Taking notes as you read helps you:
- Engage with the material
- Process your thoughts
- Gather information and evidence to use in assessments
It’s all too easy to fall into the trap of taking too many notes, though, and it can be overwhelming to end up with pages and pages of notes that you don’t quite know what to do with. The key to avoiding this pitfall is to identify your purpose: if you don’t know what you’re reading for, you’ll risk turning into the ‘human photocopier’ and noting everything down.
To begin with, then, think about why you are reading and, relatedly, what you will use the resulting notes for. For instance, are you:
- Reading for background to prepare for an upcoming lecture and/or seminar
- Reading to clarify understanding from a lecture and/or seminar
- Reading for further knowledge for an assignment.
- Reading to develop an argument by evaluating existing viewpoints on a topic or synthesising current knowledge and understanding with the viewpoints of other authors
- Or, another purpose?
If you are reading to gain background knowledge, or to clarify your understanding of a topic, these questions might be useful in helping you stay on track and avoid tangents. They’ll also help identify exactly what you might need to make notes of:
- Are there any specific questions you’d like your reading to answer for you? Any particular gaps in your knowledge you’re looking to fill?
- What wider context do you need to understand and why?
- What knowledge, information or data do you need and why?
- Do you have any articles/texts in mind that it would be useful to consult? If you are looking to construct an argument, what answers/positions/debates/arguments already exist?
Once you’ve identified your purpose for reading and notetaking, you can think about the type of reading you need to do. For instance, if your main purpose is to get a general sense of somebody’s argument, you probably don’t need to read the entire article to begin with. Reading the introduction, conclusion and first line of each paragraph could well give you what you need (and ensure your accompanying notes are concise and relevant!). If you are working on your dissertation and are looking to adapt an existing method for your own use, then focusing on the methods sections to begin with will give you what you need. Identifying your purpose thus means you can be selective when reading and notetaking, which can also help you save time. If you’d like tailored advice on reading and notetaking, feel free to book a 1-1 session with us.