Until I started taking university level English classes, I never truly appreciated the art of annotating text and more broadly, note taking as a whole. As a child, I have always been told that books were to be read and not written in. However, as I started reading more texts, mostly those considered “difficult” (such as Shakespeare), it became increasingly harder to keep my thoughts in my head. Slowly, my thought process spilled from the comfort of my own brain to notebooks and finally the text itself. Looking back, it seems impossible that my essays on literature were of even a satisfactory quality without the intricate analyzing methods I use now.
The approach which I take when reading/annotating literature usually begins with reading the text as a whole or quickly skimming the passage I am analyzing. At this time I make sure to scribble down anything that jumps out at me, then re-read the passage of interest again, slowly and deliberately. If I am preparing to write on a specific topic, I jot down the question or statement I am arguing somewhere on the page, so it is always in the back of my head when reading that passage. An example of my annotating skills was this past close reading of Henry V. I began by quickly reading the passage, paying more attention to the tone of the text than the words themselves. I drew sloppy lines across the page when I felt changes in mood. I made sure to reread the text frequently, when I had a couple minutes before classes or before bed and every time I did, something subtle jumped out at me. By this time, when I sat down to write the paper a few days later, I had a general idea of how I felt about this text and the points I wanted to analyze.
I reread the passage, this time slowly and deliberately. I usually analyze the text in the sections that I previously marked as having a shift in tone. At this point I pay special attention to the literary devices used, the rhythm of the text, and any references (cultural or other) that have been made. Now my annotating moves from the margins to the printing instead, and involves lots of circling and underlining as well as reading out loud. It is also of great help, mostly when analyzing plays, to listen to someone else reading the passage of interest out loud. This helps me catch any structural patterns I might have missed, and more often than not clarifies why a certain choice of words was used in the text. At this point, I also make sure to look any words I might not understand or any references that jumped out at me (this often leads to hours spent on Wikipedia reading up on history). I know I successfully annotated a text when I can easily write about it. If I sit down to write an essay and I have no clue what I am doing, I know I need to go back and analyze the text more. On the other hand, when I sit down and can easily write a decent paper, I know it is due to the meticulous process of reading, jotting down notes, and re-reading.
By annotating the text, I feel like my writing has become a lot more concise and focused. I no longer feel the need to ramble on for pages. This is now done on my text and the paper is much neater and legible, with the book holding all the “behind the scenes” writing.
When it comes to taking notes on something that is not on paper, I usually have a much harder time. When viewing films, I try to watch the movie as a whole, once again making note of anything that jumps out at me, and then re-watching it. The second time around, I pause at certain scenes and replay clips that I find to be of interest. This is a rather time consuming process, and is usually more practical being done in one sitting. However, I have very little experience annotating film outside English 311 and have not yet mastered a system for doing this efficiently. As of now it consists of jumping back and forth trying to take note of anything I find particularly important, ranging anywhere from the visual choices the director makes to the way the script was written and acted out.