6.3: Creating notes

When you are done marking and now need to move to the next step, which is to actually create the notes either on paper or within a computer file, there are some strategies to keep it efficient, easy to follow, and free of any risk of plagiarism.

Chapter 6 Pt 2 contents:

  • Chapter 6: Summary
  • 6.3: Creating notes

    6.3.1: What’s important?

    As we noted before, your notes have to focus on what is the most important amongst the information, so that is why you cannot highlight or copy all of the content into your notes. Here are some tips to identify what is important and how to focus on developing notes strictly on that information:

    • Take many rest breaks from taking notes because, as you grow more tired, you will find yourself just copying big chunks of content rather than just the critical information you really need in your notes. You could also be putting yourself at risk of plagiarising if you do this as well, so it is better to take a break.
    • Reflect on what you read before you highlight, underline, or mark in some way as a note. Think about the main point or argument, how it ties to what you are trying to do in your essay, what types of examples are used and whether or not the argument in the reading is valid or credible. This will keep the highlighting to a minimum. This will also help you retain more information as you are making connections by asking yourself to look for answers on specific issues.

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    6.3.2: Note designs and diagrams

    Your next step involves selecting some type of design to your notes, including using drawings or diagrams to help you make further connections that you can use within your essay writing. Whatever design you use, keep these tips in mind when it comes to laying out your notes:

    • Leave plenty of white space on whatever you use whether that be an index card, piece of paper, or file on your computer.
    • Use the top (or back) of each note to always include all key source information, including title, publication or lecture name, author or lecturer, date and any page numbers if you are quoting information or using footnotes in your essay. If you are using online sources, do not forget to put down the hyperlink to that article or information along with the date you retrieved it.
    • Use margins for specific strategies like organising the information through a numbering or naming system while the other margin could include further notes where you are connecting information upon reflection.

    For those of you who might be more visual in nature when it comes to studying and learning, you can also consider drawings and diagrams to help you organise your notes. Many students have noted how helpful it is to put information and content into a visual picture where they can associate certain concepts with a picture or they can make links and connections across seemingly diverse research material. Here are some ideas to consider:

    • A mind map, or a spidergram, shows ideas and concepts as visual landmarks. The map has one or more central images that contain the main concept in a bubble. From each bubble come branches that connect to other bubbles that have information, ideas, or proof that connects to that main concept. There may be further branches added, as necessary, if further detail should be included to understand and support that concept.
    • These types of visual representations can be created by drawing them freehand, or you can opt for tools on your computer that are made for diagramming that speed up the connection of ideas through existing shapes and lines that drop into place with a click of the mouse. You can also purchase mind mapping software if you want to get really fancy with your note taking.

    You can decide if you prefer the linear method of note taking listed above which allows your eyes to scan down the page and see the information in a particular order. Or, you can opt for a more visual display, which may seem at first to scatter the information through bubbles and lines based on keywords and concepts. And, you can go as far as to use both methods within your notes if you feel some research lends itself more to one method than another.

    Another option to make note taking easier and faster is to use shorthand that means something to you but saves time writing everything out. Try these shorthand methods to speed your note taking and save your hand from going numb:

    • Take letters out of the equation and shorten words by losing the vowels. This should be easy if you text message as it is the same idea. Try to see where you can cut back to retain that white space and cut to the chase about what needs to be written down in your notes.
    • Use abbreviations where you cannot reduce the amount of letters in your notes and develop your own abbreviations where the same keywords keep coming up. This will save you time and space.
    • Do not get caught up in spelling and grammar during note taking. This is not about accuracy in terms of your writing at this point. Save that concern and quality control for when it comes time to write your essay.
    • Add symbols to help, which often go back to the idea of how visual representation can help with the learning process. These symbols are commonly used in texting as well as can be found on your computer keyboard, including smaller than and bigger than, positive and negative, same as and different than and emoticons (happy faces, etc.), our personal favourite. You can even make up your own symbols if that helps you take effective notes that will mean something to you later on when you are ready to write your essay.

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    6.4: Knowing your note limit

    All of these tips are great but you may be most interested in finding out about one key piece in note taking strategy: When do you know you have enough notes and can move on to the essay writing process?

    • Some say you should adhere to a 80/20 ratio with your time in which 80 per cent of your time should be spent on preparation while 20 per cent should be used to fulfil the task that you are preparing for. That means 80 per cent of time dedicated to an essay should go to reading and note taking while 20 per cent of your time should be dedicated to taking the preparation of reading and note taking and turning it into an essay. That means in a block of ten hours, eight hours will be reading and note taking while two hours will be writing. If you have prepared the information as advised here and you focused that time, you will be able to get the writing done easily within the 20 per cent of time that has been allotted.
    • While that serves as a guide in terms of time spent, you also have to ask yourself whether the information you have collected will help you or if you are missing anything on a particular aspect, concept, or keyword associated with your essay title or essay prompt.
    • When your estimated time is up, simply start writing with what you have; if you feel anything is lacking later on while writing, you can always come back to the research or look some other sources up. For now, you need to move on and get to writing that essay!

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    6.5: Turning notes into an essay writing plan

    The next step in your essay writing process is to develop an essay writing plan from those notes whether they be linear on note cards or pieces of paper or they are part of mind maps and highlighted text in a book. Follow these steps to create your very own essay writing plan:

    • Go back to your essay title or essay prompt and again reflect on the keywords and remind yourself about the important concepts.
    • Take this understanding to your notes and make sure the points in your notes address these concepts; if not or you are not sure, those notes may need to be taken out from the main outline you will be developing from that note taking exercise.
    • Prioritise what notes are left so you can further refine what is there as you most likely already have more information than you will actually use within the essay.
    • Do not throw these notes away; just file them separately in case you do actually need them later on in the essay writing process.
    • If you have already created a visual representation of your notes in a mind map, then you are already ahead in your essay writing plan than those that have taken a linear approach. Make sure you have at least three points for each idea as this will later on become the main points in the essay; if you do not, it is not time to panic.
    • Take a break from analysing what you have and your brainstorm session to reflect and change mental gears so you can come back with a fresh perspective.
    • Once you have the ideas structured with connections and linkages, think about how they fit into one of the aforementioned essay structures we discussed; of course, you may already know which essay framework to use because your essay assignment has selected it for you based on the function words used in the essay assignment.
    • While your essay writing plan may not fit perfectly into any structure we shared, is should come close and at least provide you with a guideline to keep you organised and focused on delivering an essay with a logical flow and argumentation. However, this essay writing plan will look very much like an outline that will show your introduction, body, and conclusion with each main point listed with accompanying reasons to validate that point.

    And, when you think you are done with your notes do not throw them away once the essay has been turned in. You most likely have other essays and will also need to revise when the semester or year are nearing an end. These notes also show you a framework that you could use again as the basis of another note taking session.

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    Chapter 6: In summary

    In Summary

    In summarising this chapter on note taking, ask yourself the following to make sure you got a grasp on the main ideas:

    • Is there one best way to take notes?
    • What type of supplies do you need for note taking?
    • Do index cards still work for note taking or are they old hat?
    • What does annotate mean?
    • Should you write in your books and journals?
    • What is different about note taking on lecture information from other types of note taking?
    • How can you organise your notes?
    • When is it time to stop with note taking and start with essay writing?
    • What type of essay writing plan is effective?

    An integral part of note taking is to ensure that you do not plagiarise anything. While it is critical to ensure you do not do copy other's words and ideas when you are actually writing, you can further reduce the risk by thinking about plagiarism while taking notes and throughout the entire essay experience. The next chapter addresses what has become a significant problem among university students.

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