Notes allow a researcher to quickly remember, access, and utilise ideas with academic integrity. Notes consist of four components:
In this section you will learn about methods to read and keep useful notes. You can effectively use one or more of these techniques depending on your preferences.
Good note-taking relies on efficient reading techniques, particularly skimming, scanning and in-depth reading.
Skimming is used to quickly get the main ideas and logic of a text. To skim, look quickly over the page noting the abstract, headings, and words in italics, diagrams, introduction, discussion and summaries. Summaries are often indicated with words such as:
Scanning is used for finding particular words or phrases in a text. Use scanning to quickly locate specific information or concepts relevant to your research question before reading in more depth.
Move your eyes quickly over the page and look at the first sentence of each paragraph to:
The main thesis of an article often uses words such as
As you scan the document, highlight and code sections that are directly relevant to your research question.
The fast reading techniques of skimming and scanning will save you a lot of time and frustration as you explore and categorise literature for your research. Practising these techniques will make you a more efficient and effective researcher. For more fast reading resources see books in the Notre Dame Library catalogue on postgraduate reading techniques.
The video linked below from the Queensland University of Technology gives some tips on how to best skim and scan journal articles. You can view other videos in this series to gain further tips about how to engage meaningfully and critically with your reading via the playlist.
In-depth reading is when you read every word in a section of reading such as a journal article or book chapter. In-depth reading allows you to analyse information more carefully and write detailed and comprehensive notes. Limit in-depth reading to critically important texts that will substantially impact your argument.
The QUT video below shares a student’s perspective around how to best engage with your reading and how to write detailed and comprehensive notes as you do so.
Writing notes can be done directly onto a book or document, or using specific software on your computer or mobile device. You may need to use a variety of methods depending on the resources you are annotating. Be diligent and consistent with your note-taking and note management to ensure you can track and use prior research to meet your current writing needs.
Establish a system of organising your written annotations.
Dr Inger Mewburn has an excellent blog post on how to ‘tame the literature dragon’. She recommends coding each piece of information via Location, Alphabet, Time, Category and Hierarchy (LATCH). The LATCH system is described in more detail in the book Information Anxiety 2 by Richard S. Wurman (the creator of TED Talks).
A literature grid or source grid can help you keep track of your key sources and help to identify strengths and gaps of each paper that you read. It’s a good place to keep a record of direct quotes and the associated references. See an Example Literature Grid from Griffith University, or the blank grid from Queensland University of Technology linked below.
The LATCH Method and Literature Grid are just two examples of systems you can use to create and organise your notes. For others, such as the Cornell Method, see California Polytechnic State University's Note Taking Systems.
As you read your own copy of a book or printed article, code the text with the system you have chosen and write notes in the margins or on the back of the page. Be sure to code each comment and then copy those comments into a blank document (with full reference including page number) for future use.
Using an electronic system for making and recording notes allows you to manage your notes more efficiently through the use of tags, keywords or metadata. Establish a consistent format to allow you to easily distinguish your own thoughts and ideas from quotes or ideas of others.
Many bibliographic management tools (e.g .Endnote, Refworks) also include ways to keep notes on each reference. Using these tools in combination with specific note-taking tools can be a useful strategy for managing your notes from reading the literature and notes from attending research seminars or meetings with your supervisor or research team.
For more ideas, ask your supervisor and peers how they manage their notes.
1. Choose one of the note-making strategies listed on these tabs.