Taking notes for research paper writing

As you read through the most likely sources for your research paper, take notes on the relevant points and passages. Note cards may be required by your instructor and in any case are an efficient medium for keeping notes (although some people prefer to photocopy or download and print out passages and annotate them). Use a separate card for each idea or passage so that you can easily rearrange the cards when you begin writing your paper. Some researchers take notes on 3- by 5-inch cards, and others use 4- by 6-inch cards for content notes and the smaller cards for their working bibliography. Label each note with a brief version of the title, the author’s last name, and the page number so that if you use the idea in your paper, you can document its source. Presenting someone else’s idea in your paper without giving proper credit is plagiarism.

The first step in note taking is to skim the book (table of contents and index) or article (headings or topic sentences) to locate the passages that may be relevant to your paper. Then read those passages and decide which ones contain useful information.

Depending on the complexity and the significance of the passages, you can take notes by summarizing, paraphrasing, or using quotations. A summary records only the main point and eliminates the details; a paraphrase covers the same ground as the original passage but is expressed in your own words; a quotation exactly duplicates the original.

Summaries. Condense a paragraph, or even a page, into a sentence or two if all you need is the general idea and not the details. Figure 2 is an example of a summary note about the following passage.

Human actions bring about scarcities of renewable resources in three principal ways. First, people can reduce the quantity or degrade the quality of these resources faster than they are renewed. This phenomenon is often referred to as the consumption of the resource's "capital": the capital generates "income" that can be tapped for human consumption. A sustainable economy can therefore be defined as one that leaves the capital intact and undamaged so that future generations can enjoy undiminished income. Thus, if topsoil creation in a region of farmland is 0.25 millimeter per year, then average soil loss should not exceed that amount.

The second source of scarcity is population growth. Over time, for instance, a given flow of water might have to be divided among a greater number of people. The final cause is change in the distribution of a resource within a society. Such a shift can concentrate supply in the hands of a few, subjecting the rest to extreme scarcity.

— Thomas Homer-Dixon, Jeffrey Boutwell, and Gkorce Rathjens, "Environmental Change and Violent Conflict," Scientific American, February 1993, pp. 38-45

The major human causes of shortages of renewable resources are (1) overconsumption, (2) overpopulation, and (3) unequal distribution.

Figure 2. Summary Note Card.

Paraphrases. Use a paraphrase to simplify a complex concept or to highlight details that are especially relevant to your topic. The challenge of paraphrasing is to use your own words to faithfully record the author’s ideas. Because it is easy to unintentionally plagiarize instead of paraphrase, consciously search for different words and sentence structure. If a particular phrase or sentence is so well worded that it cannot be paraphrased, enclose it in quotation marks to indicate that it is in the author’s words rather than yours.

Quotations. Quote directly from a source only when you need the author’s exact words. Direct quotations should be as brief as possible. As a rule, do not use direct quotations that are longer than a paragraph, and use those sparingly.

Your paper should represent what you think or know, not be merely a stitching together of other people’s words.

Direct quotations must be accurate. Double-check your note against the source to make sure you have copied the passage exactly, including its punc­ tuation, spelling, and capitalization. Be sure to put quotation marks around all direct quotations in your notes so that you will not mistake them for para­ phrases when you incorporate your notes into your paper.


To locate current information about your topic, look in periodical indexes. The primary index for general-interest U.S. periodicals is the Readers’ Guide to Periodical Literature. Most major daily newspapers are also indexed, and librar­ ies usually have at least the New York Times Index and the Wall Street journal Index as well as local newspapers.

Readers’ Guide to Periodical Literature. The Readers’ Guide indexes articles from about 200 popular and general-interest magazines (from 1900 to the present). Articles are listed by subject and by author, and each entry includes an abbreviated title, the author’s name, the name of the magazine, and the date of publication. In addition, the Readers’ Guide has thorough cross-references. A see entry means that articles are listed under the subject heading to which the reader is being referred; a see also entry indicates subject headings under which the reader will find related articles.

You will need to copy all the bibliographical information in order to retrieve the article and to compile your working bibliography. Keep in mind, however, that the entries in the Readers’ Guide do not follow the commonly used documentation styles (see Documentation and Manuscript Form ). In your working bibliography, include the article’s full title and the full name of the author and spell out abbreviations.

Specialized Indexes. If you need more detailed and more technical information than that contained in general-interest periodicals, consult an index of journals and other publications in a specific field. Most of these indexes are available online and in CD-ROM form as well as in printed form. Usually at the front of each volume is a list of the publications indexed and the years covered, as well as a key to the abbreviations used in the entries. The following list is a sampling of special-subject indexes, collections of abstracts (most of which are published several times a year), and bibliographies.

Applied Science and Technology Index(1958-). Available online and on CD-RQM.

Art Index (1929-). Available online and on CD-ROM.

Business Periodicals Index (1958-). Available online and on CD-ROM. Dissertation Abstracts International (1938-). Available on CD-ROM. General Science Index (1978-). Available online and on CD-ROM.

Historical Abstracts (1955-). Available online and on CD-ROM. Index Medicus (I960-). Available online and on CD-ROM as part of MedLine. Index to Legal Periodicals (1908-). Available online and on CD-ROM.

MLA International Bibliography (1921—). Available online and on CD-ROM. Music Index (1949-). Available on CD-ROM.

Psychological Abstracts (1927-). Available online as Psychlnfo and on CD-ROM as PsychLit.

Subjects may not have the same heading in every index. For example, en­tries listed under “teenagers” in one index may be found under “young adults” in another. In order to get the most out of your search of specialized indexes, draw up a list of all the key words that might lead to information about your topic, and look up all of them. Good sources for subject headings are the Readers’ Guide to Periodicals, the library’s book catalog, and the Library of Congress Subject Headings directory (see LCSH).

For descriptions of electronic periodicals, consult Directory of Electronic Journals, Newsletters, and Academic Discussion Lists ( Washington , DC : Association of Research Librarians).

Citation Indexes. A citation index can help you evaluate sources because it lists what has been written about a book or an article. To find out how reviewers received a particular book, for example, or to track the discussion about a scientific controversy, consult a citation index, such as one of the following.

Arts and Humanities Citation Index Book Review Digest

Current Book Review Citations Science Citation Index Social Science Citation Index

Locating Periodicals. Libraries generally keep current issues in one place and back issues (which are bound in volumes or stored in microform) in another. If your library does not have some of the periodicals you need, you may be able to get them through interlibrary loan, a service that permits you to get photocopied periodical articles (as well as to borrow books) from other libraries. Consult a librarian for specific details of the interlibrary system.


0 Responses on Taking notes for research paper writing"

Leave a Message

Skip to toolbar