Friday, October 19, 2012

Annotate your text!

There is a new thread on the website of the Chronicle of Higher Education today about whether we professors should teach annotation of your reading material.

I agree wholeheartedly that we should!

But, you say, how? It's really quite simple.

Step 1: In each paragraph, look for the main idea--the "big picture," (sorry, I know I overuse that cliche, but I can't come up with anything more appropriate) and then highlight that.Your goal is to be able to go back through the chapter and be able to read the highlights and get a full picture of what that chapter is about. Sure beats re-reading the whole thing.

Step 2: Put a symbol of some sort in the margin for particularly important, surprising, or opinion-based ideas. For example, if something is clearly very important--like the first time that something ever happened or something that changed everything that came afterward, put a star in the margin. If it's something that really surprises you, put an exclamation mark in the margin. For statements that are the author's opinion (something that someone else might be able to argue), put a check mark in the margin.

Step 3: when it's time to review for a quiz or an exam, go back and read those underlinings and note the margin symbols.

Step 4: to figure out the main point of an article--what the author is arguing and what you should remember about that argument--go back and re-read just those underlinings that have a check mark next to them. Go through all of them, write the most important ones down in your notebook or computer file, and then you've got a good idea of that author's thesis.

Try this system or any variation you think will work for you. Trust me: it will make a difference. I have an awful memory and yet I managed to get through my doctoral comprehensive exams (written and oral testing of 160 books!) using this system. Without it, I never would have made it.

If you have another system, let's hear about it. Not every system will work for everyone. The point is to start talking about this and to start doing it. The bookstore is not going to give you any more money for your book if you sell it back to them in pristine condition. So, mark away!

1 comment:

J. Hang Li said...

Although I don't do this anymore but my mom used to have my sister and I memorize every text we read for school. And each week, we'd have to spit out every text from beginning to end without looking at the text itself! If you know the entire text, you won't have to worry about anything thrown at you on the test! It was such a torture.