Barbara K. Ige, Ph.D.
Arts and Humanities, Literature
Material Type:
Student Guide
Community College / Lower Division
Analyzing Literature, Annotation, Handout, https-www-oercommons-org-courseware-lesson-69309-s,
Creative Commons Attribution Non-Commercial

Analyzing Literature (& Film) & Annotating Texts

Analyzing Literature (& Film) & Annotating Texts


Created for a business student, pre-internet, who was struggling with analyzing literature and films. It's a walk through a book or film and looking for the symbols, signs, and themes; and the best way to annotate and interact with books.


When reading for college you need to be an active reader. You must make explicit your interpretation of the text. Imagine you are in front of a judge and you need to argue this point, "how is free will explored in Harry Potter?" You are not to retell the plot, your professor has already read the book. You need to find examples and then set about proving your thesis.

Harry Potter and Narnia BooksWhen reading/viewing there are several strategies to become an active reader/viewer.

COVER   What do you think of when you look at the book’s cover? Always examine the covers, these will often be superficial guides (or misguides) to the plot. Similarly, what does the movie poster or video package look like? How is it advertised?

TITLE   Ask yourself, "why this title?" What do you know about it? What do you learn about it by the end of the story? Mark all the references to the title. How does the title relate to the characters and/or plot? If your opinion changes, why?

CHAPTERS    Are there chapter titles? What do they mean/stand for? Titles are generally thematic guides to this section. Are the chapter titles included in a conversation, description, or as some other form of a narrative road sign? What is the context?

CHARACTERS   Always mark where and when you first encounter a character. Even if you only circle names, mark the page. Note what they do for a living; how are they related to the main character; is there anything odd about them; what makes them stand out? Do their names mean anything? What do they look like? Do their features make them more or less appealing? Why is or isn't the character’s age important?

SETTING   This is the place and time of the story. Why are they relevant?

STYLE & VOICE   The way the author uses language—use of certain phrases, patterns, complexity, accents, dialects, and sentence structure. Verbal patterns that convey feelings (e.g., difference accents: Arthur Weasley as opposed to Lucius Malfoy).

Harry Potter The Deathly Hallows, wand, stone, cape symbol

SYMBOLISM    Symbols can be anything in the story’s setting, plot, or characterization that suggests an abstract meaning to the reader in addition to its literal significance (e.g., Harry Potter being an orphan, wearing broken glasses, living under a staircase. Deathly Hallows: triangle/cloak, circle/stone, line/wand).



Cover art: Comfreak

Katrina S: Harry Potter and Narnia

Jasmin Holzeisen: Harry Potter Deathly Hallows symbols



Highlighted bookWhen you take notes, you often do so quickly with little reflection and a lot of neon highlighter.

Instead, when you are reading have a conversation with the text. If you think, “I do not agree with this." Write a symbol (e.g., * ! + = ) in the margin of your book when you think that something is important, stands out, or seems odd.

For instance, when you find something is "funny" create a specific symbol and place it next to the text. Then, when you are writing your paper at 2 AM you can find all of the "funny" =  "" sections every time you see a .

Then return to that spot and make a note as to why this section is important.

Your emotional and intellectual reactions are central to the author’s writing strategy, and these sections will help you later when you are trying to elaborate on the work’s ideology or technique.

At the end of each chapter jot down notes. Utilize the back of books, there are often blank pages. Writing your notes in the back guarantees you'll always have them with you.

After you have finished the book, transcribe your notes including page numbers into a Word doc. You should include a bibliographic entry at the top of your document, this way you tackle two tasks at once: documenting the original reference and you have your notes handy when you write your paper.

When screening a film, it is helpful if you can mark the scene by noting the time elapsed. This will help you when you return to review specific scenes.


  • On a first read, one often misses a lot of details. Do not be surprised if you have overlooked points. Rereading is something everyone should do before writing any paper.


Kim Heimbuch: College Textbook


Modified from Meg Keely’s “Annotated Text.” The Basics of Effective Learning. Bucks County Community College,

1 March 1999. Web. 20 June 2009.

  1. Underline important terms
  2. Circle definitions and meanings
  3. Write keywords and definitions in the margins
  4. Signal where important information can be found with keywords or symbols in the margin
  5. Write short summaries in the margin at the end of sections
  6. Write questions in the margin next to the section where the answer is found
  7. Indicate steps in a process by using numbers in the margin
  8. Describe the usefulness of the information in the margin
  9. Discuss the limitations of the author’s argument
  10. Make notes about the reliability of the source
  11. Make notes about the author’s background, bias, or assumptions
  12. Summarize conclusions the author presents and evaluate them
  13. Describe your reaction to the text
  14. Write connections you make to the text (text to self, text to text, or text to world)


Annotating Text

Katie Cranfill: Annotating Text YouTube