How to Take Notes for Your Research Paper Part 3

Citations for Your Bibliography

When researching your subject make sure to note your sources as you go along. This makes creating a bibliography much easier later on (not to mention that it prevents you from accidentally plagiarizing other works). If possible, note your sources in the same format as your (future) bibliography. Again, this will save you time later on as your bibliography will be half-finished by the time you need to write it.

Making the Most of Your Notes

Good note taking skills does not depend solely on knowing what to take notes on, but also understanding how to take notes.  Here are a few helpful suggestions:

Keep Different Types of Notes Separate and Distinct

As we noted above, there are different types of notes – notes for you bibliography, notes for your supporting arguments, etc.  Try and keep these notes separate and distinct so that you can easily access them later on.  For instance, writing your bibliography will be much simpler if you have all your citation notes in one place (as opposed to having to sift through all of your notes to find all of your citations).

Review, Edit and (Re)Organize Again Your Notes

While you take notes you will want to organize them intelligently – that is to say, in a way that will allow you to easily review and utilize your notes later on.  Then, once you have finished taking notes, review and analyze them.  Try to logically (re)organize your notes (this is easier if you take notes on a computer).  At the same time pare down your notes to the most important and valuable information.

By properly organizing and editing your notes you will make it much easier to produce a quality outline and first draft of your paper. For this reason you shouldn’t be worried about taking too many notes the first time through (so long as you do not go overboard and write everything down as a note).  The first time through your goal is to note any and everything that may be of assistance to your note taking goals (see above).  The review process is then designed to turn those notes into a powerful resource tool for your paper.

How to Take Notes for Your Research Paper Part 2

Supporting facts, figures and statistic

In order to build up a solid argument for your thesis you will need to provide useful quotes, facts, figures, stories, etc.  Therefore, when researching your paper you should note these bits of information down whenever you come to them.  However, don’t just note that information which can help you to better argue your position, also be on the look for those facts and figures which can help you to clearly explain and describe to your reader the issues and ideas contained within your paper.

Here is a list of possible information that you can use in your paper:

  • Research data
  • Important dates
  • Pictures and diagrams
  • Definitions of difficult terms or concepts
  • Relevant Quotes

Your Own Opinions and Questions

Make sure to also note down your own ideas, thoughts and questions on your topic in general and on your notes in particular.  do not assume that you remember these ideas later on, jot them down now while they are fresh in your mind.

If an idea makes sense to you note why that is so.  If a particular argument seems weak then explain why.  Furthermore, if you do not understand something or you do not think that a particular position makes sense, note that down too.  A good question is as valuable as a good argument or idea.

do not underestimate the importance of your particular perspective.  In some ways, this is the heart of your paper – your take on the subject at hand.   Furthermore, by spending the time to develop your own ideas on the topic you will deepen your understanding of the various facts, figures and arguments that you encounter in your research.

Relevant Biographical Information

Ideas, facts and figures do not exist in a vacuum – they come from particular people and organizations (some of whom are more trustworthy than others).  Therefore, it’s not enough to simply note who says what, but you also need to research and write down a short biography on your sources.  Note, in particular, any information which either establishes or undermines the value of their opinions or information.

How to Take Notes for Your Research Paper

Once you have gathered together your resource material for your research paper it is time to start taking notes. This seemingly easy task is often times one of the hardest for students to do well. How to determine what to note down and what to ignore is not always easy or obvious.  

Here are a few tips to help you learn how to take good and effective notes.

The Most Important Point to Remember

The golden rule of note taking is understanding what you are trying to accomplish with your notes.  Often times everything in a book seems important and worthy of jotting down.  This tends to undermine the benefit of taking notes.  You then end up having to take notes of your notes – not a very efficient use of your time.  The real goal of taking notes is to capture that information which you will need to help you put together a quality outline (which you will eventually turn into a rough draft).

In general, this is the type of information that you will want to jot down:

  1. The various ideas and positions relating to your thesis
  2. Supporting facts, figures and statistic
  3. Your Own Opinion and Questions
  4. Relevant Biographical Information
  5. Citations for Your Bibliography
  6. Pertinent Stories and Events

By being aware of the type of information you need to find you will be able to keep your notes manageable.  It will also help you to do better research since you will be aware of what you are looking for when researching your topic.

With that said, let’s understand a bit better what it is you are looking for when researching your topic.

The various ideas and positions relating to your thesis

Whether you are arguing for a particular point of view or writing an overview of a subject, you will need to note the various arguments and opinions relating to your thesis.  Note the pros and cons of each position.

Make sure to paraphrase the ideas contained within rather than quoting them directly (unless you feel that a particular argument should be directly quoted).  By rewriting the ideas you find valuable you save time later on and better understand the ideas that you are paraphrasing.  If an idea or position is attributable to a particular individual then make sure to cite him or her as the source of the idea.

Notes from a 12 Woman

I have been resistant to football my entire life. My father–who played college ball–had to endure the nonchalant expressions of two daughters before he finally got the son that understood the joy of touchdowns, interceptions, and tailgating.

To his credit, my father still took me to Husky games. He was convinced that his “concern rays”—those rays that all sports fans exude that have been known to influence a game’s outcome—would infect me too. I had never seen him like this; early September transformed him into a raging lunatic, gesticulating at the TV and ranting about the Oregon Ducks. Not only was I impervious to his “concern rays, ” but I blamed football for stealing my dad away from me. (I finally got him back in January after the football mania subsided and he regained sanity.)

In high school and college, I had male friends and boyfriends patiently explain the game to me and quiz me:What is a first down?” and “How many yards is a football field?” They groaned when I inevitably answered with “a tackle?” and “how long is a yard again?

Imagine the irony when I discovered we had acquired a football book, entitled Notes from a 12 Man: A Truly Biased History of the Seattle Seahawks. As the publicist, I am to be the champion of the book and the author, largely responsible for its commercial success. No pressure. Upon my introduction to the author, Mark Tye Turner, I felt that I should apologize for my lack of football knowledge and general ignorance. But as I read through the book, I found myself INTERESTED in what he had to say. He made football funny, informative, and approachable—something that I could get behind and something that I could become INVESTED in. As the book hits stores this week and football season begins anew, I’ve found myself embracing it, anticipating it, and realizing that maybe…I’m my father’s daughter after all.

Get Lit: The House of Hope Fear

As a resident member of the book club, Get Lit, I seek books that stimulate conversation, engage the ethos, and broaden my perceptions. With that criteria in mind, I wholeheartedly recommend taking a look at The House of Hope and Fear: Life in a Big City Hospital by Audrey Young, M.D., when thinking about your next book club pick.

Whether you are on the treadmill at the gym or commuting on public transportation, universal health care is the current topic of controversy.

Everyone has a strong opinion, but no one has the answer. Is this issue doomed to be unresolved like so many others facing our lawmakers? How will indecision directly affect our lives? No one can argue that healthcare is a personal issue. There is nothing more sacred than the trust people place in their doctors. Enter Audrey Young, an M.D. from the University of Washington, who started her medical career at Seattle’s Harborview Medical Center, a big city hospital with a mission to treat anyone who needs medical care without exception.

From patients without physical addresses to those who spare no expense, the people Dr. Young writes about become as real as the topic tormenting our government.

Young is a doctor who has lived and breathed the public healthcare system, and she knows its flaws and strengths. She sees the need for a health care system that benefits rich and poor, old and young, insured and uninsured alike. The House of Hope and Fear is a realistic personal account of what it takes to balance the pressures of an inner city public hospital, and how to cope with the consequences of every decision. Audrey Young, who has been called a “fine storyteller” by People magazine, manages to bring humanity, poignancy, and intellect to a story that is, unfortunately, not uncommon in our country.


Hi! I am from Seattle and write about living large in the garden, getting the best room when you travel, and expressing your inner gourmet in the kitchen.

I’m thinking about scallions, aka green onions. Simple, basic, easy to ignore. I have tended to think of them as parsley with a bit more flavor, sprinkled on top of some dishes. But in Georgeanne Brennan’s new cookbook, Gather, there’s a wonderful recipe for Creamy Polenta with White Cheddar and Green Onions.

Once you get over the fact that you have to stand at the stove and stir the polenta or it turns into something geologic, it’s easy. Georgeanne recommends bringing some reading material to the stove. I’ve been making this for breakfast, so I bring the newspaper (yes, that atavistic thing printed on big sheets of paper). Wow, maybe it’s the combo of sharp cheese and green onions or the fact that the onions are sautéed, but they become delicious green flavor buds in this comforting dish. Here’s the recipe:

Creamy Polenta with White Cheddar and Green Onions

1 bunch green onions

4 tablespoons (1/2 stick) unsalted butter, divided

6 to 7 cups water

1-1/2 cups polenta

1 teaspoon coarse sea salt or kosher salt

1/3 cup shredded white cheddar cheese or soft, fresh goat cheese

1/2 teaspoon freshly ground white pepper

Finely chop the green onions, using all but the upper third of the green stalk. Melt 1 tablespoon of the butter in a frying pan over medium heat. Add the green onions and let them “sweat,” cooking them through but not letting them brown, about 5 minutes. Remove them from the heat and set aside.

In a large saucepan over medium-high heat, bring 4 cups of the water to a boil. Add the polenta in a steady stream, whisking as you pour it into the pot. Whisk in the salt.

Reduce the heat to low and continue whisking until there are no lumps, about 5 minutes. Continue to cook until the polenta is soft, has thickened, and begins to pull away from the sides of the pan, about 20 minutes. (Add more water if the polenta gets thick before it is soft enough.) Stir in the remaining butter, the cheese, pepper, and green onions. Serve immediately.

Makes 8 servings