How to Annotate a Book in Just a Couple of Easy Steps

How to Annotate a Book

As we all know, reading is a great activity. Whether you read for pleasure, to pass the time or in order to learn a new skill or gather information about a historical event, the benefits you get from reading are countless.

If you want to take your experience to the next level and better understand and remember more of what you read, it may be a good idea to look into how to annotate a book.

While annotating books does have several benefits, which we will explore later on, learning how to do it efficiently and without ruining your books takes a bit of practice and experience. But first, let’s see what annotating a book actually means.

What does it mean to annotate a book?

Book annotating is defined as the action of highlighting or underlining text in a book or even making notes directly on the pages read, in order to achieve a better understanding of the information or to remember the key elements of the material. 

While the reasoning behind book annotations can differ from one individual to the other, the habit of making notes on books has been around for centuries. Let’s see how annotating a book is justified and what benefits it can bring a reader. 

Why should you annotate books?

Whether you’re a student learning basic skills from school books or simply a casual reader who enjoys spending time leafing through an interesting novel, we are sure that you felt the need to make an annotation in a book or to highlight part of the text, at least once. Well, your instincts were correct, as annotating can help you tremendously while reading. Here’s how:

Better understanding of the book

The fact that reading and writing activate different parts of the brain is old news. How that affects our understanding of the texts we consume is a different story. By writing, we activate parts of our brains responsible for analytical thinking (among others). 

This, in turn means that by writing notes or annotating books while reading makes us understand the text more in depth, since we are more invested in the content and we are actively looking for details or important ideas. 

This process is called active reading and it involves a different level of determination to understand the information you are reading. 

Remembering the main ideas from what you read

In a pretty similar way, writing things down has a huge effect on the amount of information we remember while reading. 

By activating our brains in a more complex manner, we ensure that the reading we do has a more notable impact on our minds, which in turn means that the amount of information we will remember will be considerably bigger.

Whether you simply underline the important parts of the texts or highlight sections you find interesting or even make side notes directly on the book, this process increases your chances of storing the relevant information in your long term memory instead of simply forgetting it hours after you’ve finished reading.

Great way of keeping track of the main ideas in case you need to write a book summary

While reading a book you know you need to write a summary about, you will surely try to pay more attention to some of the important details, you will follow the action timeline more carefully and you will try to remember the content in a way which will allow you to recreate it in writing later on.

A good way of keeping track of all the details is to simply take notes in one form or another, while reading. You can underline or highlight the parts of the text which contain information that is essential for the summary. Alternatively, you can even write short notes of your own thoughts directly in the book, and this whole active reading and annotating process will be of tremendous help when it comes to actually putting pen to paper and writing your summary.

What things to annotate in a book?

There’s a huge number of things you want to jot down while reading a book, especially if you’re reading actively, with a clear intention of being able to use one way or another the information you’re getting from it. Here’s a couple of the most common things readers like you annotate in books.

Main ideas from the book

Especially if you’re supposed to also write a book summary or review about the novel you’re reading, the main ideas are an essential thing you’ll be looking to find. Obviously, it’s always a good idea to write those down as you discover them in the text, so you don’t forget them.

You can either highlight relevant paragraphs which reveal them, add notes directly in the book when you identify them, or use an app like Basmo to scan the pages that are important and add your notes digitally.

All you have to do is:

  1. Open Basmo. 
  2. Start your reading session. 
  3. Right at the bottom of your screen, there is a Scan page button. 
  4. Tap on it and record all the pages you want. 

You already know which option we would choose, but the way you decide to do it is obviously up to you.


There aren’t many things that are more satisfying than finding a quote you love in a book you’re reading. Whether it’s a saying that is relevant for you, an idea you relate to, or a couple of words that you think could motivate you in the future, if you love it, you must write it down and use it somehow in the future.

You have the option to underline or highlight the quotes directly in the book, but among the many disadvantages of this method, the most important ones are the fact that you will not have access to your quotes without carrying a bunch of books with you and the fact that those books will clearly not be as new.

A little fun fact about reading apps: some of them, Basmo included, offer you the option to write down your favorite quotes (for example, your favorite quotes about reading books) and save them for later use. Basmo, for example, gives you the option to write notes while reading, format them in many different ways to make them as compelling as possible and also offers you a feature that can convert your favorite quotes to images. All this, while keeping your books intact. 

Give Your Reading Experience
An Extra Boost With Basmo

Track the books you read, monitor the time you spend reading and keep notes on your reading habits and how it makes you feel. You can set yourself targets for the time you spend reading and you can get notified whenever you’re behind on your reading time. 

Download on the App Store
Get it on Google Play

Important information about the plot

Clearly one of the most important aspects of any novel is the action that is being narrated. Therefore, many of the notes readers have the tendency to make are directly related to the plot.

Especially if you’re supposed to write a summary of the book you’re reading, annotating the essential parts of the action is a must in order to be able to recreate the timeline effectively.

Unfamiliar words

We all know that reading is one of the most effective ways of enriching our vocabulary. Depending on the complexity of the book we’re reading and our experience, we are likely to discover words we never encountered before.

While sometimes we can easily deduct from context what their meaning is, we will sometimes need to look them up online or in a physical dictionary. If you uncover words you’re unfamiliar with, it’s a good idea to simply mark them directly in the book or even to make a note of their meaning next to them. 

Doing this will help us remember them and will make it easier for us to include them in our day-to-day vocabulary. 

How to Annotate a Book?

Now that you have an idea about why book annotating is a good habit and how it can be beneficial to you, let’s dive into the most common methods of book annotating. 

Highlighting or underlining text 

Whether it’s a quote you want to be able to find later, an important part of the text you need to remember or a new word you want to learn and introduce in your vocabulary, highlighting or underlining them directly in the book is definitely one of your options.

You can use a colorful sharpie to highlight the relevant text, which will make it pop on the page and be more visible for you the next time you go through the book. 

Alternatively, if highlighting doesn’t do it for you for whatever reason, you can use a pen or a pencil for underlining. The effect is quite similar, the main difference being the use of color and the general aspect of the book once you’re done reading it.

Writing directly in the book, on the sides of pages or at the end of the chapters

Whenever you encounter an interesting paragraph or you feel the need to make a note of your thoughts while reading, you can simply write them down directly in the book, on the side of the pages they are located on. 

Alternatively, if you’re about to write longer annotations, such as a summary or the main ideas from a chapter, you can do so at the end of the chapter. There is usually plenty of room there for your thoughts.

Making notes on the bottom of the pages with asterisks

Don’t be afraid to use asterisks whenever you are annotating a book. They are a very effective way of making sure you remember what your notes from the bottom of a page are in relation to. 

Simply add an asterisk next to the part of the text you want to write something about and then add the asterisk on the bottom of the page where you will write your own thoughts about that phrase or paragraph. 

How to annotate a book without writing in it?

For those of us who love books not only for their content, but also as objects, the annotating  methods I presented above come with the huge disadvantage of leaving a mark on the books.

While some readers enjoy having the books annotated and showing the signs of the work that has been put into reading, understanding and remembering them, others prefer to have them immaculate, in mint condition.

If you’re in the latter category, you may want to have a look at the annotating methods below, which are guaranteed to leave no trace in your beloved books.

Stick post it notes in the book

Yes, it could be that easy. Simply keep a couple of post it notes handy whenever you are reading a book you plan to annotate. Whenever you encounter an interesting paragraph or you feel the need to make a note, paste a post it note to the page, next to the part of the text you want to write about and write on it.

Not only will this leave no marks on the book, it also gives you a lot more space than you would have to write on if you were to do it directly on the pages. You can even use different shapes, sizes or colors if you want to take the organization of your thoughts to a new level or if you want to be particularly thorough with your notes.

While this is a pretty clever way of keeping your books looking like new, it does have some disadvantages. For starters, every post it note you add will obstruct the visibility of the text behind it. Also, in time they may become unstuck, potentially leaving you without your precious notes.

Write the main ideas from the book in a dedicated notebook

An alternative to the post it notes method is to simply have a separate notebook where you can add your thoughts. Obviously you will have to come up with a system to keep track of your notes and to mark somehow what parts of the text they are in relation to.

This will leave you adding small asterisks or numbers in the book to match the order of your notes, which will mean that your books will not be completely immaculate, or will force you to add a lot of additional information to each note like the page and paragraph the note is referring to, which will end up taking a lot more of your time than it should.

Use a reading app 

Since we’re in the digital era and the technology required to help us in most aspects of our lives exists, it would make perfect sense to find ways to implement it into our reading to a certain extent. 

Reading apps are amazing tools that can become available to you on your smartphone or tablet with just a couple of taps, with a plethora of features that can boost your reading experience.

How can Basmo help?

If we take Basmo as a concrete example, let’s have a look at how it can be the perfect solution for your book annotating needs. 

While a reading session is ongoing, you can write your notes directly on your smartphone or tablet. The app also has an integrated feature which allows you to scan the pages of a book, making it extremely easy for you to jot down your thoughts and keep them relevant to the parts of the book they are connected to.

Needless to say, using a reading app like Basmo to annotate your books will leave them intact, while being as effective, if not even more so, as any other option I presented above. The fact that you would always have access to your notes, even without carrying the book with you is clearly a huge advantage. Plus, your chances of ever losing your notes are practically zero.

Also, it’s important to know that our reading app is available both for Android and iOS devices and our team of engineers, developers and UX experts have put in tremendous work in order to make it as useful and user-friendly as it can possibly be.

Basmo will allow you to find the book you’re reading, add it to your list and track your progress while you’re reading, and you can record each session in order to keep track of your reading habits.

Ready to take your reading game to the next level?
Try Basmo book tracker today!

It’s 100% free to download, so what have you got to lose?

Download on the App Store
Get it on Google Play

What Is the Best Way to Annotate a Book? 

Regardless of how you put it, there’s no better option for annotating a book than using a reading app. Here’s a couple of reasons why:

  • Portability – you will always have access to your notes as long as you have your phone or tablet with you
  • Your books will look as good as new
  • You can easily write your notes while reading
  • You can scan the relevant pages from books and extract the text from the relevant paragraphs and edit it
  • You won’t even need a pen – when’s the last time you needed a pen? The last time I needed one, it took me a good 30 minutes to find one at home

If you’re looking for a good reading app which can also help you annotate your books without ruining them, keep in mind that Basmo offers all the advantages above and then some.

Final thoughts on how to annotate books

Now that you have all the relevant information about book annotating, how to do it, why to do it and what to look for when deciding on the method you want to use, I am sure you can make an informed decision.

While some avoid annotating their books in order to not ruin them, annotations are oftentimes essential, especially if you’re reading actively.

Use Basmo the next time you have to annotate your books and see for yourself how modern technology can finally improve habits we’ve had for hundreds or thousands of years.

Text vector created by stories –

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

A powerful book tracking app designed for every reader