Skip to content

Note Taking Tips For Research Papers

 

Have you ever been overwhelmed when searching for sources for a paper? Do you wonder how to sort out which sources will be the most helpful? Are you worried that you won’t have enough time to take notes on everything?

Fear not, young writer! Your friends at the trusty Writing Center have some tips for you on how to do more efficient research and how to take better notes. This way, you can organize your information so it can be put into your research paper without much hassle and stress.

Research Tips

Be specific!

You’d be surprised at how many items come up in a search of something that may seem simple. Be as specific as possible when you are doing research online.

Use quotation marks.

If you use quotation marks in an online search, the database will search for that phrase in particular. For example, if you simply searched friendships among co-workers without quotations, you may find sources that use one or two of those keywords. BUT, if you search “friendships among co-workers,” you will be more likely to find a source with that exact phrasing.

Evaluate the source.

Is the article a scholarly, peer-reviewed article, or is it from a newspaper or magazine? You can narrow down the type of source you want when you search online. Also, if you’re using Google Scholar, it will tell you how many times that source has been cited in other works.

Don’t forget about the library!

The library is always a wonderful source for research. There are specific research librarians who are more than willing to help you find the sources you need. You can also use the multiple databases the library has to find scholarly sources. There is also a brand new feature on the library’s website this semester. Students who need help with finding sources can now engage in a live chat with librarians. How cool is that?!

Note-Taking Tips

Determine what information you need before you start.

Read your paper prompt and jot down a few ideas of information you think would be important to mention in your paper. This way, you’ll know what to look for as you’re reading through your sources.

Make a system.

Create your own way to take notes that best helps you organize the information. You could use bullet points for major headings and take notes on that section under that bullet point. Also, WRITE DOWN THE PAGE NUMBER! Every type of citation (MLA, APA, Chicago) requires a page number at some point. Save yourself some time and write down the page where you found the information so you don’t have to go back and look through an entire source for a sentence or two. Trust me, I’ve been doing this for a while and it helps TREMENDOUSLY.

Paraphrase.

Don’t write everything down word-for-word; try to paraphrase things into your own words so you can write similar ideas in your paper. If you find a direct quote that you might want to use, go ahead and copy it down verbatim (but make sure to label it as a direct quote so you remember).

If you use these tips the next time you have to write a research paper, it will make the process much smoother and organized. Good luck!

Check out these sources for more tips on research and note taking:

-Kelsey, Peer Tutor

If you take notes efficiently, you can read with more understanding and also save time and frustration when you come to write your paper. These are three main principles

1. Know what kind of ideas you need to record

Focus your approach to the topic before you start detailed research. Then you will read with a purpose in mind, and you will be able to sort out relevant ideas.

  • First, review the commonly known facts about your topic, and also become aware of the range of thinking and opinions on it. Review your class notes and textbook and browse in an encyclopaedia or other reference work.
  • Try making a preliminary list of the subtopics you would expect to find in your reading. These will guide your attention and may come in handy as labels for notes.
  • Choose a component or angle that interests you, perhaps one on which there is already some controversy. Now formulate your research question. It should allow for reasoning as well as gathering of information—not just what the proto-Iroquoians ate, for instance, but how valid the evidence is for early introduction of corn. You may even want to jot down a tentative thesis statement as a preliminary answer to your question. (See Using Thesis Statements.)
  • Then you will know what to look for in your research reading: facts and theories that help answer your question, and other people’s opinions about whether specific answers are good ones.

2. Don’t write down too much

Your essay must be an expression of your own thinking, not a patchwork of borrowed ideas. Plan therefore to invest your research time in understanding your sources and integrating them into your own thinking. Your note cards or note sheets will record only ideas that are relevant to your focus on the topic; and they will mostly summarize rather than quote.

  • 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 subpoints that explain or exemplify.
  • Don’t depend on underlining and highlighting. Find your own words for notes in the margin (or on “sticky” notes).

3. Label your notes intelligently

Whether you use cards or pages for note-taking, take notes in a way that allows for later use.

  • 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. Keep a format guide handy (see Documentation Formats).
  • 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 notetaking focussed, 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.