- Taking notes is a key part of the research process because it helps you learn, and allows you to see your information in a useful visual way.
Once you’ve gotten a group of high-class sources, the next thing to do is go through them in detail. When reading through your sources, it’s important to be taking notes. Not only does the note-taking process help you learn the information, the notes themselves are an important visual aid in your paper-writing process.
There are as many ways to take notes as there are people. Everyone has a slightly different method. Some prefer to type notes on a computer, some choose to use notecards, and others like a good ‘ol pen and paper. The specific tool you use to take your notes isn’t as important as the notes themselves. Choose the method that’s the most comfortable for you.
Here are the things that all good notes systems will allow you to have:
- Information about the source so you can find it again – You’ll want to write down the author, title, date published, publisher, and URL (if it’s a website).
- A way to group notes – You’ll want to be able to organize your notes in a visual way so you can arrange them in an order that makes sense.
- Spaces for you to write down quotes (direct text straight from the source), comments (your thoughts and questions), and paraphrasing (information from the text in your own words).
When taking notes, here are some things to keep in mind:
- Skim your entire source before you read it in detail. Skimming will help you understand how the document is laid out and what the main ideas are.
- Search for the subject headings in the material you’re reading and write them in your notes. They’ll help you find relevant information faster, and they’ll provide you with reference points when you review your notes later.
- Write down every fact or note that may be of use to you in your paper. Don’t write down things you already know or would never include in your finished work.
- Break down the text into small groups of paragraphs. Read each group one-by-one, taking notes between groups. Breaking up the text into smaller, bite-sized pieces will help you process the information.
- Don’t write down information from the text word-for-word. This takes too much time and prevents you from using your higher brain functions to filter out and process important information.
- If a source is too dense or has too many dates, don’t feel like you need to write every bit of information down. Make a note of where the dense parts are and move on.
In the following sections, we’ll cover some specific note-taking tools. Remember to choose the one that matches your style the best.
1) Using notecards
- Using notecards is a great way to arrange research information visually.
- Have a “bibliography card” for each source.
- Have notecards for every major idea that the source discusses.
Within the method of using notecards, there are many different formats to take notes. Again, the keys are to have a system that 1. works for you, and 2. includes all of the information you need.
Here’s a note-taking system that we like:
- Create a bibliography notecard for each source you use. It will serve as the “title notecard” for each stack of notecards dedicated to a particular source. On the bibliography notecard, you’ll want to include every piece of information you’ll need to cite your source. Here’s an example of a great title notecard for a book:
- Using the general principles of note-taking outlined in the earlier section, write note cards (one for each main idea) with bullet points. Here’s an example:
2) The Cornell note-taking method
- The Cornell note-taking method is a great way to manage notes for a lecture or any type of source.
- The Cornell system helps you commit information to memory.
The Cornell note-taking method can be applied to taking notes for research. The method helps you retain information.
The Cornell system is done on regular notebook paper that’s divided up into four sections:
Here’s an example of a notebook page:
3) Other note-taking tools
- There are a variety of electronic note-taking tools out there.
- If you like taking notes electronically, check out some of these tools.
|Evernote||Multi-platform (computer, mobile, and web) note taker for to-do lists, image archiving, and more.|
|Springpad||Multi-platform note taker for the busy person to edit, tag, and view notes.|
|Microsoft OneNote||Software with ability to create organized to-do lists, tag notes, bring in images; works well with Windows|
|Springnote||Cloud tool where you can generate text documents and share them with people.|
How to Take Notes
First of all, make sure that you record all necessary and appropriate information: author, title, publisher, place of publication, volume, span of pages, date. It's probably easiest to keep this basic information about each sources on individual 3x5 or 4x6 notecards. This way when you come to creating the "Works Cited" or "References" at the end of your paper, you can easily alphabetize your cards to create the list. Also keep a running list of page numbers as you take notes, so you can identify the exact location of each piece of noted information. Remember, you will have to refer to these sources accurately, sometimes using page numbers within your paper and, depending on the type of source, using page numbers as part of your list of sources at the end of the paper.
Many people recommend taking all your notes on notecards. The advantage of notecards is that if you write very specific notes, or only one idea on one side of the card, you can then spread them out on a table and rearrange them as you are structuring your paper. They're also small and neat and can help you stay organized.
Some people find notecards too small and frustrating to work with when taking notes, and use a notebook instead. They leave plenty of space between notes and only write on one side of the page. Later, they either cut up their notes and arrange them as they would the cards, or they color code their notes to help them arrange information for sections or paragraphs of their paper.
What to Put into Notes
When you take notes, your job is not to write everything down, nor is it a good idea to give into the temptation of photocopying pages or articles.
Notetaking is the process of extracting only the information that answers your research question or supports your working thesis directly. Notes can be in one of three forms: summary, paraphrase, or direct quotation. (It's a good idea to come up with a system-- you might simply label each card or note "s" "p" or "q"--as a way of keeping track of the kind of notes you took from a source.) Also, a direct quotation reproduces the source's words and punctuation exactly, so you add quotation marks around the sentence(s) to show this. Remember it is essential to record the exact page numbers of the specific notes, since you will need them later for your documentation.
Work carefully to make sure you have recorded the source of your notes, and the basic information you will need when citing your source, to save yourself a great deal of time and frustration--otherwise you will have to make extra trips to the library when writing your final draft.
How to Use Idea Cards
While doing your research you will be making connections and synthesizing what you are learning. Some people find it useful to make "idea cards" or notes in which they write out the ideas and perceptions they are developing about their topic.
How to Work with Notes
- After you take notes, re-read them.
- Then re-organize them by putting similar information together. Working with your notes involves re-grouping them by topic instead of by source. Re-group your notes by re-shuffling your index cards or by color-coding or using symbols to code notes in a notebook.
- Review the topics of your newly-grouped notes. If the topics do not answer your research question or support your working thesis directly, you may need to do additional research or re-think your original research.
- During this process you may find that you have taken notes that do not answer your research question or support your working thesis directly. Don't be afraid to throw them away.
It may have struck you that you just read a lot of "re" words: re-read, re-organize, re-group, re-shuffle, re-think. That's right; working with your notes essentially means going back and reviewing how this "new" information fits with your own thoughts about the topic or issue of the research.
Grouping your notes should enable you to outline the major sections and then the paragraph of your research paper.