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Graduate Student Guides

Writing Research Notes

Research notes are an important foundation for writing. Reading a text with writing in mind involves synthesis, analysis, and evaluation. Notes should cover most of the following points:

  • Why are you reading this? Identifying your purpose for reading the material will help you hone in on the details of the text that are important. 
  • What do you already know about the topic? What do you expect to read? Use the text’s abstract or the first few pages to note the theoretical/methodological frameworks, research questions, and who/what the text is in conversation with. 
  • Are there keywords or concepts that the text defines or uses? Write these down and include brief explanation using your own words of what these terms/concepts mean.
  • What are your key takeaways from the text? The text’s main argument is important, but there might be other useful details.
  • What do you notice when you read the text for a second time? It might be useful to re-read the text multiple times, especially if it’s theoretical.
  • What are your questions? Asking questions helps move your notes towards analysis and evaluation. You might also take tentative steps at answering the questions.

 

Organizing your research notes will help save you time and energy later during the writing process. Take the time to explore your options and find what works best for you:

  • Record bibliographic information for each note.
  • Include page numbers in citations for any passages you’ve quoted directly.
  • Consider using a template with sub-headings for the various components of your notes (ex. Summary, Methods, Main Takeaways, Questions). 
  • Use a consistent note-taking or reference management software.

 

Graduate students can get research support from the Graduate Studies Librarian, Leeanne Romane, by booking a research consultation here. 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 and Further Reading

Bunn, Michael. “Motivation and Connection: Teaching Reading (and Writing) in the Composition Classroom.” College Composition and Communication, vol. 64, no. 3, 2013, pp. 496-516.

Horning, Alice S. “Reading Across the Curriculum as the Key to Student Success.” Across the Disciplines: A Journal of Language, Learning and Academic Writing, vol. 4, 2004, n.p. 

Procter, Margaret. “Taking Notes from Research Reading.” University of Toronto Writing Advice, University of Toronto, https://advice.writing.utoronto.ca/researching/notes-from-research/. Accessed 1 March 2021.

Specht, Doug. “Reading and Notetaking.” In The Media and Communications Study Skills Student Guide, University of Westminster Press, 2019, pp. 89-100.

Sweeney, Meghan A. and Maureen McBride. “Difficulty Paper (Dis)Connections: Understanding the Threads Students Weave between Their Reading and Writing.” College Composition and Communication, vol. 66, no. 4, 2015, pp. 591-614.

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