Notetaking Strategies:

| May 4, 2016

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For the next month we’ll be focusing on one thing in this class: researching, taking notes, drafting, peer reviewing, and proofreading your Final Research Paper, worth 30% of your final grade. With that in mind, I want you to try your best to relax and enjoy the ride to the final due date on December 3. Here are some ways to avoid anxiety, procrastination, sleepless nights, nightmares, and other maladies associated with writing research papers:

(1) If you believe that you should begin your essay by writing the introduction, woe—consider this: you won’t know how to introduce your subject most effectively until you start writing somewhere in the middle; that’s right, somewhere in the middle. What do I mean by this? I mean, start writing about a source you read. It might just be a brainstormed list or a really messy freewrite:

I just read this article about trying to decide whether to eat local, potentially non-organic foods OR organic foods that might come from far-away places. I’m not sure what I think—I guess it depends on what your priorities are. If you want to lower global petroleum use, it would be best to stick with eating local produce whenever possible. But if you’re concerned about eating chemicals and such, it might be better to search out organic products, though maybe not from half way around the globe? An interesting fact/quote: “British researchers discovered that buying grass-fed lamb raised in New Zealand actually less of a carbon footprint than opting for conventionally raised lamb raised in England” (Condor D3). I wonder if the applies to other foods—is it better to buy an organic potato grown in CA, or a conventionally grown potato from a farm in WA? I wonder if I could figure out an equation based on MPG of semi trucks to figure out which is better. Anyway, this source will definitely help me with my paper—I’m thinking I’ll go with the notion that organic is almost always the best choice (and see if I have enough research to back this up).

Source: Condor, Bill. “It’s no simple task settling the organic/local debate”. Seattle Post-Intelligencer. July 28, 2008. D3.

1) If you’re worried about being accused of plagiarism, the solution is simple: just make sure you err on the side of caution with documenting where you found your quotes, paraphrases, and summaries. Also, make sure you are careful to attribute each quote to the correct source. Copy your quotations down carefully and proofread them to make sure you’ve copied every word, every mark of punctuation, correctly. Finally, when you paraphrase and summarize, remember to rephrase/rewrite the information in your own words, with your own style and voice. And cite those paraphrases, folks!
2) As you take notes, imagine you are having a conversation with the author of an article you’re writing about. What would you want to ask him/her about what s/he’s written? Another strategy is to practice combining sources (especially if they’re conflicting) into one freewrite. This will be helpful when you are putting your essay together.
3) It never hurts to freewrite about obstacles, small and large victories, procrastination problems, or thoughts about how you might want to organize your paper. I am a firm believer in writing things down the moment they occur to you. If you wait, you may lose some of your best ideas!

4) Notetaking boils down to one main thing: creating a DIALOGUE between you and your sources. This can come in the way of listening/responding or collecting/evaluating. However you choose to view it, the notetaking process is a way to get you to think about what you’ve been reading and try to synthesize it with the beliefs of both you and other authors or experts.

5) Notetaking styles vary. Here are a few to choose from:

(a) The double-entry journal method. Draw a line down the middle of a piece of paper (or create two columns in a Word document). On the left side, collect direct quotations, facts, key ideas, etc. On the right side of the page, react to what you’ve collected, one fact or quote at a time. Record what struck or surprised you about a statistic or fact, Is there anything a quote caused you to remember? Was there something you disagreed with? Is there another source you’ve read that relates to this one? Write all this down!

(b) The research log. List the date of entry, the source, and complete entries about what struck you, other research possibilities, etc.:

Sample log:
Date: 11/3/11
Source: Condor, Bill. “It’s no simple task settling the organic/local debate. Seattle Post-Intelligencer. July 28, 2008. D3.
What Struck Me: Eating locally might not be all it’s cracked up to be, especially if local farmers aren’t organic.
What Seemed Most Convincing: I was convinced by the British finding that grass fed lamb raised in New Zealand leaves a smaller carbon footprint than conventionally raised lamb from England (source attached with underlined quotation).
New term(s): food miles. I hadn’t heard that one before. It refers to the miles a given food travels to get to your plate.
(this is just a sample log—your sub-topics might be totally different).

(c) The narrative log. Write about your chosen source in a linear fashion, from beginning to end. This usually entails summarizing the main points of each paragraph. Ask yourself: how did the piece begin? Where did it go from there? How did it end? What did I take from this source?

Choose the note taking strategy that works best for you, and start writing!

My advice is to try out a few or all of these methods. If you know you love using note cards, go for it. If you like to recount information in story format, try narrative note taking.


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