Note-taking has several purposes. It enables you to
- remember and revise what you have read,
- note the information relevant to your task,
- identify the key ideas of other thinkers on a topic, and
- compare and synthesise the ideas of others in order to form an independent view.
Note-taking starts with documenting your sources. (Please see Documenting your References for more information).
To take notes effectively, you may need to use different note-taking techniques. These will help you avoid plagiarism and integrate your sources more effectively in your writing.
A wide variety of note-taking techniques is available.
Annotation is a form of marking up the text, such as writing comments in the margins or highlighting. While highlighting helps you identify key passages, it does not promote understanding or recall of material. To do that, you must take time to analyse and understand identified sections thoroughly by employing active learning strategies.
Diagrams are a visual from of note-taking and can provide a useful record of your reading. These can include an outline or a mind-map of the text content. Diagrams are especially effective for visual learners and form an active learning strategy.
An analytic approach to note-taking involves writing questions you have about the text. This helps you make comparisons and evaluate key ideas. This note-making approach is essential when you need to critique what you are reading.
The transformative technique involves transforming other’s ideas by expressing them in your own words. Two important examples of the transformative technique are paraphrases and summaries (see section below.
Different learners use different note-taking techniques. Explore a variety of note-taking methods and choose the ones which suit your preferred learning style and learning task.
When you paraphrase or summarise, you are transforming the original author’s ideas by expressing them in your own words. While a paraphrase is usually similar in length to the original text, a summary is a restatement of the main points in significantly shorter form.
When paraphrasing or summarising, you need to ensure that the original meaning of the text is not altered. If your version is too similar to the original, you should quote instead.
Effective paraphrasing involves a combination of such techniques as:
- using similar words (synonyms),
- deleting repeated or irrelevant words,
- changing the order of words and ideas,
- using reporting verbs (e.g. 'argues', 'suggests' and 'disagrees').
Plagiarism occurs when a writer takes material from a source without proper acknowledgment. The material may be words, diagrams, examples, or ideas.
It is important to remember that your lecturers are not only interested in observing that you have located and read key texts. They want to see you display reasoned judgment and some individual understanding of complex – frequently controversial – issues. Simply copying and pasting material you have read does not show your engagement or understanding.
To avoid plagiarism, you need to integrate information from your readings to create your own position, while clearly distinguishing your own thoughts from other's. There are two main ways you can incorporate another author’s ideas into your work:
- directly through quotation (i.e. the exact words), or
- indirectly through paraphrases and summaries .
In either case, you need to acknowledge the source of information, both within your text (usually referred to as ‘in-text citation’) and at its end (through including a bibliography or a List of Works Cited).
There are standard conventions for indicating in-text and end-of-text citations. You can find these in such referencing systems as the MLA (The Modern Language Association), APA (The American Psychological Association), or the Harvard style. See the Library's Citation Guides and citation generator re:Cite. Check with your lecturer/ tutor/ department as to which referencing style is required and closely follow the guidelines