Useful Research Notes
- Why is notetaking important?
- What should I note?
- Guidelines for good notetaking
- 5 Notetaking Pitfalls to Avoid
- Note templates
Good notes ask questions, summarize key points, analyse, connect to your thesis, and to other sources.
Taking notes helps you read analytically and critically. Notetaking also provides distance from sources, making it a useful strategy to avoid plagiarism.
Bibliographic or Reference Information
Before taking any notes on content, record the bibliographic information. For books, record the author, title, publisher, place of publication, and date published and for journal articles, you need the name of the journal, the volume and issue numbers, the year published, and pages.
Summary or Paraphrase
Most of your notes will be of summaries of an author’s ideas, arguments, or findings with some paraphrases of more specific ideas. It is essential that you strive for accuracy. Do not confuse what you want research to show with what it does show, and do not make a point out of context.
Facts and Figures
Be meticulous when you record facts or figures.
Quote thoughtfully and carefully; take note of context so you can be true to the author’s intent. Remember to always place quotation marks around direct quotations in your notes.
Record important terms or words that need clarification. Your ability to use these words correctly and to define terms clearly will affect the success of your argument and analysis.
Response and Analysis
Record your insights and questions as you read; your notes will then provide that necessary balance between yourself and the material.
- Consider how the interpretation offered by the text addresses your topic and it relates to your thesis.
- Compare and contrast competing arguments between scholars.
- Assess the author’s use of evidence or the logic of his or her argument.
- Ask questions like “how,” “why,” and “so what?”
- Ask how your research supports your thesis or doesn't support it, as the case may be, and how you will have to deal with it in your essay.
- Have a clear direction: Maintain a clear focus on the purpose of your work. As you read and research, revise and modify your tentative thesis and outline.
- Organize your notes carefully: set up a folder for your research, save your digital files frequently and clearly label all files.
- Take point-form notes in your own words as much as possible: include your own thoughts and analysis about the reading. Make sure to note references and page numbers for all sources.
- Wait for breaks in the reading (paragraph, sub-section, chapter) before summarizing the author's ideas; then go back to specific details you wish to include.
- Once you have finished the whole text, review your notes, and summarize the key points and how they relate to your work.
- Taking too many notes: without a clear research direction, you may take far too many notes. Consider your purpose; only record ideas relevant to your topic and thesis and which have a place in your outline.
- Using sticky notes or highlighting instead of taking point-from notes: putting ideas into your words makes you think about material more carefully. It also helps avoid plagiarism.
- Copying and pasting from electronic sources: this makes it hard to remember if ideas belong to you or the author. In addition, you may rely too heavily on direct quotation in your paper, with little attention to analysis.
- Incomplete referencing: when you record references at the final stages of writing, it is easier to miss essential information or have difficulty finding the texts again.
- Recording content but not your analysis: ignoring your own response can lead you to a paper with too much summary and not enough analysis.