Annotating Non-fiction Texts

Annotated PDF fileAnnotating is an essential practice when reading, responding to, and working to integrate sources in your own writing. To annotate means “to take notes on,” and annotation helps us to read actively and critically.

Part One: Review the purposes and practices of annotating non-fictions texts. In general, you will make notes (not just underline or highlight passages) that help you to identify and understand the following:

  • main point or thesis (authors’ purpose)
  • key ideas
  • authors (Who are the people who wrote this? What do you know about them?)
  • audience (Who is this document written for? How do you know?)
  • source-type (What would you call this document?)
  • organization or structure of document (What comes first, second? Are there section headers or document features that help you navigate the text?)
  • new vocabulary– look up and match with context
  • interesting and difficult passages that you would like to talk with your peers or instructor about
  • notes about why those passages interest and intrigues you and why passages are difficult
  • connections to your life experiences, connections to other sources (movies, books, articles, etc.), and connections to current or historical events

Part Two: Learn how to annotate electronically. Many students successfully use Preview on a Mac, and you can view a tutorial for Preview here. Adobe Acrobat DC is a free download available for both Mac and PC. You can check out this video tutorial for highlighting and annotating with Acrobat DC. There are other free and low-cost annotation programs as well. It doesn’t matter which tool you use. What matters is that you are using the tools effectively to help you make meaning while you read.

Part Three: Collaborative Digital Annotation. If you would like to annotate a text with other readers in real time, you can use an online web-based annotation tool like NowComment. NowComment allows you to upload a PDF or link to a digital text, use common electronic annotation tools like highlight and comment, respond and reply to other readers’ comments, and also shows “hot spots” where several readers have responded to a certain section of a text. It can be a great way to start a text-based conversation!


Note: For online sources, you’ll need to save them first as PDF’s to annotate. Make sure to save or export your annotations! You are required to upload annotated sources for many badging pathways.