Chapter 2: page 11

Photo: Dan Curtis-Cummins


SFSU Professor Paul Morris describes annotation as dialogue, where the reader is able to engage in a written conversation with the author’s ideas. Until rather recently, this was most effectively done by writing directly onto a printed text or book. As an undergraduate, I remember distinctly making the decision early on that I would not sell back my textbooks, largely because I had spent so much time annotating in the margins that I felt a certain amount of ownership over those books and course readers by the term’s end. (I still have all of those books, some on shelves and others in boxes, and it is very rewarding to look back on who I was as a reader when I was an 18-year-old college student.)

In the courses I teach today, I demonstrate various ways that I continue to develop as a reader. I have always used personalized symbols in the margins of texts, like a star for ideas I like, a “Q” for Quotes I may use in my essays or papers, a “!” for an alarming or surprising idea. I often use ? for difficult or confusing concepts that I want to return to later, if I still don’t understand it by the time I’m finished reading the article or chapter. Or I’ll use that annotated question as a chance to engage in discussion with others and better understand the text later in class, with the help of my colleagues. My own personal annotation process models not only my own process as a reader, but that all readers continue to use annotation and develop their own annotation strategies as a fundamental basis for other reading strategies, like asking questions, approaching difficulty, and learning socially.

The world has changed and most people read on screen these days, both for school and leisure. This has also changed how people are able to read socially, where we can now ask questions in the margins that others can respond to in real time. In this book, we endorse for you to practice actively reading and annotating on screen as you read, as well as respond to others who may have a different understanding or interpretation than you. To get started and create your free account, visit There you can find an extension, or annotate any webpage by pasting before the URL (as you should see for this text if your instructor copied the URL correctly).

Reading as a Flexible Process

Being an active reader in the above ways also varies depending on what discipline you are reading within. For example, the way you read and annotate in a Literature class will vastly differ from the way you read, annotate, and probably take additional notes when reading a Biology textbook. Additionally, some subjects may be more apt to multimodal reading, involving animation or supplemental Youtube videos provided by the professor, or that you find to help your comprehension. The point is: not all reading is the same, and it is important to develop awareness of how to be flexible as a reader, recognizing the particular conventions of a ‘genre’ and discipline or subject, and adapting your reading strategies accordingly.

Reading like a Writer

Being able to recognize certain genres as a reader also involves recognizing the “moves” that writers typically make within those genres. Just like when you’re in a conversation with a new person, and you pick up on their nonverbal cues, mannerisms, and conventions, reading like a writer involves picking up on the language choices, audience, purpose and main message of the writer, as well as the way in which the writer presents those moves within a particular structure, style, and set of conventions. In the Supplemental Reading below, Thomas Deans describes the concept of Discourse Communities to refer to the way we recognize writer’s moves (and eventually make our own intentional moves as conscious, informed writers) within various different genres, cultures, and academic disciplines, all thought of as “communities of practice” that continually shape, and are shaped by, the Discourse created by you.

It is important to note, for discussion and your development as a writer, that while advanced readers recognize standards and constraints of various genres, and advanced writers make choices and moves within the expectations of the genre, that genres are also continually changing. As the academic community and the pop culture community become more inclusive, open-minded, and transformed by writers, speakers, and performers of the world, various genres, including standard English itself, are being reimagined and redefined, as new academic genres (like Spoken Word, for example), are emerging in the mainstream.

Supplemental Reading # 8:

Writing in Academic Communities by Thomas Deans

Asking Questions Like a Writer

One way to focus your active reading and annotation is to ask questions about what the writer is doing, in addition to what the writer is saying in various parts of the text. Reading in this way positions you as a critical reader who is not only engaged dialogue with the author, but is now learning from how this author writes. This is described by Ellen Carillo (2019) in the context of “rhetorical reading,” where active readers benefit from recognizing what the text (and writer) says and does, and reading like a writer to analyze how the writer uses ethos, pathos, and logos.

  • Ethos: How credible is the author to their intended audience? How credible are they to you? What do they do to establish trust or authority?
  • Pathos: How does the author make moves to appeal to your emotions as a reader? How does the author appeal to the emotions of other intended audiences?
  • Logos: How does the author make a logical argument? Why do they make sense?

Supplemental Reading #9:

Together, You Can Redeem the Soul of our Nation by John Lewis


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