You've chosen your topic. You've written a research question or thesis statement. You've crafted a preliminary outline so you know where you're going, and maybe even how you're going to get there. You've found books, articles, and websites on your topic. Congratulations!
But are you ready to write your paper? NO! Your sources may be great, but they won't do you any good until you read them and learn what they have to tell you. (see the box below for suggestions on reading books efficiently)
So what's the problem? Reading is easy, right? The problem comes when you have many different sources. You need to remember which information came from which source, and that's when note-taking becomes important.
Some people use the traditional note-card method. Some print out articles or copy book pages and use color-coded highlighters and sticky flags. William Badke has developed a system* for taking notes digitally. There's no one best way—the best way to take notes is the way that works best for you. Below you will find a list of sites that explain the different systems—their strengths and weaknesses.
Basically, when you read for research, you should be looking for "treasure" amid the "trash." Your treasure will be the information you find that helps you to understand your topic and build your arguments. The rest of the information, even if it's interesting, is "trash." Many students get bogged down in their reading because they don't keep their ultimate goal in mind, and they waste time on irrelevant information. As you're reading, you must constantly be asking yourself, "How does this information support or explain my topic?" If it doesn't, it's trash—throw it out!
Here is a list of great resources for learning more about taking great notes—notes that will help you keep all your new information organized so that you can use it to write a great paper.
*Knowing How to Read for Research – taken from Badke’s book, chapter 8, abridged
Best Practices for Research and Drafting – from the Purdue OWL
Effective Note-Taking - from the University of Reading
Read your sources and take notes - (basic note card approach)
Taking notes from Research Reading - from the University of Toronto
Taking notes summary from Easy Bib – good overview of different methods
Template for Taking Notes on Research Articles – from Rice University
When reading for research, you DON'T need to read the whole book. Instead, approach each book like an explorer looking for buried treasure. This does NOT mean, however, that you should take bits and pieces from the book while ignoring the context. Here are some suggestions: