In grade school, most of us were told not to write in our books; you may even remember getting in trouble for scribbling in the margins. But writing on the pages of books has long been considered one of the best ways to engage with the text — and new apps and extensions are making it possible to do the same with the web.
Why Annotate the Web?
Taking notes has long been a widely embraced way of improving your retention of information — it’s one of the reasons why we take notes during class and meetings. Not only does the act of taking notes better embed the information in your brain, but reviewing those annotations later can be helpful in a number of ways.
For example, going back over the notes that you took can help remind you of questions that you had while you were reading or listening. The thoughts that you have while you’re reading might be quickly forgotten when you move on, but you may have made some great mental connections that you can record in a note. And reading over your notes can help you remember some nuances of the information that you may have forgotten.
Annotation can also be hugely useful in collaborative situations. Annotating with notes, questions, comments, images, and links helps students and other collaborators take full advantage of the collaborative potential of the Internet. Webpages, PDFs, and other documents become more useful to everyone when there are thought-provoking annotations and links to other useful resources.
While research suggests that taking notes with pen and paper is more beneficial than note-taking on a computer, making annotations while you’re researching or reading online can improve your recall of facts that you’ve read online and stimulate critical thinking during your research.
What’s the Best Way to Annotate?
In short, whatever works for you! There are a number of systematized ways to take notes, and you might find that one of them works best for you. On the other hand, you may find that just jotting notes in whatever way comes to mind first is easiest and helps you engage with and remember what you read.
Some people find that highlighting important parts of a text works well for them, so they can easily come back to the parts they were interested in. Others find that summarizing blocks of text into shorter sentences helps them internalize information. Still others choose to write comments or responses to the text in short notes.
And, of course, you can combine these methods in any way you like. Maybe one way works best for a particular topic and another works better for a different topic. Try them out and see what works best for you!
Web Annotation Tools
There are a number of tools that let you annotate web sites to different degrees of detail.
One of the most full-featured and easy to use options is Scrible. It is currently in open beta.
By clicking on a bookmark in your browser, you can activate the Scrible toolbar, which allows you to highlight, make notes, change text color, underline or bold text, and save or share your annotations.
Scrible saves the pages that you annotate on their website, so you can go back and look at them at any time. With a basic plan, you get limited storage, though it should be enough to let you save quite a few pages.
Diigo offers many of the same abilities as Scrible, but also has an outliner feature that will help you organize your thoughts and give structure to your learning. You can add annotations and bookmarks directly to your outline from the Diigo tools. For an in-depth review, see our article on Diigo and eHighlighter.
In addition to highlighting and adding notes, Hypothes.is provides a focus on collaborative annotation—you can choose whether your notes are private or public, and the app allows you to have threaded conversations around your comments. You’ll even get notifications when someone replies to your note.
Using Hypothes.is is as easy as adding a Chrome extension or a bookmarklet to your browser. The group behind Hypothes.is is non-profit and receives funding through a number of foundations, so you can be confident that they’ll do whatever they can to keep it free, too.
Another annotator focused on collaboration, Annotary bills itself as a social bookmarking service, much like Diigo. The ability to organize your bookmarks into groups is great if you do some annotating for yourself and some with a group, or if you’re working with multiple groups.
Annotary makes it easy to work with others by sharing your bookmark collections and your annotations, making it a well-rounded option without too many features complicating the annotating.
You can do just about everything with Evernote — so it should be no surprise that it’s good for web annotation too. If you’re using the Web Clipper, you can use it to take a screenshot, and you’ll automatically be presented with a number of annotation tools.
While this might not be the best option for easy collaboration, it’s great for personal use, and those screenshots can be shared through Evernote if they need to be. If you don’t want to add another service to the already miles-long list that you use, this is a great option.
Whether you want to annotate webpages so you can study for an exam, to help you research a topic, to collaborate with others, or just to help you remember what you read, these tools will help you do it. And because the basics are free, there’s no reason to not start right away!
Have you used web annotation before? What did you find it useful for? What are your favorite annotation strategies? Share your tips below!