Sometimes, students work hard to find the perfect books and articles for their library research assignments, then spend lots of time carefully reading them, only to feel “stuck” when they start to write their papers. This can happen when students don’t take notes as they read. Note-taking is a skill that needs to be developed just like any other academic skill. Even if the book or article you’re reading is full of great, absorbing information, unless you organize its facts and ideas into brief, easily manageable chunks, you will find it tough to carry information over from your sources to your own words.
Luckily, getting into the habit of taking good notes is a skill that can be learned quickly and easily. Once you get it down, it will become second nature, and you will wonder how you ever did without it!
Below are some tips that might work for you:
* As you read, always think in the back of your mind, “Which parts of this reading are important for me to take away, and which are not directly related to my research topic?” In any text, you only need to use those facts and ideas that directly apply to your purpose. As a student, you are a detective looking for clues that will help you solve a case. Your “case” is the purpose of your paper, and, like a detective, not every fact or idea you come across will be a clue.
* When you approach a book or article this way, you will see that your note-taking is important because you are taking away those aspects of another author’s work that you will use again when you write.
* A good rule of thumb is that a source should not require overly long, extensive notes. Try to keep them as brief as possible – say, only half a page or so for each source.
* Mix in a few direct quotations for your notes. Make sure to put quotation marks around them (to avoid any possible plagiarism later), and include the page or paragraph number so that you can cite these later.
* For everything that you do not directly quote, practice paraphrasing the author’s words into your own words. Read a paragraph and then try to condense it into one or two sentences. Then you can use these same sentences in your paper.
* Once you are ready to write, you can have those few pages of notes right next to you, as a guide to steer you forward. You might then consider making an Outline of how your paper will go.