Text annotation is the practice and the result of adding a note or gloss to a text, which may include highlights or underlining, comments, footnotes, tags, and links. Text annotations can include notes written for a reader's private purposes, as well as shared annotations written for the purposes of collaborative writing and editing, commentary, or social reading and sharing. In some fields, text annotation is comparable to metadata insofar as it is added post hoc and provides information about a text without fundamentally altering that original text. Text annotations are sometimes referred to as marginalia, though some reserve this term specifically for hand-written notes made in the margins of books or manuscripts. This article covers both private and socially shared text annotations, including hand-written and information technology-based annotation, as well as Web-based text annotation. For information on general annotation of Web objects, see Web annotation.
- 1 History
- 2 Functions and applications
- 3 Structure and design
- 4 IT-based text annotation systems
- 5 Web-based text annotation systems
- 6 See also
- 7 References
- 8 External links
Text annotation may be as old as writing on media, where it was possible to produce an additional copy with a reasonable effort. It became a prominent activity around 1000 AD in Talmudic commentaries and Arabic rhetorics treaties. In the Medieval era, scribes who copied manuscripts often made marginal annotations that then circulated with the manuscripts and were thus shared with the community; sometimes annotations were copied over to new versions when such manuscripts were later recopied.
With the rise of the printing press and the relative ease of circulating and purchasing individual (rather than shared) copies of texts, the prevalence of socially shared annotations declined and text annotation became a more private activity consisting of a reader interacting with a text. Annotations made on shared copies of texts (such as library books) are sometimes seen as devaluing the text, or as an act of defacement. Thus, print technologies support the circulation of annotations primarily as formal scholarly commentary or textual footnotes or endnotes rather than marginal, handwritten comments made by private readers, though handwritten comments or annotations were common in collaborative writing or editing.
Information technology (IT) and web-based technologies have provided new opportunities for individual and socially shared text annotations that support multiple purposes, including readers’ individual reading goals, learning, social reading, writing and editing, and other practices. Text annotation in IT or web systems raises technical issues of access, linkage, and storage that are generally not relevant to paper-based text annotation, and thus research and development of such systems often addresses these areas.
Functions and applications
Text annotations can serve a variety of functions for both private and public reading and communication practices. In their article "From the Margins to the Center: The Future of Annotation," scholars Joanna Wolfe and Christine Neuwirth identify four primary functions that text annotations commonly serve in the modern era, including: (1)"facilitat[ing] reading and later writing tasks," which includes annotations that support reading for both personal and professional purposes; (2)"eavesdrop[ping] on the insights of other readers," which involves sharing of annotations; (3)"provid[ing] feedback to writers or promote communication with collaborators," which can include personal, professional, and education-related feedback; and (4)"call[ing] attention to topics and important passages," for which scholarly annotations, footnotes, and call-outs often function. Regarding the ways that annotations can support individual reading tasks, Catherine Marshall points out that the ways that readers annotate texts depends on the purpose, motivation, and context of reading. Readers may annotate to help interpret a text, to call attention to a section for future reference or reading, to support memory and recall, to help focus attention on the text as they read, to work out a problem related to the text, or create annotations not specifically related to the text at all.
Educational research in text annotation has examined the role that both private and shared text annotations can play in supporting learning goals and communication. Much educational research examines how students’ private annotation of texts supports comprehension and memory; for example, research indicates that annotating texts causes more in-depth processing of information, which results in greater recall of information.
Other areas of educational research investigate the benefits of socially shared text annotations for collaborative learning, both for paper-based and IT- or Web-based annotation sharing. For example, studies by Joanna Wolfe have investigated the benefits of exposure to others’ annotations on student readers and writers. In a 2000 study, Wolfe found that exposing students to others’ annotations influenced their perceptions of the annotators, which in turn shaped their responses to the material and their written products. In a later study, Wolfe found that viewing others’ written comments on a paper text, especially pairs of annotations that present opposing responses to the text, can help students engage in the type of critical reading and stance-taking necessary for effective argumentative writing.
While shared annotations can benefit individual readers, it is important to note that, "since the 1920s, literacy theory has increasingly emphasized the importance of social factors in the development of literacy." Thus, shared annotations can not only help one to better understand the content of a particular text, but may also aid in the acquirement of literacy skills. For example, a mother may leave marks inside a book to draw the attention of her child to a particular theme or concept; thanks to the development of audio annotations, parents may now leave notes for children who are just starting to read and may struggle with textual annotations.
More recent research in the effects of shared text annotations has focused on the learning applications for web-based annotation systems, some of which were developed based on design recommendations from studies outlined above. For example, Ananda Gunawardena, Aaron Tan, and David Kaufer conducted a pilot study to examine whether annotating documents in Classroom Salon, a web-based annotation and social reading platform, encouraged active reading, error detection, and collaboration in a computer science course at Carnegie Mellon University. This study suggested a correlation between students’ overall performance in the course and their ability to identify errors in a text that they annotated in Classroom Salon; it also found that students were likely to change their annotations in response to annotations made by others in the course.
Similarly, the web-based annotation tool HyLighter was used in a first-year writing course and shown to improve the development of students’ mental models of texts, including supporting reading comprehension, critical thinking, and the ability to develop a thesis. The collaboration with peers and experts around a shared text improved these skills and brought the communities’ understanding closer together.
A meta-analysis of empirical studies into the higher-education uses of social annotation (SA) tools indicates such tools have been tested in several courses, among them English, sport psychology, and hypermedia. Studies have indicated that social annotation functions, including commenting, information sharing, and highlighting, can support instruction designed to foster collaborative learning and communication, as well as reading comprehension, metacognition, and critical analysis. Several studies indicated that students enjoyed using social annotation tools, and that it improved motivation in the course.
Although reading itself is often a solitary experience, taken more broadly, reading can nevertheless be viewed as a very social activity. From individuals sharing their perspectives in a book club to students discussing a particular passage in class, reading often involves a significant social component. Furthermore, even if readers do not engage in such explicit social behavior, they will often carry out a conversation with the text itself, such as questioning an author's argument or agreeing with a particular section. In one sense, annotations may be considered the currency of such interactions.
As previously mentioned, such annotations generally remain private in today's society, since most readers purchase their own copies of books. Fortunately, thanks to developments such as the Amazon Kindle's Public Notes feature, which allows users to share their notes with friends, "one of the last bastions of the printed era to be digitized – reader data – is now breaking free of its margins."
Writing and text-centered collaboration
Text annotations have long been used in writing and revision processes as a way for reviewers to suggest changes and communicate about a text. In book publishing, for example, the collaboration of authors and editors to develop and revise a manuscript frequently involves exchanges of both in-line revisions or notes as well as marginal annotations. Similarly, copyeditors often make marginal annotations or notes that explain or suggest revisions or are directed at the author as questions or suggestions (commonly called "queries"). Asynchronous collaborative writing and document development often depend on text annotations as a way not only to suggest revisions but also to exchange ideas during document development or to facilitate group decision making, though such processes are often complicated by the use of different communication technologies (such as phone calls or emails as well as document sharing) for distinct tasks. Text annotations can also function to allow group or community members to communicate about a shared text, such as a doctor annotating a patient's chart.
Much research into the functionality and design of collaborative IT- and Web-based writing systems, which often support text annotation, has occurred in the area of computer-supported cooperative work.
Structure and design
Research in the design and development of annotation systems uses specific terminology to refer to distinct structural components of annotations and also distinguishes among options for digital annotation displays.
The structural components of any annotation can be roughly divided into three primary elements: a body, an anchor, and a marker. The body of an annotation includes reader-generated symbols and text, such as handwritten commentary or stars in the margin. The anchor is what indicates the extent of the original text to which the body of the annotation refers; it may include circles around sections, brackets, highlights, underlines, and so on. Annotations may be anchored to very broad stretches of text (such as an entire document) or very narrow sections (such as a specific letter, word, or phrase). The marker is the visual appearance of the anchor, such as whether it is a grey underline or a yellow highlight. An annotation that has a body (such as a comment in the margin) but no specific anchor has no marker.
Annotation display types
IT and Web-based annotation systems utilize a variety of display options for annotations, including:
- Footnote interfaces that display annotations below the corresponding text
- Aligned annotations that display comments and notes horizontally in the text margins, sometimes in multiple columns
- Interlinear annotations that attach annotations directly into a text
- Sticky note interfaces
- Voice annotations, in which reviewers record annotations and embed them within a document
- Pen or digital-ink based interfaces that allow writing directly on a document or screen
Annotation interfaces may also allow highlighting or underlining, as well as threaded discussions. Sharing and communicating through annotations anchored to specific documents is sometimes referred to as anchored discussion.
IT-based text annotation systems
IT-based annotation systems include standalone and client-server systems. In the 1980s and 1990s, a number of such systems were built in the context of libraries, patent offices, and legal text processing. Their design led researchers to produce taxonomies of annotation forms. Text annotation research has taken place at several institutions, including Xerox research centers in Palo Alto and Grenoble (France), the Hitachi Central Research Lab (in particular for annotation of patents), and in relation with the construction of the new French National Library between 1989 and 1995 at the Institut de Recherche en Informatique de Toulouse and in the company AIS (Advanced Innovation Systems).
Annotation functionality has been present in text processing software for many years through inline notes displayed as pop-ups, footnotes, and endnotes; however, it is only recently that functionality for displaying annotations as marginalia has appeared in programs such as OpenOffice.org/LibreOffice Writer and Microsoft Word. Personal or standalone annotation include word processing software that supports embedded or anchored text annotations as well as Adobe Acrobat, which in addition to commenting allows highlights, stamps, and other types of markup.
Web-based text annotation systems
Web-based text annotation systems permit users to upload texts so that people can produce marginal annotations with threaded discussions using a simple Web browser. A precursor annotation system was Stet, the system put in place to gather comments on drafts of version 3 of the GNU General Public License. This system required preparation of the text to be submitted for comments, and its software architecture made it difficult to transform it into a Web service in which every user could upload a text to submit it for annotating. The co-ment system uses annotation interface concepts similar to Stet's, but it is based on an entirely new implementation, using Django/Python on the server side and various AJAX libraries such as JQuery on the client side. Both Stet and co-ment are licensed under the GNU Affero General Public License.
Modern web-based text annotation systems are collaborative software that allow text editing and versioning functionality, in addition to annotation and commenting interfaces. For example, HyLighter supports synchronous and asynchronous interactions, general commenting, comment tagging, threaded discussions and comment filtering; CommentPress is a WordPress plug-in that allows reader commenting.
Specialized Web-based text annotations exist in the context of scientific publication, either for refereeing or post-publication. The on-line journal PLoS ONE, published by the Public Library of Science, has developed its own Web-based system where scientists and the public can comment on published articles. The annotations are displayed as pop-ups with an anchor in the text.
- Web annotation
- PDF annotation
- Social bookmarking
- Comment (computer programming)
- Shabajee, P. and D. Reynolds. "What is Annotation? A Short Review of Annotation and Annotation Systems". ILRT Research Report No. 1053. Institute for Learning & Research Technology. Retrieved March 14, 2012.
- Lebow,, David; Dale Lick and Hope Hartman (2009). "New Technology for Empowering Virtual Communities". Encyclopedia of Multimedia Technology and Networking, Second Edition: 1066–1071. doi:10.4018/978-1-60566-014-1.ch144.
- Wolfe,, Joanna; Christine M. Neuwirth (2001). "From the Margins to the Center: The Future of Annotation". Journal of Business and Technical Communication 15 (33): 333–370.
- Marshall, Catherine (2010). Reading and Writing the Electronic Book. UNC Chapel Hill: Morgan & Claypool. pp. 38–51.
- Wolfe, Joanna (2000). "Effects of Annotations on Student Readers and Writers". Proceedings of the fifth ACM conference on Digital libraries: 19–26. doi:10.1145/336597.336620.
- Wolfe, Joanna (Jun 2008). "Annotations and the Collaborative Digital Library: Effects of an Aligned Annotion Interface on Student Argumentation and Reading Strategies". Computer-Supported Collaborative Learning 3 (2): 141–164.
- Kaplan, Nancy; Yoram Chisik (2005). "In the Company of Readers: The Digital Library Book as "Practiced Place"". Proceedings of the 5th ACM/IEEE-CS joint conference on Digital libraries: 235–243. doi:10.1145/1065385.1065439.
- Gunawardena, Ananda; Aaron Tan, David Kaufer (2010). "Encouraging Reading and Collaboration Using Classroom Salon". Proceedings of the Fifteenth Annual Conference on Innovation and Technology in Computer Science Education: 254–258. doi:10.1145/1822090.1822162.
- Mendenhall, A.; C. Kim and T.E. Johson. "Implementation of an Online Social Annotation Tool in a College English Course.". In D. Ifenthaler, P. Isaias, J.M. Spector, K. D.G. Sampson. Multiple Perspectives on Problem Solving and Learning in the Digital Age. New York: Springer. pp. 313–323.
- Novak, Elena; Rim Razzouk and Tristan E. Johnson (2012). "The Educational Uses of Social Annotation Tools in Higher Education: A Literature Review". Internet and Higher Education 15: 39–49.
- Danzico, Liz (2011). Between the Lines: The Social Life of Marginalia 18. pp. 12–12.
- Einsohn, Emily (2000). The Copyeditor's Handbook. London, England: University of California Press.
- Weng, Chuhnua; John H. Gennari (2004). "Asynchronous Collaborative Writing Through Annotations". Proceedings of the 2004 ACM Conference on Computer Supported Cooperative Work '04 6 (3): 578–581. doi:10.1145/1031607.1031705.
- Rodriguez, Henry; Kerstin Severinson Eklundh (2005). "Visualizing Patterns of Annotation in Document-Centered Collaboration on the Web". Studies in Writing: Vol. 17 Writing and Digital Media (Oxford: Elsevier): 131–143.
- Wolfe, Joanna (2002). "Annotation Technologies: A software and Research Review". Computers and Composition 19: 471–497.
- Marshall, Catherine C.: Annotation: from paper books to the digital library, Proceedings of the ACM Digital Libraries '97 Conference, Philadelphia, PA.
- Virbel, Jacques, Reading and managing texts on the Bibliothèque de France station, The digital word: text-based computing in the humanities book contents, MIT Press 1993, Cambridge, USA, pp 31-51.
- Aigrain, Philippe, Environnement et outils pour un nouvel espace public : A travers les outils d'annotation et commentaires sur les textes, talk at the Atelier Internet, Ecole Normale Supérieure, Paris, 11 February 2008.
- http://gplv3.fsf.org/comments - example of use of Stet
- http://www.co-ment.org - co-ment community site
- http://www.plosone.org/article/info%3Adoi%2F10.1371%2Fjournal.pone.0000139 - example of PLoS ONE's reading and annotation interface
- http://dl.acm.org/citation.cfm?id=336620 - details how annotations can improve learning
- http://www.eric.ed.gov/ERICWebPortal/recordDetail?accno=EJ851577 - describes the effects of annotations on students and instructors
- http://jbt.sagepub.com/content/15/3/333 - excellent overview of the history of annotation, and its future
- http://jbt.sagepub.com/content/early/2011/03/11/1050651911400703 - discusses how social media can facilitate collaboration in writing classrooms
- http://citeseerx.ist.psu.edu/viewdoc/download?doi=10.1.1.91.4140&rep=rep1&type=pdf - describes how the benefits of physical annotations can be brought into a digital environment