The Best Ways to Annotate for Analysis Essays

The Best Ways to Annotate for Analysis Essays

The Best Ways to Annotate for Analysis Essays

The four years that comprise your high school experience are the foundation for future success. These are the years where you are building your academic resume, finding hobbies and interests that could lead to careers, and applying to colleges. That’s why it is so important to practice strong habits that will help you reach your goals.

Unfortunately, districts push classroom teachers to focus on mastery of Common Core State Standard objectives and to make up for Covid-19 pandemic learning loss over teaching essential study skills. Oftentimes, students end up having to teach themselves study skills, which leads them to pick up bad habits that get reinforced the more they practice them.

That’s why MEK wants to set you up for success by giving you the tools to excel in your studies. You can even read our blog, where we give you our expert tips for how you can get the most out of your current classes.

In that blog, we talked about the importance of setting aside time every day to review notes, practice skills learned in class, and read. But we also talked about an essential study skill: annotating texts.

Read on to learn about the importance of annotation skills and our guide to annotating texts!

What does it mean to annotate a text?

Annotating a text is, essentially, marking specific words and passages in a piece of writing that are important to you for a variety of reasons. It is the way in which you “talk to the text.”

Why is annotating a text important?

Annotating a text is part of being an active reader. When you are engaging with a text through annotating, you are building and improving your reading comprehension and analysis skills. This is because you are putting difficult concepts into your own words, asking questions about challenging passages, and making connections between your experiences and the text. You’re also better able to distinguish between essential and nonessential information. 

How do you annotate a text?

At this point in your high school career, you may already have your own way of annotating texts.  But if you don’t, let us help you out!

It may sound silly, but the first step to annotating is deciding what method you will use. Do you like to underline with a colorful pen or pencil? Do you want to use highlighters to make note of passages? Or do you want to create a key with symbols that mean different things (for example: put a star next to interesting sentences, circle new or difficult vocabulary, write a question mark next to passages that you have questions about). Check out an example of an annotation key.

How you want to annotate is personal to YOU. So, you get to decide what your annotations look like. But some helpful tools for the annotating process are:

  • Colored pens and pencils
  • Markers/highlighters
  • Post-its or tabs for marking pages

What should you look out for when annotating for an analysis essay?

Annotating is actually a pretty simple skill. But, if you’re annotating with the intention of creating an essay topic or for another purpose, it can feel overwhelming. Here’s a guide to what you should look out for!


Obviously, when you first start reading a book you don’t know the ending yet. However, there are specific details that you find in every story, whether it’s a novel or SAT passage, that lead you to the story’s conclusion. Think of these details as bread crumbs that lead you to your destination.

The details you want to annotate for are character names and descriptions, big events and conflicts, and how the conflict is resolved. Also, make note of quotes and narration that illuminate a character’s personality.

These particular details can help you analyze why a character is behaving in a certain way, and then, in your essay, you can explain the character’s actions through your analysis and use of evidence from the text.


It’s always good practice to keep a separate section in your notebook for new or challenging vocabulary. But a great topic for a literary analysis essay is diction. 

When annotating a text for vocabulary ask yourself: Does the author repeat words? If so, which ones? What do these words mean independent of the text and within the text? 

Also, consider the tone of the vocabulary the author uses in the text. How do these words inform your understanding of the characters? How do these words create a specific atmosphere?

In the end, it’s all about analyzing purpose. And it’s very interesting how one word can unlock a host of analysis essay topics.


While you are reading, you want to make note of any time a section of text makes you go, “Hm. I wonder what that means?” Then, you want to either write your question in the margin next to the quote or on a post-it that you affix to the page on which you have a question.

It’s important that you keep track of any questions that you have about the text so that you can ask your teacher. And these questions can even help you come up with ideas for essay topics later on!


Whenever you are reading and the story makes you feel happy, sad, angry, or any other emotion, underline or highlight the quote. Then, make a brief note about what the quote made you feel and why.

By identifying meaningful quotes, you’re exercising your analysis skills and drawing connections between your personal experiences and the text. 


Last, but certainly not least, always look out for literary devices when you are annotating. Click here to find a full list of literary devices, their meanings, and examples of the device in use.

In fiction, authors employ literary devices like symbolism or metaphor to develop themes, illuminate character motivations, or reveal conflict. 

Oftentimes, when writing literary analysis essays, a focus on literary devices helps create a thread for the reader that leads back to your thesis statement. So, always be on the lookout for literary devices and their purpose when you read.

Next Steps

Annotating is just one of many study skills you can use to enrich your writing, practice analysis skills, and improve your reading comprehension.

Whether you’re looking to master key concepts in challenging Advanced Placement and High School Honors courses or earn top scores on tough College Admissions Tests, our programs are designed to help you reach your goals.

Contact us today or register for one our SAT Practice Tests to get started!

Robyn Neilsen

Robyn Neilsen is a Content Writer for MEK Review. She was a dedicated English teacher in the New Jersey public school system for 13 years and is passionate about sharing resources, content, and tips for students and parents.


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