Notetaking Help (page 3)
Introduction to Notetaking
Now that you have collected more than enough books, articles, magazines, and websites devoted to your topic how do you record all this information in one place? More importantly, how do you read complex material, sift through it, and take the most important elements out of it for your work? This lesson will discuss how to read your information critically and take notes from it in the most efficient and time saving manner.
Before you begin to take down any notes, make sure that you are well-equipped beforehand so that you can make the best use of your reading and library time. Be sure to come to the library with:
- a highlighter (to highlight important material on your note cards)
- a pencil (to make a light dot or mark relevant pages you need to read)
- your note card holder (to keep your cards in)
- lined index cards (to write your notes on)
- tabbed index card dividers (with the letters of the alphabet, A-Z—to arrange by your subject heading)
- your pocket folder (in case there is a large page or material that you need to copy from the original book)
- one index card for each book you use that includes the book's title, author, publisher, and publication date
How to Use Index Cards
Often, you will not be able to take out a specific book. What if there is information in that reference book that you desperately need? Maybe you don't want to spend ten or twenty dollars to copy every page of information. How do you walk away with the most important information a book has to offer without taking the book home from the library? Each index card should function for you like a miniature photocopy of that book. In other words, if you suddenly threw all your index cards up in the air and they came down again, you would be able to pick up any of those index cards and get precise, reliable information from it. To do this, here are a few helpful hints. Every single note card should contain:
- The title of the book you are reading (upper right hand corner of your index card)
- The author of the book you are reading (upper right hand corner beneath the title)
- The number of that index card itself (number your index cards chronologically in the order you have used them in the upper left hand corner, beginning with 1.)
- A subject heading (put this in the center of the note card)
- One or two direct quotations or paraphrased sentences from the book you are reading
- The page number of the book from which you have taken the material
The Value of Note Cards
If you use this procedure, every single note card will serve as a precise, miniature replica of the book. In other words, by keeping note cards, you will automatically have an instant, accessible record of:
- What book you are referring to
- The author you are consulting
- The number of each note card
- How many note cards you took on a particular book
- How valuable each source was (based on the number of note cards taken)
- A specific subject or topic heading (which will help you group your cards)
- A precise page number for citations and footnotes
While this process might seem slow and not make much sense in the beginning, it will save you time later when you sit down to write your paper. Instead of flipping back and forth between notebook pages or sitting at the library in front of half a dozen opened books, scribbling notes and consulting various books in a pile, you now have your material readily accessible in an ordered, organized system.
Writing Note Cards—How to Take Down Important Information
Knowing how to take notes from the many resources you use during the research process can be one of the most important skills you master. As you sift through volumes of information during the research process, you might ask yourself:
- Which facts will I need when I write my draft?
- Which material is important and which isn't?
- How do I determine exactly what to write on my note cards?
- Should I paraphrase or should I use direct quotes?
Basically, as you read through the books and articles you have chosen, you should be looking for ideas, facts, statistics, statements, speeches, or other information—whether it be a sentence or a complete paragraph—that you feel will be important support material when you assemble your notes into a research paper.
There are many different ways to record this information. First, you can always copy a statement directly from a source as long as you place quotation marks around any words you have copied. You must give credit to these sources because you do not want to plagiarize another person's work. To make sure you have pertinent information when you need it, note the title of the book, the author, the publishing information and the book's page number on your note card. You will need to document this information at the end of the research process.
You can also put important information from a book or an article into your own words. This is called paraphrasing, and it simply means that you are summarizing an author's thoughts and ideas. A good way to assess or evaluate what kinds of information you can paraphrase on your note cards is to remember the 5 W's that you used when you wrote your thesis statement. Any information or statement that addresses the fundamental questions, who, what, where, when, and why is usually important and critical. For example, let's revisit the topic of President John F. Kennedy in the excerpt that follows. The task is to decide what is important and how to record and/or paraphrase the necessary facts. Let's look at different ways that you might put the information into your own words or how you can quote it directly. As you practice, remember that you are always striving to be accurate and precise as you paraphrase.
Read the following passage which is taken from the book The American People, Creating a Nation and a Society, Second Edition by Nash, Jeffrey, Howe, Frederick, Davis and Winkler (Harper & Row, Publishers, Inc., New York, 1990.) In these sentences, the authors of this American history textbook describe the last moments of President John F. Kennedy as his motorcade rode through the streets of Dallas. They wrote:
"As the party entered the city in an open car, the president encountered friendly crowds. Suddenly shots rang out, and Kennedy slumped forward. Desperately wounded, he died a short time later at a Dallas hospital. Lee Harvey Oswald, the assassin, was himself shot and killed a few days later in the jail where he was being held." (p. 963)
Clearly, this paragraph describes the last moments of President Kennedy's life and is an important quote. If you paraphrase, or put the same information into your own words, your note card will begin to look something like this:
In Example A, you have recorded vital information such as who was hurt (Kennedy) and what happened (shots were heard) in your own words. However, you may want to emphasize that at first the reception for President Kennedy seemed friendly, but this was deceptive because there was a killer in the city. With this perspective in mind, another way to record the information might look something like the following:
In Example B, you have recorded the exact same information that the book provided; however, you chose to arrange the material to emphasize that Kennedy's initial welcoming reception was suspect. You have not changed any of the facts; you've only chosen to put emphasis on a different aspect of the historical situation. Again, as long as you have recorded all the precise information about the book and as long as you list it in your bibliography, it is acceptable to write a note card this way. A third way of taking down the same information might be the following.
In Example C, you decided to include a direct quote from the text about Lee Harvey Oswald to emphasize the point that he was acting alone. Perhaps you liked the way the authors stated this fact and wanted to use their exact words in your paper. Exact quotes add support to a research paper. Just be sure to fully credit your sources.
To summarize, be precise when writing notes on your note cards because you are accumulating facts for your paper. Take down information accurately and complete your note cards thoroughly. Factual material, direct quotes, unique ideas, unusual phrases, perspectives, or statistics are all good information to add to note cards for future reference. Simple facts are easy to paraphrase, but sometimes you might want to use the exact words of an author because you may like the way he or she states the case. You can make that decision as you continue your research. Be sure that you note the page number of any information you use from a source, regardless of whether it is a direct quotation or information you have paraphrased.
How Note Cards Will Help You
Keep all your note cards in your index card container and use the alphabetical tabs to keep them arranged by subject heading. In this way, you can leave the library and the actual books behind and travel instead with your note card holder—your own personal, moving library. In fact, when you are ready to sit down and write the paper, you can write it from your note cards only—without having to go to the trouble of locating the original book again. Note cards are easy to arrange in stacks, unlike books, and are particularly easy to flip through and consult. In fact, if you take your notes carefully, most of your information will have already been organized and arranged beforehand, making your first draft easy to write.
Notetaking and note cards are a handy, foolproof way for you to record important information in a format that you can easily access. Keep all of your note cards in one place, and organize them according to subject heading. Make sure that all relevant information is contained on those cards so that you do not have to duplicate any of your work or hunt down sources after you have consulted them. Having neat and detailed note cards makes writing your paper easier.
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