How To

5 Ways to Annotate Your Books

Sophia LeFevre

Staff Writer

Michigander turned Indianapolis transplant, Sophie spends her days as a marketer and front-end engineer for a venture studio. When she isn’t reading or helping startups grow their online presence, you can find her exploring national parks or watching the Food Network. She blogs about her reading life at Follow her on Instagram @_sophiereads.

To annotate or not to annotate: that is the age-old question of avid readers. On one hand, highlighting and writing in the margins is a great way to interact with the text and leave a physical reminder of how a book made you feel at a certain point in time. On the other hand, it’s hard to get over the mental block of writing in books. They can be expensive and it’s hard not to overthink what’s worth writing down. For many of us who have to annotate though (or who love doing so), the question becomes: how to annotate a book so your marks are done quickly and effectively? Here’s how. 

How To Annotate Your Books |

What does it mean to annotate a book? 

Simply put, annotation refers to adding your own thoughts or insights into a book or text.

As a non-fiction reader, I’ve always been a fan of annotating my text. Annotation allows me to come back to favorite passages, useful facts, or meaningful quotes.

If I decide to re-read a text, it’s always interesting to see what parts of a story were meaningful to me at that point in my life. Sure, I may be embarrassed at something I didn’t understand or a weird comment I made, but it’s a snapshot of the person I was.

How to annotate a book 

If you’re ready to start marking up your books, there are five different ways you can go about it. My favorite methods are to:

  1. Stick to highlighting
  2. Use colorful tabs (helpful if you can’t write in the book!)
  3. Create a key and use symbols
  4. Annotate fast, like a student
  5. Talk to the text

1. Stick to highlighting

If you are new to annotating your books or are still too skeptical about ruining the pages, highlighting passages is a great place to start. It allows you to remember favorite quotes or scenes without the pressure of writing things down.

I suggest finding a highlighter that won’t bleed through your pages!

A post shared by WAYS TO STUDY (@waystostudy) on

2. Use colorful tabs

Trying to learn how to annotate a book without writing in it? This is your method.

One of the lowest-pressure ways to annotate your book is by using tabs. While this is the least permanent method, you will have to remember to carry around your pack of tabs wherever you carry your book. There are a few ways to approach annotation via tabs:

  • Color-code your tabs to correspond to favorite quotes, dialogue that makes you laugh, scenes that make you cry, etc.
  • Use sticky notes to write down reactions to the text.
  • Just stick a tab on any and all sections you like – why complicate?

The Pin

3. Create a key and use symbols

Similar to the approach of using color-coded tabs, symbol-based annotation is a simple and cheap way to interact with text.

Come up with a personal book annotation key for yourself and assign symbols for favorite quotes (underline), favorite passages (asterisks), confusing passages (question mark), funny dialogue (smiley face), etc! The world is your oyster.

4. Annotate Fast, like a student

All grades and subjects will teach annotation differently, but here are some basic practices to annotate like a student:

  • Underline main ideas or claims the author is making. What should you be taking away from this book? What do you want to remember when you flip through it again?
  • Circle words you don’t know and (optionally) define them in the margin.
  • Put stars next to anything that gives you pause – either positive or negative. This can be anything that makes you stop and think. If you’d like, write notes on what the text made you ponder or question.

5. Talk to the text

Finally, as you read, write your thoughts, comments, and reactions in the margin as if you were responding to the story or author.

You can throw in other styles of annotations if you’d like (circling words, underlining phrases) – this method is all about interacting with the book on a personal level. Looking back at your annotations, you will be able to remember exactly how a book impacted you at that moment in your life.

Annotating book is something personal and customizable for every reader. Try to avoid putting pressure on yourself and have some fun with it! What ways do you annotate your text?