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Reading and Note-taking

Creating Research Notes 

When you’re researching, don’t rely on your highlighter! Taking notes serves three important points:

  1. An “artificial memory”: notes keep track of what you know, eliminating the need to reread.
  2. Putting something into your own words is a great way to check whether you understand it.
  3. Keeping notes short allows you to practice the art of summary. Summary demonstrates your ability to identify main points and key concepts in a text.

There are two firm rules for research notes:

  1. Notes must be written in your own words. No cutting and pasting!
  2. Notes on a single source must not be more than two pages. One is often better!

 

Start by choosing and narrowing down your topic to make your research more focused (see Choosing and Developing a Topic tip sheet). Here’s what to include in your research notes:

  • Bibliographic entryAt the top of your note page, create a bibliographic entry for the text. Use the correct citation format for your discipline. 
  • Purpose or argumentArticulate main point(s) of the text (250 words). 
  • Type of study or author’s theoretical framework: Is it a randomized control trial? A longitudinal study? Or, is the theoretical framework postcolonialism? Cognitive theory of learning? 1 or 2 sentences here is enough. 
  • Methodology: Briefly describe the methodology of the study or how the author conducted research. You can also include a quick run-down of key proofs or points.
  • Key terms: Note down and define key words or phrases.
  • Results/conclusionsSummarize results and/or conclusions. Include any limitations the author has addressed.
  • Your response: Note your criticisms, questions, positive reactions. Your own thoughts on what you research form the beginning of your own scholarly contributions. 

Label your notes in a way that allows for easy access later. Use a separate page/document for notes on each source. This will help you synthesize ideas later by allowing you to group and shuffle your notes.

 

Improve your writing and study skills! Book an appointment with a writing advisor and/or academic coach on OSCARplus.  Questions? Email skills@mcmaster.ca

References 

Procter, M. (n. d.). Taking notes from research reading. Writing Advice. https://advice.writing.utoronto.ca/researching/notes-from-research/ 

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