Taking Organized Notes

Your approach to notetaking should be directed by your topic, thesis and rough outline. Hand-written and electronic notes each have advantages and disadvantages, so stick with one style based on your preference. Your goal is to have clear, purposeful and organized notes when you are ready to write your paper.

  • Record complete bibliographic information for all sources.
  • Record sources and page numbers for all notes, including data, summary, and direct quotation.
  • Include your analysis of the ideas presented by the source; you may find a two-column template works well for this.
  • Summarize or paraphrase in point-form rather than copying chunks of text.
  • Key your notes, either by highlighting or labelling them, to indicate where the information fits in your outline.
  • Keep it safe: digital files need to be saved often and in an organized file system; hand-written notes must be kept together in one place – always make sure your notebook is with you before you leave the library.


Handy tricks for organization

  • Set up a new folder (paper or digital) for all new research projects; all files or notes for this project will be stored in this folder.
  • Maintain a separate file listing all references, including hyperlinks or library call numbers for quick retrieval.
  • Clearly label each note or file within your folder by the name of the text or its author. Each source should have its own file or note, which may be organized by where it fits in your working outline (see two-column template for an example).
  • Sort through completed notes using “find” command in your word processing program or by looking for keywords or themes you have highlighted.
  • If you choose to take notes electronically, you will be able to switch easily between files containing the following: bibliographic information, notes on your sources,  and your developing outline.

Back to Taking Useful Notes