An annotation is extra information associated with a particular point in a document or other piece of information. It can be a note that includes a comment or explanation.[1] Annotations are sometimes presented in the margin of book pages. For annotations of different digital media, see web annotation and text annotation.

Literature and education

Textual scholarship

Textual scholarship is a discipline that often uses the technique of annotation to describe or add additional historical context to texts and physical documents.[2]

Student uses

Students often highlight passages in books in order to refer back to key phrases easily, or add marginalia to aid studying.

Annotated bibliographies add commentary on the relevance or quality of each source, in addition to the usual bibliographic information that merely identifies the source.

Mathematical expression annotation

Mathematical expressions (symbols and formulae) can be annotated with their natural language meaning. This is essential for disambiguation, since symbols may have different meanings (e.g., "E" can be "energy" or "expectation value", etc.).[3][4] The annotation process can be facilitated and accelerated through recommendation, e.g., using the "AnnoMathTeX" system that is hosted by Wikimedia.[5][6]

Learning and instruction

From a cognitive perspective, annotation has an important role in learning and instruction. As part of guided noticing it involves highlighting, naming or labelling and commenting aspects of visual representations to help focus learners' attention on specific visual aspects. In other words, it means the assignment of typological representations (culturally meaningful categories), to topological representations (e.g. images).[7] This is especially important when experts, such as medical doctors, interpret visualizations in detail and explain their interpretations to others, for example by means of digital technology.[8] Here, annotation can be a way to establish common ground between interactants with different levels of knowledge.[9] The value of annotation has been empirically confirmed, for example, in a study which shows that in computer-based teleconsultations the integration of image annotation and speech leads to significantly improved knowledge exchange compared with the use of images and speech without annotation.[10]

On YouTube

Annotations were removed on January 15, 2019 from YouTube after around a decade of service.[11] They had allowed users to provide information that popped up during videos, but YouTube indicated they did not work well on small mobile screens, and were being abused.

Software and engineering

Text documents

Markup languages like XML and HTML annotate text in a way that is syntactically distinguishable from that text. They can be used to add information about the desired visual presentation, or machine-readable semantic information, as in the semantic web.[12]

Source control

The "annotate" function (also known as "blame" or "praise") used in source control systems such as Git, Team Foundation Server and Subversion determines who committed changes to the source code into the repository. This outputs a copy of the source code where each line is annotated with the name of the last contributor to edit that line (and possibly a revision number). This can help establish blame in the event a change caused a malfunction, or identify the author of brilliant code.

Java annotations

A special case is the Java programming language, where annotations can be used as a special form of syntactic metadata in the source code.[13] Classes, methods, variables, parameters and packages may be annotated. The annotations can be embedded in class files generated by the compiler and may be retained by the Java virtual machine and thus influence the run-time behaviour of an application. It is possible to create meta-annotations out of the existing ones in Java.

Image annotation

Automatic image annotation is used to classify images for image retrieval systems.[14]

Computational biology

Since the 1980s, molecular biology and bioinformatics have created the need for DNA annotation. DNA annotation or genome annotation is the process of identifying the locations of genes and all of the coding regions in a genome and determining what those genes do. An annotation (irrespective of the context) is a note added by way of explanation or commentary. Once a genome is sequenced, it needs to be annotated to make sense of it.

Digital imaging

In the digital imaging community the term annotation is commonly used for visible metadata superimposed on an image without changing the underlying master image, such as sticky notes, virtual laser pointers, circles, arrows, and black-outs (cf. redaction).

In the medical imaging community, an annotation is often referred to as a region of interest and is encoded in DICOM format.

Other uses


In the United States, legal publishers such as Thomson West and Lexis Nexis publish annotated versions of statutes, providing information about court cases that have interpreted the statutes. Both the federal United States Code and state statutes are subject to interpretation by the courts, and the annotated statutes are valuable tools in legal research.


One purpose of annotation is to transform the data into a form suitable for computer-aided analysis. Prior to annotation, an annotation scheme is defined that typically consists of tags. During tagging, transcriptionists manually add tags into transcripts where required linguistical features are identified in an annotation editor. The annotation scheme ensures that the tags are added consistently across the data set and allows for verification of previously tagged data.[15] Aside from tags, more complex forms of linguistic annotation include the annotation of phrases and relations, e.g., in treebanks. Many different forms of linguistic annotation have been developed, as well as different formats and tools for creating and managing linguistic annotations, as described, for example, in the Linguistic Annotation Wiki.[16]

See also


  1. ^ "Definition of ANNOTATION". www.merriam-webster.com.
  2. ^ Greetham, David C.: Textual Scholarship. An Introduction. Garland Reference Library of the Humanities 1417. New York & London: Garland Publishing, Inc. 1994 (1992)
  3. ^ Moritz Schubotz; Philipp Scharpf; et al. (12 September 2018). "Introducing MathQA: a Math-Aware question answering system". Information Discovery and Delivery. Emerald Publishing Limited. 46 (4): 214–224. arXiv:1907.01642. doi:10.1108/IDD-06-2018-0022. S2CID 49484035.
  4. ^ Philipp Scharpf; Moritz Schubotz; et al. (2018). "Representing Mathematical Formulae in Content MathML using Wikidata".
  5. ^ "AnnoMathTeX Formula/Identifier Annotation Recommender System".
  6. ^ Philipp Scharpf; Ian Mackerracher; et al. (17 September 2019). "AnnoMathTeX : a formula identifier annotation recommender system for STEM documents". Proceedings of the 13th ACM Conference on Recommender Systems (RecSys 2019): 532–533. doi:10.1145/3298689.3347042. ISBN 9781450362436. S2CID 202639987.
  7. ^ Pea, R. D. (2006). Video-as-Data and Digital Video Manipulation Techniques for Transforming Learning Sciences Research, Education, and Other Cultural Practices. In J. Weiss, J. Nolan, J. Hunsinger, & P. Trifonas (Eds.), The International Handbook of Virtual Learning Environments (pp. 1321-1393). Dordrecht: Springer
  8. ^ Coiera E. Communication spaces. J Am Med Inform Assoc 2013 Sep 4. [doi: 10.1136/amiajnl-2012-001520] [Medline: 24005797]
  9. ^ Clark HH. Using Language. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press; 1996.
  10. ^ Pimmer, C., Mateescu, M., Zahn, C., & Genewein, U. (2013). Smartphones as multimodal communication devices to facilitate clinical knowledge processes - a randomized controlled trial. Journal of Medical Internet Research, 15(11), e263. doi:10.2196/jmir.2758
  11. ^ "YouTube annotations will disappear for good in January". engadget. 2018-11-27. Retrieved 2019-01-19.
  12. ^ "Web Annotation Data Model". World Wide Web Consortium. 11 December 2014. Retrieved 25 August 2015.
  13. ^ "JDK 5.0 Developer's Guide: Annotations". Sun Microsystems. 2007-12-18. Archived from the original on 6 March 2008. Retrieved 2008-03-05..
  14. ^ Zhang, Dengsheng, Md Monirul Islam, and Guojun Lu. "A review on automatic image annotation techniques." Pattern Recognition 45.1 (2012): 346-362.
  15. ^ "Annotation Schemes | CAWSE" (PDF). General Annotation Conventions. 2017-02-05. Retrieved 2019-01-06.
  16. ^ "LinguisticAnnotation". annotation.exmaralda.org.

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