Remembering the Importance of Good Notes

This week in my Research Methods class my professor, Dr. Jones, asked students to engage in interactive reading and notetaking with one of our secondary readings. As a guide to interactive reading and citable notes we were asked to read Single’s Demystifying the Dissertation. Rather quickly into reading Single’s work I realized that his methods were almost exactly the same as the methods I learned from an Educational Psychology course I completed last summer. One of the key things I learned in Educational Psychology was how to teach and show my future students how to study, how to take good notes, and how to engage more deeply with the material. The best way to teach high school students how to do this is to practice it in my own life and demonstrate it to them. So, I try to avoid using highlighters, I use a pencil and write thoughts in the margins (if I own the book), use small post-it notes to mark important ideas and write a few key words, and I always read with a piece of paper to copy major ideas onto it while I’m reading. These are the same tips Single gives and I’m glad I am already using them on a regular basis.

However, my usual notetaking method is a little more complex than Single’s discussion on citable notes. When I copy ideas, quotes, or pieces of information from a reading I always do so on either a separate piece of paper or onto a word document. Every document is titled with the book name, the author, publisher, and year published. When I’m reading an article I will always write the page number of where the information was in the margin and then write my note beside it. If reading a book I make sure to create different sections for different chapters and then copy the page number next to the note. Though every note is not followed by a citation, I believe this is a more through example of notetaking that will help me automatically generate a citation from the information I included.

Being reminded about the importance of notetaking by Single I decided to pay close attention to my notes when reading one of my secondary readings for the week. I chose to use Christopher Capozzola’s Uncle Sam Wants You: World War I and the Making of the Modern American Citizen. Using my normal methods I was able to bust the book in less than two hours and produced a page and a half of good citable notes. I’ll be able to go back to these notes to look for information about WWI conscription, pacifism, mobilization and volunteerism, and the war era language of obligation.

4 thoughts on “Remembering the Importance of Good Notes”

  1. Interesting that this “method” is one you learned to teach others I think the key word is “engaging” with material rather than ‘reading and taking notes.” I also like the idea of engaging first and making notes later — for me this has saved countless hours of making irrelevant notes just so I have “notes” about the book/article rather than notes about the book that serve my purpose! Would be curious to see how you’d go about instructing high school students how to use this method.


  2. I agree that engaging with the material first is key to taking good notes. I find that it gives one the opportunity to process what the author is saying and record a response to the author, which helps make sense of the conversation later.


  3. It’s great that you already had working system in place. I’ve never been consistent in how I take notes. It usually depends on the type of book and why I am reading it. To my own detriment, I am typically more thorough if I think the book is especially important to my research or understanding of a topic. However, it’s just created an unusable mass of notes that I can’t reference in class. I will definitely be employing yours and Single’s method while reading “Prince of Darkness” for capitalism tomorrow. I’m about halfway through and I already feel like I am producing more usable notes.


  4. I think that you bring up a really good point tying in our Educational Psychology course. At the end of the day, these methods are simply a way to codify the information in multiple formats and reinforce the material for better retention. I think the best example of this is how Single suggests multiple ways to create quick reference material that serves as a table of contents for your larger source notes; one example is the citable notes, and another would be the post it in the front of the book. Also, props to you for busting the book in two hours! I am still working on becoming a quicker reader.


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