Chapter 2: page 12

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.

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