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Some students view taking notes as a mindless procedure they have to go through to write a paper. Such an attitude is detrimental since good notes are a core factor that helps determine if you will write a good research project. In fact, next to building a solid research plan, the note taking process is perhaps the most critical part of your prewriting process.
When you are completing a research paper, you will use three types of note taking: summarizing, paraphrasing, and quoting. Since, at the note taking stage, you do not know for sure how you will use the information you find, you will not know for sure which kind of notes to take for which sources. Use the following general guidelines to decide:
You will use most of the information you find in either a summarized or paraphrased format. So use those formats as you write. Make your best guess about how you will want to use the information. Do not ever copy and paste from a source directly into your working files unless you intend to use the information as an exact quotation. If you do intend to use an exact quotation, use the quotations when you take the initial note.
Traditionally, notes were taken by hand on note cards and then filed by topic until you were ready to sort them out and put them in the order you would use them. Once the note cards were in order, you could begin typing your paper and inserting the information from the cards into the correct spots. You could still use that method if you want to. But to do so would add, depending on the size of your paper, hours, days, or weeks to the process. Since you most likely are not interested in increasing the amount of time needed to write your paper, you should keep your notes in a computer file (backed up elsewhere). Doing so will allow you to use copy and paste features to assemble and rearrange your notes. The digital format also allows you to easily add information as desired.
To organize your notes as you take them, assign each subtopic to a separate section within a file or to a separate file. Sorting your notes so that like topics are grouped together will help streamline the writing process.
Crashing computers can cause serious loss of data, so make sure you back up your work. You can use a variety of methods of backing up your work, including the following:
If you do not have a method of backing up your data, periodically print your work so that you won’t lose as much if you have a crash. You could then probably scan the pages using a text format and have the data back in your computer quite quickly. Even if you have to rekey the information to get it back into the computer, that process will be much faster than starting completely over.
As you take notes, make sure to include the source for each piece of information. Keep the complete citation in a master reference list that is either at the end of your paper or in a separate reference file. In addition, within your notes, insert the information you need for an in-text reference. (See Chapter 22 "Appendix B: A Guide to Research and Documentation" for correct formatting of in-text references within the different citation styles.) Including the necessary in-text information within your notes is another way of cutting down the time needed to write your paper.
For all notes you take, record the page(s) where you found the information. Doing so will assure you have the information at hand if you need it for your reference. In addition, having the page numbers readily available will allow you to easily revisit sources. So that you do not inadvertently leave a page number where you do not want it, add bolding and color to your page numbers to make them stand out.
As noted earlier, you should copy and paste only information that you intend to quote. By limiting your copying and pasting to quoted materials, you are not prone to forgetting that some text is copied and end up plagiarizingUsing another’s ideas without citing the source. without intending to do so. If you find it helpful, you can add a colored notation identifying each piece of information as a quotation, summary, or paraphrase. As with the page numbers, by using colored text, you can avoid copying and pasting your tags into your paper as you write. For an example of this kind of color-coding approach, see the annotated bibliography in Section 7.8 "Creating an Annotated Bibliography".
Another method of inadvertent plagiarism is to paraphrase too closely. You can avoid this pitfall by reading a paragraph and then, without looking back, writing about the paragraph. Unless you have a photographic memory, this method will result in you rewording the idea. When you finish writing, look back to make sure you included all aspects of the original text and to clarify that you depicted the ideas accurately.
When you are planning to quote an author’s exact words, follow these guidelines: