Take Notes While You Read

Writing while reading aids your memory in many ways, especially by making a link that is unclear in the text concrete in your own writing.

  • Both skills will improve by developing a habit of writing notes in conjunction with reading.
  • Invest your research time in understanding your sources and integrating them into your own thinking

Make notes
Reading Journal
Outline the Paper
Create a list of Questions
What to Copy Verbatim
Use Note Cards
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Find your own words for notes in the margin (or on "sticky" notes). Underlining and highlighting are not as effective as your own notes, for developing understanding.

Make notes

Jot down marginal notes and write down ideas in a notebook. Do whatever works for your own personal taste. Note for yourself :

  • the main ideas
  • the thesis
  • the author's main points to support the theory
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Keep a reading journal

In addition to note-taking, it is often helpful to regularly record your responses and thoughts in a more permanent place that is yours to consult.
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Make an outline of the paper

The idea is to create some organized information about the paper that will help you sort out the details.

  • Highlight the major points of the paper
  • This can be as detailed as you need it to be to help you capture the ideas and spark your thinking.
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Create a list of questions

  • about parts that you don't understand
  • about parts where you question their solution/proof/methods/results
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List comparisons of this paper to other related work with which you are familiar.

Copy out exact words only when the ideas are memorably phrased or surprisingly expressed--when you might use them as actual quotations in your essay.

Otherwise, compress ideas in your own words.

  • Paraphrasing word by word is a waste of time.
  • Choose the most important ideas and write them down as labels or headings. Then fill in with a few sub points that explain or exemplify.
  • Save bother later by developing the habit of recording bibliographic information in a master list when you begin looking at each source (don't forget to note book and journal information on photocopies).
  • Then you can quickly identify each note by the author's name and page number; when you refer to sources in the essay you can fill in details of publication easily from your master list.
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Try as far as possible to put notes on separate cards or sheets.

This will let you label the topic of each note. Not only will that keep your note taking focused, but it will also allow for grouping and synthesizing of ideas later. It is especially satisfying to shuffle notes and see how the conjunctions create new ideas -- yours.

Leave lots of space in your notes for comments of your own -- questions and reactions as you read, second thoughts and cross-references when you look back at what you've written. These comments can become a virtual first draft of your paper.
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last updated: August 29, 2005 Marti Lindsey mlindsey@u.arizona.edu