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Note-taking for Literature Tips

Reading literature is very beneficial to understanding the human condition and seeing how we’re all relative in one way or another. Whether you’re reading William Shakespeare, Ralph Waldo Emerson, J.K. Rowling, or Ernest Cline, the author has something to say about the human race or the world we live in. Even if it’s a poorly written piece, it still has something to say! When you’re reading literature, it is ideal to annotate. The big question about annotating is this: how should we annotate? There are several questions that will guide your note-taking for literature so that you can get the most out of what you read…

  • What is the author saying about the topic?
  • What are the characters like? Why are they like that? How do they change?
  • How do the events relate to your life or the world around you?

The Author

The author is always making some comment about a topic, whether it’s love, friendship, fear, failure, success, and so on. What the characters say and how they react to certain plot points is the author’s message about that particular topic. For example, in The Outsiders, the topic at hand is social classes. The Greasers are a poor, yet tight-knit, group of survivors. The Socs are carefree, condescending, and wealthy. The groups interactions with one another represents S.E. Hinton’s thoughts about the butting heads of social classes. Authors are usually trying to say something (or they should be!) and it’s beneficial to try and figure that out. This helps you learn about the author’s point of view and will often times lead to the theme.

Tips for Note-taking for Literature

The Characters

Analyzing the characters’ personalities in your notes is also beneficial. Think about what led them to take certain actions or say something in particular. Remember their background and what has happened to them along the way to shape who they are. Pushing the analysis even further, think about their character arc. How are they growing? They should be changing in some way throughout the piece (or at least in most pieces of literature—then there’s Bartleby, the Scrivener).

The Events

Lastly, there’s the notes you take in which you make connections. If you invest in making connections to the characters in the text or even the events that happen, the story becomes more meaningful. In addition, you’ll be able to put yourself in the character’s shoes a little better. In making connections and finding relativity, the story will also be easier to recall, which helps in writing analytical essays and studying for tests.

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