Note-taking - as well as note-making - is an important part of academic writing, especially during the pre-writing stage when material is collected and decisions are made regarding the argument and the focus of the text. Some general advice regarding note-taking is provided below.
Distinction between note-taking and note-making
In daily speech, we make little distinction between what are two different activities involving the writing down of important statements or facts. In a lecture situation, for instance, note-taking is when you write down key words and what you perceive as the most central aspects of what you hear. However, if you produce notes while reading or while thinking about something, this is often referred to as note-making. As you produce notes based on what you read, you have more time to think as you write, which enables you to produce notes based on your reflections about the source.
This distinction is worth keeping in mind; as a student, you need to be able to take quick and efficient notes during class, but you also need to be able to reflect and write notes based on what you read. In either case, if you use your notes in your essay writing, for instance, you must ensure that you can distinguish between your own ideas and those of your source.
The importance of careful note-taking
If you make notes while reading a text, always mark what are your own ideas, what are direct quotes and what are paraphrases. If you paraphrase - that is, rewrite something in your own words - do so in a proper way at the note-making stage, as it may be difficult, indeed impossible, at a later stage to distinguish your own words from somebody else's. Read more about that here:
Work with your notes
While writing and rewriting your text, consult your notes on a continuous basis and double-check your use of sources in order to avoid misrepresentation of the original text. If your paraphrases are too close to the original source, change them to proper quotations or rewrite your paraphrases. In either case, make sure you give credit to the source.
Keep track of your sources
Always write down a full reference to all sources that you use, as they may be difficult to identify at a later stage. If you make a paper copy of an article or of some pages from a book, note the correct bibliographic source on the copy for future reference. Likewise, when using electronic material, note the date of access, since some reference styles require this information. For detailed information about this, consult the relevant reference style.
Some writers make use of tools for reference management. Read more about that here:
Use introductory tags in your notes
In a comprehensive project with many sources it is difficult to remember why certain sources and passages were chosen. It is therefore a good idea to write introductory phrases for any quotations and paraphrases in your notes, as this will help you remember the context of the quotation or paraphrase and why you chose it. Although such introductory phrases may well have to be rewritten when you develop your text, they will serve as reminders of the original context.
Read more here:
In some disciplines, it is common to write annotated bibliographies, which are commented lists of all sources that you plan to use in a project. As you read your sources, make annotations (i.e., short, explanatory notes) for each source. At a later stage of your project, such annotations can help you decide which of the sources you read during the pre-writing stage will be useful and for what purpose. Read more about how to write annotated bibliographies here: