But if you’re a current composition student (one who’s not
required to read To The Lighthouse)
you probably get tired of your professors teaching you how to annotate yet
again. Besides, you learned this skill in high school, right? Just throw in a
random highlight here or there and circle a word you don’t know. That will get
you the daily points. Yet this is only a small part of what annotating can do.
Your professors notice if you haven’t put in the sincere time and effort to
read a piece carefully. Additionally, you shortchange yourself the ability to
substantively learn good study skills.
Something I always see with my composition students is that
they have less to say if they have not annotated the piece I ask them to read
before class. Does this mean that without scribbling all over what you read
that you can’t understand it? Not necessarily. But here’s the reason that
annotating is absolutely vital to a good writing practice in your composition
course: technology is distracting and it’s all too easy to get pulled away from
your reading if there’s nothing holding you to the page.
We get it over in the Writing Center: it’s not always easy
to read what’s required for your classes when there’s so much distraction in
every place imaginable. But there are a few life hacks that actually do make
your papers stronger. First, annotate as you read, but take a second pass if
you don’t feel like you got everything. Also, look for those little compact
paragraphs that summarize the whole piece. Oftentimes, a writer will put their
point earlier in the text. Don’t be surprised if it doesn’t look like a
traditional thesis. It may not be at the end of the first paragraph, but it
will usually tell you what you need to know to read a piece effectively.
Also, take some time to look at the rhetorical strategies in
the text. How do they start their paragraphs? Do they use long sentences or
short ones? Oh, and what surprised you about the piece? Did you like/dislike
the way that the author presented the information? Summarize each paragraph if
this last question poses some difficulty for you.
All of this stuff matters. When it comes to your own
writing, you will have to make the same decisions.
Yes, we know that you know how to do basic reading. But annotating lets you actually slow down and understand what the writer wants to say. Skipping this step often means that we miss out on key moves in the text. That’s at least part of the reason why you freeze up when your professor asks a question during discussion. If you know the text (or at least have some notes to remind you what you read about), then coming up with an answer suddenly doesn’t seem quite as difficult.
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