Annotating Texts in the 21st Century

— Kate on

Let’s face it: There are some serious advantages to reading print or paperback books as opposed to tablets or e-readers. You can write in them, take notes, underline phrases, draw mustaches on the author’s picture, and gain the satisfaction of watching your bookmark move from the front to the back.

But paperbacks get damaged, they get lost, their spines break, their pages suffer water damage, or they get “loaned” to a friend (and you never see them again).

While e-books will never smell as good as paperback books, reading online has several perks—they live in the cloud, so they’ll never get lost or broken, and you can read from whichever device is most comfortable for you, so long as you can access the internet. We’d also like to share a couple tools and tips that’ll help you get the most out of reading and taking notes online.

1. Write as much as you want per annotation.

Say goodbye to being restricted to book margins:

book with notes in the margins

The beauty of using Owl Eyes to annotate is that you can write as much or as little as you want. And all of your annotations are stored on your profile, so if you wrote something particularly genius about character development in Macbeth, it’s pretty easy to dig it back up and use for an important essay or lesson plan.

2. Organize your annotations.

As cool as it is to color-code everything, I feel like carrying around the rainbow with you everywhere might get a little exhausting.

different colored highlighters with varying labels

Creative idea, but not the most convenient.

I mean, just imagine reading Crime and Punishment on the bus, and you come across a cool quote relating to the book’s theme. So you reach in your highlighter bag in search of your lavender-colored Theme highlighter, but you pull out your blue Foreshadowing highlighter by mistake! As you’re digging around in your bag, your yellow Literary Devices highlighter and green Plot highlighter go flying! And it’s all a mess and you lose your place in your book and your highlighters roll off the bus.

I’m exaggerating a tiny bit, but unless you’re sitting at a desk with all of your study supplies, it’s gotta be a pain to use this method.

Here’s how to sort your annotations on Owl Eyes: 1. Make an annotation. 2. View more options. 3. Tag it appropriately. 4. Save annotation.

Here’s how to sort your annotations on Owl Eyes: 1. Enter the reader. 2. Click the filter dropdown. 3. Filter by one tag, or five. (Or as many as you want.)

3. Reply to someone else's annotations.

At Owl Eyes, we’re all about collaborative learning. You might be reading on your own, or in a group, and have a question. You can write an annotation asking that question and someone else can reply to it. Alternatively, you could piggyback off someone else’s ideas about a book, and from there a whole discussion could sprout.

4. Insert links to multimedia.

You might be reading Homer’s Odyssey and get confused about what’s happening, but then you find a really nice infographic on the deaths in The Odyssey, so you link to it in an annotation so that everyone can see. You can do that!

5. Link to other annotations.

In this way, you can more easily make connections between the text—especially if you remember a moment early on that foreshadowed an event that’s happening in the current chapter, you could link to it and have a handy shortcut between one end of the book and the other!

I’ll admit that there are definite advantages to reading a paperback book, but it’s not always the most productive route, especially if you are reading for class. Try it out this school year and see what you think! If you’re getting tired of being buried in sticky-notes, this might be the option for you.

book with sticky notes sticking out of it

At least they've got the color-coding thing down pat.

If you have any other tips, leave them in the comments below!

Happy reading!