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.
Questions or feedback about ESC's Online Writing Center? Contact us at Learning.Support@esc.edu.
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.