5 Ways to Annotate Textbooks Without Marking Them Up

By Elise Nelson on January 15, 2018

Renting books or borrowing them from the library is no doubt the cheapest way to read. However, you’re then under pressure to keep the books in their best condition to avoid extra charges. Websites like Amazon or Chegg say you can write in your books minimally—how much annotation is too much?

Don’t put yourself under pressure. Try these five ways to annotate books without marking them up.

sticky notes, tabs, post-its

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1. Use color-coded Post-It notes

Sticky notes allow you to write down small annotations within the book without writing on the page. You can’t quite fit paragraphs of notes onto one little square, but you can jot down some questions or a few keywords to help you with studying later.

Post-Its also help with organization—choose a few colors and create a key for what each color means. For example, as the Performing in Education blog suggests, blue tabs indicate a main idea. Yellow tabs mark anything you don’t understand, so you know what to read over again later. Stick a green note to the page when you want to summarize a particularly lengthy or confusing passage. Finally, use a power verb to indicate what the author is doing on a pink tab.

If you prefer, this same method can also be achieved with sticky flags—in this case, a small note on the flag should indicate a corresponding longer note written in your notebook. There are also sheer flags that can be placed directly on the text!

2. Take notes in a notebook

This isn’t the most exciting method, and it can be time-consuming, but it is the most thorough way to annotate your textbook. You’ll need to have a spiral notebook handy when you read. Alternatively, you can use a small journal that’s easy to stash away in a bag when you travel.

How you jot down the notes is entirely up to you. You can be as detailed or organized as you’d like, but keep in mind that you’ll need to study these notes later, so they should be easy to follow.

When taking notes by hand, it gets overwhelming to decide what to write down. Focus on the important ideas, people, or terms in the text. Summarize the passages and define terms in your own words to make sure you understand what you’re reading. If you’re studying any calculations, include a few practice problems. When your notes reference a line of text in your book, be sure to jot the page number down for faster navigation.

book, open, notes, pen, reading

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3. Cover the pages with clear sheet protectors

If you’re the creative and crafty type, you can cover the book’s pages with sheet protectors. This method is similar to using sheer flags, except the whole page is protected. When the pages are protected you can go to town with underlining, writing, or highlighting. Trim the sheets to better fit the book and use dry erase markers. Once you’re all done with the book, simply remove the sheet protectors and run them under water to clear them off for reuse.

4. Download note-taking apps on your smartphone

We live in the age of technology—take advantage of that. There’s an app for everything, including book annotations. One popular app is Evernote, designed to keep you organized.

Evernote contains a camera feature for you to snap a photo of the pages you’d like to annotate. It’s better to zoom into the passages you’re marking instead of photographing the whole page. From there, you can highlight and add text next to the passage. Repeat this process for any other passages. It will seem time-consuming at first, but when you get used to the app, creating notes will only take a few seconds.

Sign up for Evernote for free here.

kindle, e-reader, female, reading

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5. Find an online or e-reader version of the text

Before you rent a physical copy of the book you should predict how much you’ll be annotating the text. If you’re someone who frequently takes notes within the book’s pages, it might be a better idea to find an online version of the text instead. E-books tend to have annotation features built in.

When you rent an e-book from Chegg, for example, you’ll see options for highlighting and adding “sticky notes” to phrases that you select. Amazon’s e-reader, the Kindle, has note-taking features as well. When you’re all done with the rental book, the notes will be wiped away.

It’s usually cheaper to rent e-books, anyway!

If you need to mark up the book, write as little as possible. Remember those scary warnings from rental websites. Avoid highlighting, as it is too permanent. Write short notes lightly in pencil and erase them when you’re finished. If you prefer underlining or circling, only mark the most important phrases and keep it neat, even if this means using a ruler.

Which of these clever annotation methods is your favorite?

By Elise Nelson

Uloop Writer
Elise is a senior at Albright College in Reading, Pa, studying journalism. She hopes to pursue a career in feature writing and editing for a magazine. Much of Elise's time is dedicated to being Editor-in-Chief of Albright's student newspaper, The Albrightian. She is also a member of Sigma Tau Delta English Honors Society, and co-hosts a radio show on WXAC 91.3 FM.

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