Taking Organized Notes


Review appropriate material from Writing Research Papers: A Complete Guide, Lester & Lester (136-149) or another guide to research concerning taking notes..

Complete working research information for the class and instructor to review.

Assignments & Projects –

Gathering Material: Taking Organized Notes

Note cards – There are of course a number of ways and methods to take notes for research. However, keeping certain kinds of information is more efficient and helpful for your research project. “Note cards” are a method you can use or not, but as a teaching tool to indicate the important things to keep in your notes, they are an effective way. In the end, after learning what your notes can do for you efficiently, you will adjust the specific method to fit your own needs.

Complete a sampling of the equivalent of at least twelve note cards. Because this course is online, the notes can use any format that is clear – separate various notes with page breaks; separate notes with hard lines between them, or use any method that clearly separates one note from another. In any case, each note card equivalent should have:

An indication of the source (often the author’s last name is enough if you are only using one piece by that author).
The page number(s) from which the material came (for use in an MLA citation) or the year (APA).
Quotation marks around the note if the note is a verbatim quotation.
At the top of each note your own category name or header for the note.
Post this by February 12.


Select and record information to keep notes for research.
Know the importance of paraphrasing.
Paraphrase material from diverse sources.
Keep track of the source from which you gathered the information.
Keep a record of the necessary information with a note in order to be able to later use a parenthetical citation in an essay.
Use analysis to create an appropriate category, label, or “title” for a note.
Organize one’s notes by labeling each note.

Taking notes

Much of the important work of a research paper, including the first steps of organization, is done during the process of taking notes. Either 3″x 5″ or 4″x 6″ cards will work. However, in order to show your notes online, you will have to create a few mock note cards on the computer and post them. If you are taking notes digitally, you can usually submit the notes in the format that you are using.

As described in the assigned reading for this lesson (Lester and Lester 136-149), each note should identify the source where you found the information and the page number if there is a page number. For instance, there is no page number for films or personal interviews. For different citation systems, you will also need to keep the year that your source appeared. The other publishing information will be in your Working List of Sources for your eventual Works Cited page.

If the note you take is an exact quote, be sure to indicate that by putting quotation marks around your note. However, keep in mind that summarizing and in some cases analyzing is a much more efficient use of note cards. Copying exactly whole quotations is similar to photocopying information and highlighting. This may have worked for shorter papers, but for longer research essays such as this one, summarizing and paraphrasing material on note cards instead of copying will save you an immense amount of time, and it will also make organizing your paper a less complicated process. Finally, by paraphrasing you are making the information part of your personal cognitive process.

The text demonstrates various kinds of notes and note cards. However, it is best to keep fewer notes on one card than more. In fact, one note per card is the best system because it will lend itself to whatever organization you finally use. One piece of information per card allows you to be more flexible as you progress with organizing your research for your eventual outline and paper. However, other methods, especially if you think the information you are summarizing will stay together in your final paper, are possible.

You will probably take a few notes that will finally not be used in your research essay. It is far better to have some extra, unused information left over than to have holes in your essay. Consider any extra cards and notes you take to be an indication that you are doing good research.

In order to be able to cite sources in your paper according to the MLA system, what you need with the note is the last name (family name) of the author and the page number where you found the information. Other citation systems need the year the work was produced as well. The specific format for the note system depend on the content of the paper and instructor. For our purposes, each note should include the necessary information. If you are not sure which system to use, hen use MLA (Modern Language Association), but in any case, being consistent is most important.

Categories (Major Ideas & Subtopics)

Begin as soon as possible to identify each note with a category. Each card should have at least a major idea, but eventually they should also begin to have topics and subtopics for your outline and essay as you develop them. Often, you may need to create a number of cards before you see similarities between them, which then become your topics. At the same time, the sooner you can begin to identify such categories, topics, and subtopics, the more efficient your note card taking will become.

These major ideas, categories, topics, and subtopics will become the items in the outline for your research paper. Having the notes and topics on cards allows you to arrange and rearrange your material into the most effective organization. This will make the process more fluid and flexible. Eventually you will be able to write your outline and paper by flipping through the organized notes, allowing them to guide you through the outline and first draft.

Using this method, it is also possible to create notes and note cards with your own ideas about your subject as you continue to think and explore. You may label them “mine” instead of identifying a source, but more important is to label them with appropriate categories, topics, and subtopics that fit the organization you are devising.

Submit at least the equivalent of 12 notes from at least four different sources. Also, they should be labeled with at least three different topics or subtopics. Post in appropriate Discussions list by November 16.

Study questions:

– What is the importance of paraphrasing one’s notes while doing research?

– What are topics and sub-topics on note cards?

– What will topics and sub-topics of note cards become as you prepare to draft your research essay?

– How do you need to identify a source on a note card?

– If you do use a quotation in your notes, how do you indicate it?


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