Taking Notes

Taking notes is a skill in thinking, writing and organizing.  You want to be able to highlight and summarize key ideas.  You also want to make sure you know where you've stored this information for later... say for that big final paper or exam at the end of the semester.  If you are reading a lot of research articles in your courses, then you will also want to keep track of these references, especially the page number, in case you want to quote.

Here are some tips:

  • Know why you are reading or writing something down. You don't want to copy a slide presentation that the instructor will share with you later. You do want to write down something if they say "this is important!" Consider the following questions as you read to decide what to take notes on: What is the main idea? Does it answer any questions that your instructor has asked to you consider? Is it a new vocabulary word or definition, or even a new process or way of thinking? How does it connect to the learning outcomes of the unit?
  • Avoid writing notes that are straight verbatim from the text. Rephrase it so that it is in your own words. Think about how you would explain it to a friend who has a short attention span (who is not also taking the course).
  • Organize your notes by units and courses. If your notes are digital, use folders to group different documents of notes together. Make sure to name your notes so that they will be easy to find later. "Unit 1 notes" seems like a good practical title, but "Ethics of Data Privacy" is a more informative one.
  • Highlighting online articles or texts is possible with online tools or apps. Some are free or freemium and can incorporate your notes alongside them. Search around and try a few to find one that works best for you. One that some TWU instructors use is Hypothes.is.
  • If you need to keep track of research articles, use a citation manager tool, like Zotero. These will even help you format your references into the style requested by your instructor (but always double check!) There are many citation managers to choose from. Again, some are free or freemium, so try a few and select the best one for your needs. Check out the page on Managing Citations for more ideas.