Annotation, or “How Do I Read a Book and Write a Paper in Three Days?!”

AnnotationWelcome to my newest blog feature! If you’re a regular reader of my site, you probably know that I’m now back in school for my Master’s degree. Well, after some thinking (more like my husband’s thinking!), I’ve decided to make “Master’s Musings.” This category of posts will explore things that I’m going through as a Master’s student, and some of the coping mechanisms I use to pull through the tough times. While these posts will be a little more narrative and reflect on my own life, there will be a moral to each story that you can walk away with–something that will hopefully help you in your future endeavors. So without further ado, read on for my first Master’s Musings, on reading a book and writing a paper in three days!

It’s not that I’ve procrastinated. I’m taking a graduate course in eighteenth century literature over the summer–we have only 15 classes. I know, I know. I’m insane. But I want to get my degree done quickly, and my favorite professor emailed me asking me to take his course, so I couldn’t refuse.

Anyway, long story short, I have to read Jonathan Swift’s A Tale of a Tub and write a 2-3 page paper on it by Monday. So now I’m thinking about a few things. (A) I’m not an eighteenth century person, (B) I want to graduate with a 4.0, and (C) This 2-3 page paper isn’t just some 2-3 page paper, it needs to be a concise blip of perfection. Am I hard on myself? Damn right. I want my Ph.D., and I grow more certain of that and more confident every day. This 2-3 page paper, which may mean so little to some,  means everything to me and I’m going to kick this paper’s butt.

But it’s a lot of work in little time. A Tale of a Tub isn’t an easy book–at least for me it isn’t. So I need to think of the most productive way to get this task accomplished. My saving grace for this week will be annotating my book.

What’s annotating?

Well, that’s going to be the “moral” of today’s post. Annotating is when you underline, highlight, bookmark, and write things in the margin of your book. I know there’s people out there who think writing in a book is some sort of crime. *cough*DAD*cough* However, I view it as a sign of love and endearment. Just like a favorite, old, broken-in sweater, annotating is a way to break in a book. It’s what differentiates my copy of a book from my classmate’s or my professor’s book. That copy will forever be mine. But academically, it serves another purpose. If you’re annotating as you read, you’re paying more attention and reading more closely. You won’t need to flip through the book as much when you go to write your paper. Also–if things spark your mind as you read, you can underline and write notes to refer back to.

So how do I annotate?

Well I guess, just like anything in life, everyone has his or her own method. I tend to be a very visual person, so I use different colored pens, post-its and highlighters. Here’s my method when I’m dead-serious about reading a text well for a paper:

Pen color 1: Used through the initial reading of the text. Initial notes, underlining, reactions are all done in this color.
Pen color 2: Used for class discussions. If supplemental material is suggested in class, it’ll usually end up written on the title page, front cover, etc. in this color.
Pen color 3: Secondary reactions while preparing for essay. This is commonly material that was touched upon in class, but I formulated my own ideas on later.
Highlighter: Only used for material I am POSITIVE I want to use in a paper. I typically use orange because I read somewhere in high school that the mind remembers orange better or some absurd BS like that. I’ve just stuck with it since. 😛
Post-its: Used to write notes that I don’t have room for in the margins, or to mark important passages.

Am I psycho? Yes. But I get my work done and I do my work well. Now I know this seems time consuming, but think about it. I talked about Tale of a Tub, section I, in class yesterday. But I’m on my own for the rest of the book. That means I’m really only doing one set of annotation. If I take the time to thoroughly read the text before starting my paper, I’ll probably immediately have my thesis and supporting evidence.

So, how do you read a book and write a paper in three days? Well first, lots of praying helps. Second, make sure you pay close attention as you read through annotation. I’ll be sure to let you know how I did on this paper as well. Good luck to all of you who also have papers!

P.S. And yes, annotations are usually as messy as the image! That’s half the fun!

EDIT: So 835 words and 5 rereads later, I’ve realized I’ve said nothing about what are good things to annotate. I’ll chalk that up to Jonathan Swift. 😀 But anyway, here’s the down and dirty about what you should annotate.

  1. Things you don’t understand: If there’s a word you don’t understand, look it up and annotate it. There’s nothing like my professor asking us if we know what Parnassus is and I can answer him with “The home of the muses in Greek mythology” because I annotated beforehand. +1 for Kelly!
  2. Things that peak your interest. Interesting phrase? Word choice? Idea? You never know when you can derive a thesis, title, or whatever from it.
  3. Outside connections. Whether it be to other books, poems, the author’s life, etc. Outside connections can be the start of some awesome essays.
  4. The theme of your class. If you’re taking a higher level English class, it very well might have a theme. If you can connect certain sections to that theme, go for it.

Sorry for being an airhead, good luck!

Posted in Legacy.