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Making notes

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Making notes

This guide offers advice on making notes from your research.


Why make notes?

Notes provide the 'data' for your paragraphs. A typical paragraph contains:

  • a 'topic' or 'focusing' sentence that sets the direction for the paragraph
  • data that provides support or evidence for the direction
  • a concluding statement.
The focusing sentence and conclusion put forward your view or argument on the topic for that paragraph. They need to be supported by good quality evidence and your notes provide this support.

Below are some general tips for notetaking. Refer to the Paragraphing section for more detailed guidance on constructing paragraphs.

General tips

  • Take notes with a purpose and try to resist the temptation to take notes on everything you are reading.
  • Focus on the areas you identified from the essay title. The areas for your research come from the main subjects of your assignment title and the type of essay you are being asked to write. See Understanding the question for more on analysing essay titles.
  • Don't try to avoid the writing notes stage by highlighting or underlining the text in books or print outs and then trying to write straight from these marks. If you have to keep referring back to lots of different pages you will get confused as your memory can't retain all the information while you are writing.
  • Write short, succinct summaries of your notes on each source of information. This will help greatly when you come to write the essay as you will have sentences that you can slot straight into your paragraphs with minimal re-writing.
  • Everyone makes notes differently so use the style that works best for you. The Cornell method is one popular method.
Cornell method

The Cornell method is one way of taking notes. This method recommends using one page for each source and dividing it up into columns as follows:

Cue column

 

2. Reduce the key points to labels, abbreviated headings etc that you can use as memory cues later



3. Cover the Notes column and try using the cues to speak the full ideas aloud in your own words.

Notes column

1. Record key ideas, facts, etc here.
Keep it short but make sure you capture the full meaning.


 

 

 

4. Reflect on your notes, asking yourself about critical questions (see Reading critically). Some people write these reflections in a new column to the right of Notes.

Summary

5. Write a final summary at the bottom which captures the key ideas and your view on them.



For an example of the Cornell method, see https://academic.cuesta.edu/acasupp/as/619.htm

Computer tools

These free tools may be helpful for storing and organising notes and related resources like web pages. They are available for your phone, computer, tablet or via the web and also allow sharing of notebooks for group projects. Bear in mind that software can change or become unavailable.

Evernote

Springnote

OneNote (part of Microsoft Office)

Other useful resources
 

Cue column

 

2. Reduce the key points to labels, abbreviated headings etc that you can use as memory cues later



3. Cover the Notes column and try using the cues to speak the full ideas aloud in your own words.


Notes column

1. Record key ideas, facts, etc here.
Keep it short but make sure you capture the full meaning.




 

 

 

4. Reflect on your notes, asking yourself about critical questions (see Reading critically). Some people write these reflections in a new column to the right of Notes.

Summary

5. Write a final summary at the bottom which captures the key ideas and your view on them.

Cue column

 

2. Reduce the key points to labels, abbreviated headings etc that you can use as memory cues later



3. Cover the Notes column and try using the cues to speak the full ideas aloud in your own words.


Notes column

1. Record key ideas, facts, etc here.
Keep it short but make sure you capture the full meaning.




 

 

 

4. Reflect on your notes, asking yourself about critical questions (see Reading critically). Some people write these reflections in a new column to the right of Notes.

Summary

5. Write a final summary at the bottom which captures the key ideas and your view on them.

Cue column

 

2. Reduce the key points to labels, abbreviated headings etc that you can use as memory cues later



3. Cover the Notes column and try using the cues to speak the full ideas aloud in your own words.


Notes column

1. Record key ideas, facts, etc here.
Keep it short but make sure you capture the full meaning.




 

 

 

4. Reflect on your notes, asking yourself about critical questions (see Reading critically). Some people write these reflections in a new column to the right of Notes.

Summary

5. Write a final summary at the bottom which captures the key ideas and your view on them.