What to look for when annotating

Annotating structure

Read the text and look for patterns in the structure, for example:

  • Sentence length and type - eg single or multi-clause sentences.
  • Paragraph lengths and structure - eg focus on how the paragraph opens and closes.
  • Repeated words and phrases.
  • The order of ideas in the extract - eg where does the narrative start? Does the focus shift?

Annotating language and literary techniques

  • Highlight any interesting language features in the text.
  • Pick out examples of literary devices that stand out because they’re unusual, or because they link closely to the character, theme or setting.
  • Highlight individual words to explore closely - those with particular connotations or ones that seem to relate to the theme of the text.

Annotating characterisation and voice

  • Pick out key elements which show the development of characters.
  • Look for phrases that reveal key details about characters. For example, you might highlight an example of where a character’s appearance is linked to a theme.
  • Find clues about the main voice in the piece. Is the story told in first, second or third-person? Highlight points where narrative voice is shown through the language.
  • Is the author using voice for a particular effect? Pick out examples of where they do so.

Annotating for themes and ideas

  • Highlight any words or phrases that link to the main themes or a particular semantic field.


Here is an example of some selective annotations. The student is focused on the language choices in this extract:

Annotations including highlighting and underlining made to a body of text.
  • metaphor - ‘Nana’s fine hair floated in a halo around her head’ – positive connotations
  • sibilance – the repeated use of the letter s adds softness here
  • personification – their ‘dark fingers’ is sinister, but then contrasts with the adverb ‘gently’
  • personal pronouns – the use of ‘our’, ‘us’ and ‘we’ – sense of family
  • tricolon of three single clause sentences – creates rhythm and interest for reader
Avoid making so many annotations that you can no longer read the text! Be selective, and pick out the details that interest you.
Move on to Test