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How to Do Research: A Step-By-Step Guide: 4a. Take Notes

How to do research

Note Taking in Bibliographic Management Tools

We encourage students to use bibliographic citation management tools (such as Zotero, EasyBib and RefWorks) to keep track of their research citations. Each service includes a note-taking function. Find more information about citation management tools here. Whether or not you're using one of these, the tips below will help you.

Tips for Taking Notes Electronically

  • Try using a bibliographic citation management tool to keep track of your sources and to take notes.
  • Use the following tips when creating a master document for your notes, sources, and ideas.
    • As you add sources, put them in the format you're using (MLA, APA, Chicago, etc.).
    • Group sources by publication type (i.e., book, article, website).
    • Number each source within the publication type group.
    • For websites, include the URL information and the date you accessed each site.
    • Next to each idea, include the source number from the Works Cited file and the page number from the source. See the examples below. Note that #A5 and #B2 refer to article source 5 and book source 2 from the Works Cited file.

#A5 p.35: 76.69% of the hyperlinks selected from homepage are for articles and the catalog
#B2 p.76: online library guides evolved from the paper pathfinders of the 1960s

  • When done taking notes, assign keywords or sub-topic headings to each idea, quote or summary.
  • Use the copy and paste feature to group keywords or sub-topic ideas together.
  • Back up your master list and note files frequently!

Tips for Taking Notes by Hand

  • Use index cards to keep notes and track sources used in your paper.
  • Create Work Cited cards for each source.
    • Include the citation (i.e., author, title, publisher, date, page numbers, etc.) in the format you're using. It will be easier to organize the sources alphabetically when creating the Works Cited page.
    • Number the source cards.
  • On each note card:
    • Use only one side to record a single idea, fact or quote from one source. It will be easier to rearrange them later when it comes time to organize your paper.
    • Include a heading or key words at the top of the card. 
    • Include the Work Cited source card number.
    • Include the page number where you found the information.
  • Taking notes:
    • Use abbreviations, acronyms, or incomplete sentences to record information to speed up the notetaking process.
    • Write down only the information that answers your research questions.
    • Use symbols, diagrams, charts or drawings to simplify and visualize ideas.

Forms of Notetaking

Use one of these notetaking forms to capture information:

  • Summarize: Capture the main ideas of the source succinctly by restating them in your own words.
  • Paraphrase: Restate the author's ideas in your own words.
  • Quote: Copy the quotation exactly as it appears in the original source. Put quotation marks around the text and note the name of the person you are quoting.

Example of a Work Cited Card

Example Notecard