Effective reading and taking notes
You may have already scanned through some of your material when you selected it but now you will want to read it in more depth, to take notes or even discard it from your research if you realise it is not as useful as you originally thought.
This stage can seem long and sometimes frustrating and de-motivating, but there are techniques which will help you to do this effectively.
To read effectively you will need to concentrate and develop your understanding of the material. Also, because of the amount of material you will have to examine it will help if you try to increase your speed. Additionally it may help if you ask yourself the following questions.
- What do I already know?
- How will I apply this to my assignment?
- What new things do I want to learn?
- Who has written this, what are they trying to say and to whom?
Effective reading will also help with effective note taking. Try the following process:
- survey the chapter or article, note the title and subheadings, this will give you some idea of what it is about
- question the author's main points
- read, with the intention of answering your question
- repeat in your own words every couple of pages what you have read
- go back and review a chapter once you have read it
This will also help you to select appropriate material, so do not be afraid to discard any material that you think is irrelevant.
We have a guide to academic reading has links to additional resources which will help you.
Note taking helps to record what you have read and should also help you to remember what you have read. For an assignment your notes should be accurate and detailed and should help you to structure your assignment. Use your plan to guide you with your note taking, identify and record the main points and check your understanding of any words or concepts that you are unfamiliar with.
Try to structure your notes in a way that will assist you with writing your assignment. The most common types of note taking are:
- Linear: where you use key words and phrases, for example, a heading is a key word or phrase and this is followed by bullet points or numbered points which give more detail
- Patterns: where arrows/circles/lines connect key words and phrases, making a spreading pattern e.g. mind mapping, diagrams
- Visual information: where it is difficult to record visual information in words, you may choose to make a sketch, copy the image or use an accurate reference so you can go back to it.
There are no set rules on how to structure your notes, and finding a method that bests suits you is important, you may even choose to use a combination of the methods listed above.
Selecting what to note can be the most difficult task, your effective reading skills should help you with this, but also look at how you want to structure your assignment and try to answer the following:
- What is the argument I am trying to make?
- What evidence do I need to support my argument?
- What facts do I need to include and what is irrelevant?
As you are going along, make sure you note the source of your information, this is especially important if you are going to include some quotes e.g.:
- Journal: page number, article title, author and journal title, volume, number and date
- Book: page number, chapter title, author and book title and author/editor, publisher and publishers' location and date
If you do this whilst you are note taking your task will be far easier, as trying to relocate references once you start writing your assignment can be extremely frustrating and it may feel like you are starting your research all over again!
Also, try to store your notes in an organised way, for example in a file, on your computer or in a notebook. It may also be useful if you date your notes.
Our guide to Note-Taking has links to additional resources which will help you.