Taking Notes for Research Papers
How to Take Notes for Your Research Paper
As you proceed in giving shape to your research paper, you’ll likely find that you have a wide range of source materials to consult, read and take notes from. As a matter of fact, taking notes to prepare your paper, either to support and back up your argument, or to provide some kind of disagreement, is important, and so is the form of the notes you take. This how-to guide will help you to learn how to take good notes using three different techniques.
Choose a suitable technique for writing the notes out.Whether you are using index cards or blank sheets, there are essentially three techniques (forms) to make use of when taking notes:
- (i) direct quotation;
- (ii) paraphrase; and
- (iii) summary/commentary.
Organize these notes, so that you will be able to work well from them as you start off writing your paper.This is known as the working bibliography. This is very helpful in the sense that it saves time and helps you later in compiling your bibliography or works-cited list.
Using direct quotation
Report what an author has said.Quote the material verbatim, that is, word by word. Direct quotations reproduce an author’s exact words. This technique is used when the original wording is essential to understanding exact meaning, or otherwise interesting. That said, the author may be an expert or a key-figure in his/her area of expertise; therefore, he or she is quoted to avoid the possibility of misunderstanding.
- For instance, in doing research on the difference between poetry and prose, you might tend to quote a passage from Percy Bysshe Shelley’s “A Defence of Poetry.” Since the distinction is succinctly stated there, a paraphrase would perhaps be a bit longer than the original, and probably less interestingly stated. Material as such ought to be quoted verbatim (directly): A poem is the very image of life expressed in the eternal truth. There is this difference between a story and a poem, that a story is a catalogue of detached facts, which have no other connection than time, place, circumstance, cause and effect; the other is the creation of actions according to unchangeable forms of human nature, as existing in the mind of the Creator, which is itself the image of all other minds.
Use paraphrasing to translate a sentence or a whole passage into other form/structure of words, most of the time using clear and to-the-point language, so it may be easily understood.It is a re-statement of the original passage. This technique can be used to paraphrase passages, diagrams, tables…etc. in terms of describing the elements of these aspects.
- For example, in reading for a paper on economics, you frequently run across a number of tables of statistical data. Such tables should be quoted directly in entirety if all the items in them pertain to the specific topic you are exploring. There is no time to waste in copying parts of the tables that are not relevant to your study. A single line from the table may be all that is needed.
Write a summary/commentary.Summarizing and commenting is the third type of note-taking. A summary is needed when you want to keep track or record of the general idea of large amounts of material. Its purpose is to condense an extended idea or argument into considerably fewer words. And, therefore, you are compelled to omit less important details. If direct quotation is a re-production of the author’s exact words, the summary is a reproduction of the sense of the passage being summarized. Alongside, you might, in addition to summarizing, want to comment on the passage you’re summarising. It’s a kind of combining both paraphrase and summary.
- You need index cards or blank sheets, or a computer-based file
- You need pens and highlighters
Sources and Citations
- Downing, S. (2011). On Course: Strategies for creating Success in College and in Life. Boston: Wadsworth Cengage Learning.
- MLA Handbook for Writers of Research Papers (7th edition ed.). (2009). New York: The Modern Language Association of America.
- Murphy, E. E. (1985). Writing and Researching Term Papers and Reports: A New Guide for Students. Canada: Bantam Books, Inc.
- Strunk, W. (1959). The Elements of Style. New York.
- Van Blerkom, D. (2009). College Study Skills: Becoming a Strategic Learner. Boston: Wadsworth Cengage Learning.
Video: Taking notes for research
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