book blog

My Annotating System | Why & How

February 21st, 2022

Hi Readers!

Despite always being a bookworm and loving books, in school I absolutely despised English Literature, because I hated analysing books. I just wanted to read a good story and be done with it. I felt it absurd to care about looking for symbols in colours or objects, I wasn’t good at it and I just didn’t think that was how books were supposed to be read.

Cut to me leaving school and, gaining nothing but enjoyment from it, I started analysing my books, and I fell in love with it. Deep diving into the pages, actively looking for those literary devices I’d scoffed at in school gave me a whole new appreciation for literature and writers.

So now I’m one of those readers who must always have a book in one hand and a pencil in the other. I have a drawer full of highlighters, sticky tabs, pens and pencils for all my annotating needs, and a bookshelf with multiple copies of my favourite books so I can have one for annotating and one just for casual rereads.

You’re probably curious about why I do this, what can I possibly gain from it, and is it worth marking up a book and ‘ruining it’ for anyone else after me. Well here’s why I do it, how I do it, and why you should too!

Why Do I Annotate?

As I said before, analysing a book for literary devices was never something I enjoyed in school (and my grade definitely showed that). That didn’t mean I didn’t enjoy reading. As a kid I loved childrens classics like Peter Pan and The Famous Five books and in high school I read Pride and Prejudice and Jane Eyre not because I studied them, but for fun. And I fell in love with them.

I think, when I left school, I started missing what I’d previously taken for granted, and I began to seethe benefits of deep diving into the meanings and themes these authors had so cleverly woven into their stories.

When I started writing book reviews of my own I started by taking notes in a notebook, which I still do. But that soon evolved into using sticky tabs to mark places in books I found where important or I wanted to remember. That evolved into underlining, highlighting, and now I have a system that allows me to annotate all of the things in books I personally look for.

How Do I Annotate?


It started with a notebook. Lined pages and a pen, and I started thinking about what I was reading. This was thanks to blogging. Since I was 14 I watched Booktube and read book blogs and eventually I wanted in on the action. Finding this community changed my perspective on books. I still read them for fun but sharing my thoughts enhanced my love for them.

Sticky Tabs

After a while, sticky tabs became the in thing. They’re useful to mark specific passages and points in the story I think are important or just my favourite parts. But it was more of the aesthetic thing for me. I mean, all those colours popping out of the pages, running your hand along them, it’s just so visually pleasing.


I think the first time I highlighted a book (other than being forced to in school) was either Pride and Prejudice or Harry Potter. It was a favourite book basically. Something with a lot of quotes I loved. I chose to highlight them with a pink highlighter because I wanted them to stand out on the page, so all I had to do when looking for those passages was flick through the book and they would for sure catch my eye.

This is when my annotation system evolved. Eventually I decided I wanted to colour coordinate what I was highlighting, and now whenever I annotate I know I’m looking for somthing like this.

The colours shift around. Sometimes I use green for character, sometimes for context. That’s because I tend to find a lot more character stuff than context stuff, and I’ll end up using the green ink/tabs quicker than all the other colours. Writing a key at the beginning of the book helps me keep track of what colour I used for what.


This is more of a recent thing, and something I wish I’d thought of sooner. If you want to start annotating books, this is the way I’d recommend you do it. Whilst highlighting definitely stands out more, I also find it makes the book messy and the darker colours made some words almost unreadable.

So I bought a packet of gel pens to try and it makes for much neater annotations and doesn’t completely ruin a book, if that’s something you’re worried about. The ones I use are from WHSmiths and they’re perfect. They have multiples of every colour, they don’t weep through the page, and they’ll last a lot longer than a packet of highlighters would.

I also use pencil to underline in some books if I don’t want to permanantly mark the pages.

When Do I Annotate?

I only ever permanantly mark a book on a reread, when I know whether there’s a lot I want to unpack or not. First time reads I just use my journal, sticky tabs, or a pencil if I’m particularly enjoying it.

But really annotating, with highlighters or coloured pens, is usually something I reserve for classics or absolute favourite books, and I always use secondhand copies. I personally couldn’t bring myself to mark up a new book in perfect condition. So I buy copies that look a bit worse for wear, so I don’t feel bad about using pen in it. That’s why I own two copies of all of my favourite books…

I know this is a much debated subject so let me know what your thoughts on annotating is!

Thanks For Reading,
Jess X

5 thoughts on “My Annotating System | Why & How

  1. I didn’t annotate before but I like the idea now. I also read for fun but I also pay attention to certain things like theme, trope, characters. At first I only marked quotes but now I also mark important passages and scenes I love and also turning points.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I have started annotating a lot more as well and sticky tabs are my go-to. I did try a notebook but I hated having to stop reading to write something down and more often than not would pass it up and regret it later. Sticky tabs are just easy to mark the spot for me to go back to later. Great post!

    Liked by 1 person

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