- 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.|
Note-Taking Strategies, Note-Taking Methods and Why They Matter
Recording information through using note-taking strategies and note-taking methods that help you keep information organized facilitate the writing process. The information you need is more accessible. This means doing an outline, writing your first draft and citing sources is made easier. Before you dive headfirst into conducting research and gathering information, prepare by taking the following steps:
Step #1: Develop note-taking strategies
- How to record information
- How to record source citation information
- How to keep notes organized
Step #2: Choose note-taking methods
Develop a plan with note-taking strategies
Having a plan created around note-taking strategies allows you to conduct research in a more organized fashion. Plan ahead, and decide how you intend to approach note-taking in general. Make sure to incorporate the following factors into your note-taking strategies:
- Recording of information—Do you intend to jot notes or write in full sentences? Jotting down notes might seem faster while you are conducting research, but when it comes time to write your paper, using complete sentences makes the writing process faster. Plus, it makes it less likely that you need to revisit a source to get the whole picture if you are unsure of what your shortened notes mean. There are four different ways to record information:
- Direct quotation
- Personal thought
- Citation information—How can you keep source citation information together? It is a good idea to keep two sets of notes: one with facts and information to write the actual paper and a second set with only bibliographic information for citation purposes. With a second set, make sure to know what information you need to write under a specific style or citation guide, such as MLA, APA or the Chicago Manual of Style.
- Organization—What system can you put in place to find information quickly? Aim to code all sections of your notes by marking where each piece of information might fall in your outline or paper. It does not need to be exact; your note cards help you write the outline when your research is complete. Also note the source of the information by using something that references the bibliographic notes, so you know where the information is to cite any research information. Try to keep similar pieces of information together and well organized.
Choose note-taking methods to execute your plan
You have two basic options when it comes to note-taking methods: with index cards or on the computer.
Using index cards as a note-taking method—Using blank 3×5 or 5×7 index cards, you can record one piece of information onto one card.
- Create codes for where the information goes in your paper (or your best guess). Write it on the top right of the card. For example, if it goes in the introduction, write “Intro.”
- Record the author’s last name, the title (abbreviated form is okay) and a page number, if applicable.
- Put the each piece of information into your own words unless you intend to use it as a direct quotation.
Using your computer as a note-taking method—Using multiple computer files saved into one folder, you can type notes while you research.
- Create a new folder for your research paper. Save all files pertaining to your paper within the folder throughout the process of writing your paper.
- Create a new file to record the bibliographic information for citing sources. Keep only the information about sources as a whole in this document, so when you need to create the documentation for your sources, such as a Works Cited page or a Resource List, you have everything you need in one place.
- Open a new word processor file, and create the codes for where information is to appear within your paper (or your best guess). These codes serve as bold headings and subheadings to identify areas within your topic. Save one copy as your master research file.
- Resave the same file as your working research file. Any time you add additional research, make the changes to this file. Keep related information together with the source noted by each piece of information (including the page number). Save it, and then resave it as a new version of your master research file. Complete this process every time you make changes to the file with this note-taking method.
- When adding information, note the author’s name, the title and the page number (if applicable). Save your file frequently to ensure you do not lose anything. Repeat the process of saving to both your working research file and the master file.
Importance of good note-taking strategies and note-taking methods
Employing note-taking strategies and methods as you read through sources of information is important for several reasons.
- They help you avoid plagiarism.
- They make organizing your paper easier.
- They allow you to record where you obtained information to save time as you write and cite information.
- They make it easier to go back to an original source for more information when necessary.
- They help improve the overall quality of your paper.