions (and your own).
  • Responses. Ask questions and note your own reactions and insights.
  • Connections. Make connections with other texts you have read or your own experiences.

You can see an example of an annotated text here. The annotations in this model reflect a range of ways of responding to and engaging with a text: noting questions, arguing, agreeing, reflecting, speculating, and making connections.

Because annotating is a deeply personal experience, your own annotations to any text will likely differ.

To Do

Using the skills modeled here, annotate a text assigned by your instructor.


  • Note definitions and concepts
  • Identify parts of the text that suggest tone or bias
  • Ask questions and note your own reactions and insights
  • Make connections with other texts you have read or your own experiences

 NEXT: The Double Entry Notebook

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